The Fun Scale

There’s a 3-value “fun scale” that I love.

  • Type 1 Fun: Type 1 fun is fun while you’re doing it. Downhill skiing, finding a beautiful view, and the moment when you summit a peak are all examples of Type 1 fun. Basically, it’s what you already thought of as fun.
  • Type 2 Fun: Type 2 fun isn’t necessarily fun in the moment, but it’s always fun in retrospect. Think really challenging, pumpy climbs, super long hikes/bike rides, and unexpectedly cold and rainy trips where you don’t let the rain stop you. One great thing about the concept of Type 2 fun is that once you’ve been introduced to it, you recognize it when it’s happening and think of it in the moment as something that’ll be fun in the future…which makes it more fun in the here and now. Lots of people describe themselves as Type 2 fun enthusiasts, and I’m one of them.
  • Type 3 Fun: Last, and definitely least, Type 3 fun…it just ain’t fun. Things that are Type 3 fun aren’t fun when you’re doing them, and also aren’t fun afterwards. The dentist, freezing your ass off, and running out of water all fall into this category. But there’s a silver lining to Type 3 fun―it usually makes for a good story!

Some personal examples:

Type 1

My first (and so far, only) big wall climb was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I’d never done a climb taller than a single pitch, and this was 12 pitches. Hanging out that high above the ground was absolutely incredible. I can’t wait to do it again.

Whitehorse Ledge
7 pitches up the standard route on Whitehorse Ledge

Type 2

Last summer, my friend Emmett and I did a one-day Presidential Traverse―a 21-mile hike across the Presidential Range, the tallest range in the White Mountains. We were hiking by 5:45am and finished around 6:30pm. We had a great time, but towards the end it became a bit of a grind. We both were stoked we did it and would do it again, but I’d be lying if I said I was enjoying myself the whole time.

View from Mt. Madison
Looking back at Madison from partway up Adams

Type 3

A few years ago I was riding my motorcycle through Oregon in late September, without rain gear (doh!). I rode over a couple mountain passes, got soaked by 45-degree rain, and ended up riding more than 200 miles in the dark, in the pouring rain, to get to where I was staying that night. I was hypothermic by the time I got there. It totally sucked, but it’s also one of my favorite stories from that motorcycle trip.

My campsite that morning
My extremely soggy campsite to start off the morning

The Outdoors

I have a slightly tumultuous relationship with the outdoors. When I’m not outside, I usually wish I was. When I am outside, I usually love it…but my tendency to do every activity to the edge of my ability level sometimes leads me to barely notice the scenery, because my head’s down and I’m charging forward like there’s a bear on my heels.

But if I’m being honest with myself, pushing myself like that is half the reason I enjoy being out there in the first place. Something deep inside me feels best when my muscles are burning, my sensible side is telling me to stop, and the only thing keeping me moving forward is a slightly masochistic, sucker-for-punishment mentality. I live for Type 2 fun.

Keep reading for an account of a trip my dad and I took recently that covered all three kinds of fun in one day.

We’d planned on doing a 2-day, 23-mile hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains (for anyone familiar with the area, we were shooting for Zealand and the Bonds). We rolled out of bed at 4:30am to pack up and hit the trail.

When we got out of the car at 6am, it was -15 degrees Fahrenheit. We’d been expecting that, but seeing it on the thermometer felt a little gnarlier than reading it on AccuWeather. To our surprise, though, the cold was basically a non-issue. Within minutes we were so warm that we had to de-layer, and a couple hours later we were down to a base layer, a thin fleece, and a hardshell. The only signs of how cold it was were the ice covering our face masks and the fact that my eyelids kept almost freezing shut. It was a beautiful hike.

Ice buildup on my face and neck from my breath freezing
View from below Mt. Zealand

We made good time, and realized around the 15 mile mark that we might be able to do the whole hike in one day. We were motivated to pull that off―if we’d stopped to make camp, we’d have quickly become very cold because of how wet (with sweat) we were. We didn’t do a great job of moisture management. Avoiding cold is very motivating, and we started jogging downhill with our snowshoes on as soon as we reached our final summit of the day (Bondcliff). We got super lucky―we’d been in the clouds all day, but right as we summitted Bondcliff the sky cleared a little and we got an amazing view.

Socked in on the ridge between Bond and Bondcliff
It cleared up briefly on Bondcliff

There was lots of mild Type 2 fun due to exertion and cold throughout the hike, but here’s where Type 3 comes in. I was wearing mountaineering boots, which are made for ice climbing. The soles of mountaineering boots are completely stiff, because they have to be able to support your entire weight while your crampons are kicked into a sheet of ice.

The problem with the stiff sole is that when you’re hiking on hardpack, it beats on the bottoms of your feet. The last 8 miles of our hike were on well-traveled, firmly packed snow, and my feet got destroyed. They started hurting really badly when we were still a couple hours from the end of the trail. Accepting that I was going to have to deal with that pain on every step for the rest of the hike took as much mental power as I’ve ever had to use for anything. I started playing all sorts of mind games with myself…I did complicated arithmetic in my head, continuously told myself that other people have to deal with far worse, and imagined that I was just walking around the streets near my house. It was snowing, and the falling snow in our headlamps together with the overhanging trees made it feel like we were walking through an endless tunnel. By the time we got to the end, I was struggling to stay upright. But we made it!!

When we got back to civilization, we made short work of a large pizza and then fell asleep in about 30 seconds. Exactly the right end to a day like that.

Memory is a funny thing―as soon as it was over, we were both amped on how it had gone, and if I’d known beforehand how painfully it would end, I would still do it again without a second thought. Here’s how I explain it: Type 1 fun makes you happy now, Type 2 fun makes you happy later, and Type 3 fun expands what you think of as Type 2 fun. The harder the experiences you expose yourself to, the more you come to embrace the pain.