08/01/2011 10:55 am ET Updated Oct 01, 2011

The Call of the Mild

Climbing Mt. Everest is not on my bucket list and never will be. Ditto for hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail or kayaking down the Colorado River.

This is no snap judgment. I've tried many times to be an outdoor enthusiast, gone to great lengths and high altitudes. And the constant pattern in all my endeavors, from skiing to scuba diving, is a huge feeling of relief when it's time to take off the gear, load the car, and head for home.

I learned at an early age that my personality isn't suited for adventurous recreation, and the proof is lying on my desk as I type these words. It's a letter I sent home from Boy Scout camp in the summer of 1967. The date on the envelope is July 11th and here are my exact words as I reported on unforeseen hardships that confronted me in the semi-wilderness environment:

"Dear Mom & Dad, just finished dinner. One minor disaster. Bottle of hand lotion opened and emptied in my bag, soaking box of toilet articles, axe sheath, spare uniform, not to mention duffel bag. Please send extra Kleenexes and hand lotion."

You'll never find an entry like that in the journals of Lewis and Clark. However, if top quality skin care products had been available to the Corps of Discovery, I believe they would have sympathized with the horror I felt upon discovering that my plastic vial of liquid epidermal enhancer had ruptured catastrophically in transit as the Greyhound bus carrying our troop left sea level and climbed into the southern Sierra Nevada.

At this point you might assume my parents responded by jumping in the car and coming to rescue me, but that didn't happen. The whole point of scout camp is to challenge yourself, which I did. I fired hundreds of rounds at the rifle range, carved wooden neckerchief slides, and swam a mile across the lake.

I also cleaned my clothes every few days using a block of Fels-Naptha soap and a concrete sink that was fitted with a metal washboard. Fels-Naptha does not leave your hands feeling smooth and supple but it gets the job done, and if there was a merit badge for Laundry Skills I would have gone after it in a heartbeat.

Other excursions took me into the high country during the next few years and each one provided anecdotes that prove I gave the rustic lifestyle my best shot. I have dried a soaking wet sleeping bag using the heat from a campfire, eaten food items plucked from my immediate surroundings, and seen lightning strike a nearby tree. There are many people who go through these experiences and say "It doesn't get any better than this!" and -- no use faking it -- I'm not one of them.

Having made this realization years ago, I'm now comfortable in my own well-moisturized skin. As Clint Eastood said in Magnum Force: "A man's got to know his limitations." And then there's George Burns, who is alleged to have declared, "Never fall in love with your bed," which I agree with, but that doesn't mean you can't have a long-term physical relationship with it.

I also get tremendous daily satisfaction from a hot running water and other facilities made possible through the miracle of modern plumbing, and I don't think these attitudes make me a disgrace to our frontier heritage. I believe I'm honoring the pioneers through my use and enjoyment of lifestyle amenities they envisioned for future generations.

My feelings are reaffirmed every time I open the front door to retrieve the morning paper. Standing in the threshold, I imagine two signposts, one pointing outward toward the horizon and the other aimed back into the house, and a voice asks, "Which direction calls to your true nature?"

Indoors always wins. Hands down.

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