The 80-20 rule, camping edition 

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As it does for so many other things in life, I suspect you can apply the 80-20 rule to explain the garbage I keep finding where people have camped before me. While I try to limit the times I camp where others have, on a road trip it is inevitable. But I digress.

The 80-20 rule, if you’re not familiar with it, is one of those gems of insight that business consultants come up with to explain the obvious to the myopic, who feel better paying someone $3,000 a day to tell them the same stuff their staff has been trying to tell them for years for a pittance. Who wouldn’t trust someone charging so much? It suggests 80 per cent of your customers really only provide 20 per cent of your profits and vice-versa; 20 per cent of them drop a wad and account for 80 per cent of your revenue. Like any chestnut of wisdom, it is a blunt instrument but carries a kernel of truth.

The 80-20 rule explains things like VIP lounges at airports, champagne in first class, valet parking at impossibly expensive restaurants, the $10,000 optional dark sky headliner in bespoke Rolls Royces and why you see 80-year-old wankers with 20-year- old pneumatic blondes on their arms.

I also imagine it explains the bizarre things I find left behind in fire pits and around campsites. Eighty per cent of the people only produce 20 per cent of the trash and the 20 per cent who leave behind the bulk of garbage, trash, human waste and cigarette butts should be paddled out to the centre of the lake and dropped in with a sizable chunk of cement tied to their legs if karma actually works...which it doesn’t. They are pigs and it’s damn insulting to real pigs for me to call them that.

It never ceases to amaze me, for example, that people who have evolved enough to be able to light fires whenever and wherever they want to, still haven’t grasped the simple fact that aluminum foil does not burn. For all its brilliance and manifold uses, aluminum foil only has three outstanding physical characteristics.

One, when you wad it up and toss it on the floor, it drives cats crazy—recognizing there are many who would say making a cat crazy is more akin to a short putt than a drive. Two, if you have a lot of fillings in your teeth and make the mistake of believing someone who says chewing a piece of foil is cool, you will see sparks fly out of your mouth, which is unquestionably cool but hurts like hell for the next several days and likely requires a trip to your dentist. Don’t ask how I know. Finally, if you wrap aluminum foil around a potato, drop it into a fire, let it burn for a couple of hours and take it out, you will have an overcooked, charred lump of potato, in ash-covered but otherwise unaffected aluminum foil.

It may be man’s quest to overcome the laws of nature, or the timeless desire to achieve some magical, alchemical transformation, but I suspect it’s more likely laziness and a total lack of concern for their surroundings that move people to try and burn foil. The paradox of why they drive all the way to a remote lake or semi-wilderness site to conduct this experiment, like so much of human nature, still eludes me.

While ubiquitous, foil is not the most puzzling thing I find in abandoned fire rings and around campsites. At a tiny, perfect lake in northern BC—site of an apparent potato massacre or abandoned garden— someone tried to burn a speaker out of his car radio. I assume it was a him because I can’t imagine any woman would ever think sitting around a fire trying to burn a speaker was cool, but hey, I could be wrong? I’m sure there is a story behind the charred speaker but I suspect it is a short one.

Moron One: “Whoa dude, the freakin’ speaker just quit workin.’”

Moron Two: “Throw it in the fire.”

Moron One: “But the foil’s not all burned up yet, man.”

If you have an active imagination, you can almost understand finding a burned- out speaker in a fire pit, I can hear you say. Okay, how about a core sample? After spending the day backtracking over miles of logging roads in the forest outside of the Middle of Nowhere—according to the GPS—I once found myself not exactly lost but unexpectedly on the shore of a stunning lake that turned out to be at about the same elevation as Pika’s. It was a chilly, drizzly, alternately bright and dark B.C. kind of day. Being short on sun and long on altitude, I was well along the path to hypothermia when the sun began to set, a supposition on my part since I only noticed the sky getting darker, not the sun going down.

While my numb fingers picked foil out of the fire ring, I uncovered a cylindrical hunk of rock. It was about 20 centimetres long, blackened, polished, and marbleized? It was clearly a drilling core sample from God knows where. Even I can’t make up an interesting story about how in the world it might have found its way into someone’s campfire but not surprisingly, it didn’t burn either.

But one has only to walk a few metres outside the ring of fire and light to find the ultimate disgust of the 20 per cent, although I often wonder whether blaming it on 20 per cent is enough, so ubiquitous is the Garden of Human Waste in most places camped without the amenity of an outhouse.

Birds do it, bees do it and humans generally do it at least once a day. It, assuming all goes well, is one of life’s little pleasures. But judging from the abandoned TP flowers left helter skelter around campsites, many people are short on knowledge and long on disgust.

Without getting graphic, I can only recommend, again, anyone heading anywhere lacking either indoor plumbing or outhouses pick up the slim volume, How to Shit in the Woods, now in its third edition. If you can’t deal with this inevitable camping moment, I’d recommend you stick to hotels.

Happy camping.


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