Why we do this – the three types of fun

I was half way through a 3-hour drive up to the Ammonoosuc River when a story came on the radio (NPR) about the three types of “fun”. My wife often asks me why I do these trips, and I’ve never really had a good answer other than its “fun”. It all made sense as I listened to this story because not all “fun” is created equal.

  • Type 1 Fun is enjoyable while it’s happening - the sun is out, the water is warm, the scenery is great and the company is awesome. It is ”fun” the entire time you’re doing it. Like everyone else, I do plenty of these trips.

  • Type 2 Fun on the other hand might not be “fun” while it is happening, but it is “fun” in retrospect. The 3-hour drive up to the Ammonoosuc was not “fun”. Putting up with cold weather and cold water was not “fun”. The anxiety of running a new river with a new group of people was not “fun”. In retrospect though, it was a BLAST, and I would do it again in a minute. Type 2 Fun tends to get us out of our comfort zone. We push a little harder, but hopefully we are rewarded with improved skills and great memories.

  • Type 3 Fun is not “fun” at all – not even in retrospect. Afterward, you think “What was I doing?” and “I’ll never do that that again!”. It is what happens when you get too ambitious and too far out in front of your skills.

The Three Types of Fun is a concept that seems to come out of the hiking/climbing community, but it certainly applies to paddling. I realized after listening to the story that a lot of the whitewater and camping trips that I like to do are Type 2 Fun. Fortunately, I’ve never had a trip turn into Type 3 Fun - as least not yet. :wink:

How about you? What is your favorite Type 2 Fun trip? Have you ever had a trip that turned out to be Type 3 Fun?


Most of my trips have been Type 1 fun. One Type 2 fun I can recall was last Halloween after a Noreaster came through the day before. The drive was boring, the conditions had me nervous, but looking back it was a lot of fun.

I never had a trip that was Type 3 fun. I did have a marriage that could be classified as that though.


The Everglades Challenge is definitely Type 2 fun, although this year many of the competitors might argue that it was Type 3, although time does have a way of making you forget. The registration for next year’s event opened up this weekend and within an hour there were 10 people signed up, most of whom started but did not finish this year’s race (including me).

It is amazing how things that were really not fun start to become fun in your memory pretty quickly. I was totally miserable Saturday night of the race, and Sunday was so frustrated and fatigued from paddling into those headwinds that I just couldn’t keep going. In less than a month my recollection is now “That was great, can’t wait for next year!” and I have to keep reminding myself how awful parts of it were. Of course there were many great parts, which is why people keep coming back to this crazy race.


We have discussed the ‘Fun Types’ for a while. They tend to be rather subjective as one person’s Type 1 fun can be another’s Type 3 fun. For some, Disney World during Spring Break would be type 1 fun but for me I suspect it would be closer to type 3 fun. Or, there is the Greenhill Portage on the Missinaibi. 1,400 meters in the rain with ankle deep mud, standing water, and a steep slick uphill at the start. Type 1 for those who love the challenge, in the Type 2 for me by the end of the portage, & I can see it getting to type 3 for some. But, stuff like that is what wilderness tripping is about. And, with a good group, it doesn’t take long and we all have smiles. The picture is from camp at the end of the Greenhill portage:

I’ve checked the time stamps & the following picture is from the next day. One wonders if the folks on that trip were having type 3 fun. This is a long way from anywhere & I’d hate to lose a canoe out there (which is why we were taking the walk in the woods around Greenhill. )

This also brings up the potential of what we refer to as Type 4.N fun where N is the number of professionals (Police, Fire, SAR, Coast Guard, etc.) involved.


The Faces of Type III Fun
53 22’59"N 130 16’02"W


As a young man I did some WW rafting in WV and I would call that type 2 fun. As a retired guy now my paddling fun doesn’t exceed type1.5 fun, and that is not by choice as I would rather it all be type 1 fun, but there are things in life you don’t have control of like the weather.

As an example of how fun is different for different people given equal surroundings. I will never forget one rafting trip and we tent camped the night before in a state park. We had an old canvas pup tent and it poured the whole night. Everything was soaked thru but we made it. In the morning I was pretty wiped out thinking it didn’t get worse than this and I was walking to the rest room to try and get cleaned up and something warmer to wear and I looked over to see a guy sleeping in the mud under a pickup truck and thought thank God we had the tent. I walked a little more and there were 4 people toasting mimosas in the huge picture window of their land yacht all warm and cozy. One night can be a 1,2or 3 on the fun meter.

