By BEN GRABOW
Scripps Howard News Service
June 06, 2005
This was my mantra as I finished a three-day backpacking trip in North Carolina's Pisgah Forest last weekend. The true test of a man, I thought, is how far he is willing to push his physical and mental boundaries. Real men do the things that others will not consider.
The trail was not too strenuous, the distance not too long. It was simply a three-day hike in the woods, much less challenging than many treks I have faced before. But there was a monster waiting for me at the end of this trail, an experience I've never encountered before, and one for which I was not wholly prepared.
I've spent weeks in the woods, but this would be my first night in a Bed and Breakfast.
It was a compromise with the women on the trip - balancing our time in a tent with a stay in Asheville's Crooked Oak Mountain Inn. In order to motivate everyone on the trail, we planned to follow three glorious days of mountain climbing, dehydrated food, and iodine-tinged water with one night of frilly pillowcases and canopied beds.
Humor columnists are not the most outdoorsy people in the world, usually because most of us rarely leave our parents' basements. I am the rare exception; the joke writer who can tie a taut hitch. I can treat a snake bite, scare off a grizzly bear, and put a chicken to sleep in the palm of my hand. I sleep comfortably with knotted roots pressing into my spine. I can handle rain, heat, heights, bugs, and very pointy stickerbushes. But I cannot handle doilies.
So, obviously, I signed on for the backpacking but not the pampering. For me, a perfect trip is topped off by a night in a $30 motel room with a shower, cable, and pizza delivery. I am a simple man. I don't need no stinking doilies.
And so, obviously, I tried my hardest not to enjoy the Crooked Oak Mountain Inn.
When we arrived, I noticed three things right away. There weren't really any doilies. The pillowcases weren't overly frilly. And our massive, plush, inviting king-sized bed did not have a canopy. It was immediately clear that this was not going to be easy.
A half-hour hot shower washed away more of my doubts, along with three days of accumulated dirt and stray granola. I stepped from the bathroom to find a pristine white terry cloth robe waiting on the bed. This, I thought, would be the greatest challenge yet.
I made certain the blinds were drawn and the door was securely locked. Holding my breath, I pulled on the robe. I attempted not to sigh too loudly. I failed in this attempt.
Later in the afternoon, a few frosty mugs of locally-brewed amber ale reaffirmed my masculinity. I sat on the porch, taking in the mountain view, while trying not to think of the terry cloth robe in my bedroom.
And in the morning - oh, the morning - I discovered our motive in choosing this particular B&B. The owners both happen to be professional caterers. And an omelet made with havarti, spinach, tomato, and dill happens to taste better than instant oatmeal and a cold Power Bar.
We left clean, well-fed, relaxed, and looking far more human than when we arrived. Against all my intentions, I had actually enjoyed the stay. It was truly a test of manhood, and more than that, a learning experience.
Real men, I learned, challenge themselves. They push their boundaries. And, on occasion, real men wear terry cloth robes.
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