I saw some food documentary awhile back about nutrition or health or whatever. I forgot which one. It was one of many that find their way onto my Netflix feed, and I really don’t feel like going back and looking up the name. But one thing that did stick with me from that documentary was a particular study that an Australian woman did with aboriginal people in Australia.
There were three or four young men who had moved to the city for work and, like many city folk in Western societies, promptly started gaining weight. So this scientist had them go back to live in the wild in the traditional ways that they’d grown up with. And they promptly started losing weight.
This particular documentary seemed mostly focused on the fact that they were eating more meat and fewer processed foods, but what I picked up on was something else. The documentary claimed that they “exercised less” and still lost weight. This is almost certainly not true. What this probably meant is they didn’t go jogging or bicycling as much. But they certainly got plenty of exercise.
I’ve pointed out in a previous piece that some of the things we do outside, like hunting or fishing, may not seem like exercise, but they do burn a decent number of calories if you do them for extended periods. I have a hunch that the exercise these fellas were getting was this kind of exercise. Spending all day trudging through the woods to kill a kangaroo (or whatever Australians eat), drag it back, cut it up, and eat it is a lot of work. Well, maybe not eating it. But everything else. Also, building campfires, erecting tents, and the other tasks that come with outdoor living tend to require at least moderate exertion. And I’ve tested this theory myself on many occasions.
My wife and I occasionally like to band together with friends from college and work and find our way to the assorted state and national parks in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. There are any number of parks in the woods, swamps, islands, and mountains that are an escape from city life.
Normally, when people band together with old college buddies and so forth, this involves indulging in the most unhealthy of activities. And we do that. Since grilling is the only option when camping, there are naturally large numbers of burgers, hot dogs, steaks and ribs involved. And, like many of our getaways, there is a fair amount of drinking. At least, at the national parks. State parks in these states outlaw alcohol, so we instead drink other things out of red solo cups which are totally not alcoholic. But despite all of this carousing and debauchery, we always lose weight.
Of course we do. This type of excursion involves humping a bunch of gear to a remote campsite, setting up tents, tarps, hammocks, and so forth. Then it involves doing things like spending time gathering wood for a fire, which may involve chopping it to pieces with an axe. As I’ve pointed out before, chopping wood can be great exercise. There are a million little tasks necessary to set up a campsite. And that’s before we actually start having fun.
And there’s plenty of fun to be had. Most recently, we went canoeing down the Little Manatee River in Florida at the state park of the same name. Often, we were alongside the enormous sea creatures for which the river is named. Except that they’re not “little” at all. They are immense, majestic animals. Although I still don’t understand how sailors hundreds of years ago seeing them for the first time lead to the myth of mermaids. They must have been hammered. You need serious beer goggles to think a sea cow looks like a pretty girl with a fish’s tail. Although I guess if they were sailors hundreds of years ago, it was rum goggles, not beer goggles.
Canoeing is good exercise, and an hour of that is about four hundred calories burned. And we did it for two hours. The second half was upstream. Because we saw a horrifying thing downstream. We rounded a bend in the river and came to an area where the local fauna were engaged in a peculiar social ritual. Specifically, a bunch of shirtless rednecks having a keg party by a trailer. Many of whom seemed larger and less in shape than the manatees we’d seen earlier. Some people should really keep their shirts on.
So we turned tail and paddled furiously back upstream. And when we returned to the campsite, we tried to blot out the memory of the horrible event with judicious application of fermented liquids and roasted meats. Then it started raining, and we had to hustle to cover the gear and the food up.
Since it was Florida, the rain subsided in about fifteen minutes. That’s normal in Florida. One minute you’ve got a bright sunny day, followed by sudden, end-of-days level torrential rains, followed by sunlight. Which immediately evaporates the water and turns the environment into a sticky, sweltering cloud of water vapor. So in addition to the calories burned, we lost about five pounds of water weight in this outdoor sauna.
And to top it all off, one of my wife’s dopey friends decided it would be funny to dress up as Swamp Thing later that night and scare everyone at the campfire. My wife and her friends scattered and shrieked (I would have, but I couldn’t stop laughing) as the immense beast charged the campfire. This probably added to the calorie burn. Running from characters from horror movies is good cardio, I guess.
When we’re willing to go a bit further, we go to Devil’s Fork State Park in the mountains of South Carolina. This involves hiking through magnificent mountain vistas and swimming or kayaking on the immense lake there. Or just diving off of the cliffs on it’s edge into the water and swimming around.
And if we’re feeling a little more adventurous, we can make our way to the nearby Chattooga River and go whitewater rafting. For those of you who don’t know, the Chattooga is the river from the movie Deliverance. If you’ve never seen Deliverance, don’t. It’s disturbing. But rafting through the rough and occasionally violent rapids is an experience. And good exercise. Somewhere between walking and running in terms of effectiveness. And unlike Deliverance, there’s no risk of getting sexually assaulted by inbred hillbillies. Like I said, don’t ever watch Deliverance.
And while we’re there, we always stop at the world famous Dillard House in nearby Dillard, Georgia. This is one of those restaurants where a surprisingly small menu is posted out front. But when you are seated you realize that the reason the menu is small is that they bring you the entire menu. They bring bowls and plates of fried things and buttery unhealthiness and you eat it all. Then they bring more when you’re done. You leave barely able to walk or stand up straight. But despite this mad plunge into abject gluttony, we’ve never gained a pound. The caveman living and outdoor activities work it off.
If we’re really wanting to get away from everyone, we go to Cumberland Island, Georgia, just north of the Florida/Georgia border on the Atlantic coast. An island only accessible by boat, and the only civilization nearby is the tiny town of St. Marys. After a forty-five minute boat ride and a fifteen minute trek to the campsite, laden down with all of our camping gear, some people might have already had enough. But not us. The island is a wonderful place.
The beaches are spectacular, and the island is inhabited by sea turtles and wild horses. And, of course, raccoons that try to take your food. I remember one day sitting on the beach and marveling that my friends and I had the whole beach to ourselves. Without this park, you’d have to be a billionaire to have this experience. I know this, because the island used to belong to the Carnegies. You can still tour the ruins of the old Carnegie house there. But thanks to the setting aside of these lands as national parks, literally anyone can enjoy them. Not just industrial age robber barons.
But if we don’t want to go too far to see beaches, we can also go to the campgrounds of Fort Desoto, just southwest of St. Petersburg, Florida, on the Gulf Coast. This offers beaches, and also campsites along the coast where you can watch the sun set. Just don’t go onto the sandbar when the tide is low. We made that mistake. The seemingly solid sand is just a bog that we sank into. And you discover the hard way exactly what kind of things settle to the bottom of the ocean. Basically, everything that has ever died. The smell is astonishing.
When we’re not hiking through the woods and running wild on the beaches or exploring the old Fort (which dates back to the Spanish-American War. I think.), we spend the rest of our time fending off the local wildlife, like raccoons and seagulls. I’ve discovered the hard way that both animals really like hot dogs, and once they know you have food, you’ll spend a lot of time defending it. Being the neolithic man (or woman) who defends your food supply from pesky rodents and larcenous birds can burn off a lot of excess fat. Except I don’t think they had hot dogs in the Stone Age. They probably just ate actual dogs. But that’s beside the point.
And even if we don’t feel like staying overnight, there are options near our house. Maybe a ten minute drive away from us is Weedon Island State Park, where we can take long hikes through the mangrove trees, or along the boardwalks out into the marsh. Or we can put kayaks in the water and kayak through the little streams that run through the mangrove trees. Or go fishing for the enormous fish that inhabit the intracoastal waterways nearby. We can do all of this and still go home, get cleaned up, and have a night on the town later, if we’re so inclined.
These are just a few of the many parks throughout the country. Camping (or even a day trip to a park) is a cheap vacation in terms of dollars, but very costly in terms of calories. In the good way. I always come back skinnier, no matter how much I ingest or imbibe.
This is actually a great idea right now. A great way to social distance and avoid the bat-virus-driven armageddon we’re currently in the middle of is to leave civilization altogether. It’s virtually guaranteed that there is a national or state park within a short drive of where you live. So go act like a caveman (or cavewoman) and get back to nature. The pounds will fly off.
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