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After a Night of Type II Fun
I geeked on my tidal calcs.
51 33’59"N 127 47’37"W


The type 1 and type 2 levels of fun both had the phrase “while it’s happening”. Sometimes the fun happens beforehand also. I enjoy outings which require pre-trip planning e.g. tabulating expected tides and currents. For me, this is also fun.

Most of my routine sea kayak paddles near home were Type I, with some Type II now and then. All of the kayak trips (camping from it) were Type II for at least part of them.

However, the only time I remember as being Type III was still a mostly Type II long trip in AK, the longest and riskiest I ever did. On that trip, which occurred in my first year of kayaking, two of us pretty much depended on the two more experienced kayakers to know about tidal streams. WRONG! Not only did they not know how to plan around them, they didn’t even know what resources existed that could be used in such planning.

We somehow were graced enough not to have any disasters, but we did have some scary events, the most dangerous of which occurred when tidal flow, strong wind, shallows in an exposed crossing, and a tug pulling a barge with what looked like mountains of gravel on it passed in the area. Perfect Storm of those factors plus our own ignorance.

My resolution forever was to learn as much as I could about not only the physical sport but also the environments I would be paddling in. For sea kayaking, this amounted to something called “seamanship.” I made that resolution AND made good on it, over the coming years.

So in that case, Type III scare scared me into raising the bar, to avoid other Type III events.


Uh oh,


Yep, it sure is Type III fun to wake up hearing tied kayaks banging around as the tide rises.

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The boats were OK. See that tiny scrap of sand in the upper left? It was under water but above it were trees hanging down. We hauled the boats up and hung them from the trees.

@pikabike Seamanship is an underrated skill - and hard to teach. Several years ago a small group of local paddlers got together for an impromptu “skills day” with a local high level instructor and shop owner. After a great day on the water we were having lunch and one of the other paddlers asked about paddling solo, which the instructor naturally didn’t recommend. Since I mostly paddle alone, it came up as to why he was OK with me paddling solo, but not the others, and his response was that I had good seamanship skills necessary to safely paddle alone. (He knows that I have been a sailor and boater for 30+ years). I was happy at that praise, of course, but it did bring up a good point about “seamanship” - not just knowing how to paddle well, but knowing weather, wind, tides, currents, hydrology, rules of the road, local conditions, situational awareness etc that only comes from time on the water.


Paddling in the Florida race circuit for 10 years allowed me to see all three types of “fun”.

Getting on the road at 0400 and driving across the state for a 0900 start was part of that fun. Other high/low lights were the tropical storm that landed on Tarpon Springs on a race day, racing the Santa Fe River a few days after a hurricane went by and dumped water by the foot (the power lines under water).

There were some things built into the races too. Turn around on the Wacissa race was going over the mill dam. The sturgeon in the Suwanee are awesome, unless they are 2 feet away from you.

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The rewards from overnight paddling trips go way beyond fun.
I think of words like rewarding, spectacular, remote, building friendship, seeing wildlife, challenge, and self-reliance.


I have had at least three whitewater paddling excursions which meet your definition for what you call “type 3 fun”. I prefer to call these types of events “memorable experiences that are better avoided”.

None involved any serious injuries or lost boats but I did take long, and sometimes multiple swims and get moderately beat up.

You know you’re getting into type 3 territory when you hear either “Here, hold my beer” or “Hey Y’all, watch this!”

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All the events in my experience I can recall as real Type 3s involved river trips with tornado touch downs within 5 miles of where I pitched camp and holed up. I’ve had that happen three times, two when I was young (before weather radios) and one about ten years ago when I got caught too far between landings to do anything about it.
I wish I could say I’ll never do that again, but I can’t. There are risks involved in paddling/camping that just must be accepted. If we do it long enough there will be some rare occasions where we get caught in situations that are in no way enjoyable and have nothing to do with getting beyond our skills.
They are memorable events though. If we survive them we come out with a story to tell around the camp fire.

The levels (types) of fun has been around since the 80’s according to some backpackers.

Not much of a beer drinker myself, but for many of my paddling friends losing the beer cooler would definitely push us into type 3 territory.

Wow - three tornados. I keep thinking of the movie Twister - you’d have to tie yourself to a tree.

Definitely seems to be a hiking/climbing thing. The story I heard on the radio was an interview with a rock climber. I like this one from one of the posts on the page you reference:

Type V: Sucks while you are doing it, hilarious for the people around you.

I’ve been involved in plenty of those… :wink: