The Campfire of Life

I took my son camping up in the mountains a couple nights ago.

He had been asking me about camping a lot recently and we hadn’t been camping in quite some time.

So I decided that nothing for the following 2 days was more important than going camping, even if it was just for 1 night and 1 full day, it was a much needed trip.

I asked him the night before if he wanted to go up to the mountains and bring our bikes and he seemed really excited about it.

The day we were leaving, all hell broke loose on me!

For starters, I only slept 3 hours the night before due to some pop-up bullshit that happened to me.

Also, I had this tire on my car that kept getting soft, and I couldn’t find out where it was losing air from. So every few days I’d put air in it. The plan was to get a new set of tires (which the vehicle needed anyways) after the holidays.

So I go outside that morning to put air in the tire and the fucking valve stem breaks off on me! I thought to myself ,”you gotta be fucking kidding me? This shit has to happen to me today right?”

So I jack the vehicle up and put on the spare tire and head to the auto shop. Now, the place I take my vehicle gives me a great deal on tires and I pay only 10% over cost, but the place is an hour drive each way.

I get there at about 10 am and I get a set of tires put on the vehicle, along with an alignment. I ended up spending a lot more time there than I thought I would, and I didn’t leave until after 12 noon.

The night before we left, my son had asked me if I could have the car loaded up and the bikes on the rack when I picked him up from school at 2:50 pm. I said to him, “You got it man, we will leave straight from school to go camping!”

Let me tell you, there are a lot of things in life that can stress you the hell out, but trying not to disappoint your child and stay true to your word, when all hell breaks loose, is a very difficult type of stress.

It’s very difficult for me, because the last person on this planet that I’m going to lose my credibility with is my son! When I say I’m going to do something, come hell or high water I’m going to do it!

There are enough bullshit people in this world now, and I don’t want to be one of them!

So I rush home and pack a couple bags real quick and load the bikes up. I succeed at arriving to the school on time, ready to drive up to the mountains!

At this point it’s after 3 pm and the only thing I had to eat all day long was an egg white McMuffin from McDonalds. I was starving and stressed out!

Sometimes when the day begins with a stressful event it almost magnifies everything else the rest of the day. Now everything seems stressful and you get into this state of being overwhelmed and pissed off at everything.

Oh yea, and I also had no idea where we were going to stay until just before 12 noon that day, when I found a campground with a cabin for rent.

This was just one of those 1 room cabins with a heater in it so we wouldn’t freeze at night (I value my sleep more now than I used to).

So this trip was all last minute planned out of frustration for not doing it sooner. This was one of those things where my mentality was basically, “FUCK IT, ALL BETS ARE OFF AND WE ARE GOING.”


After driving for the first hour I started to calm down a little bit and the stress began to fade away. I talked to my son about life and I asked him how school was going. I explained math in a way that was easier for him to understand.

I talked about the size of my gas tank and the fuel mileage of the vehicle, and explained how to figure out how many miles I could drive off a tank of gas.

He is 9 years old and sometimes I can spend 5 minutes explaining something to him that the school system fails to make sense of within an entire week of teaching!

So I gave him scenarios with different sized fuel tanks and different miles per gallon on vehicles and had him figure it out in his head.

The sun was glaring off the different colored leaves on the trees, really confirming that it was fall season in the mountains. I looked out at the views and talked about fun things in life and all of my problems began to melt away.

We stopped and got something to eat and I grabbed a bunch of napkins and newspapers to help start the campfire for that night. Camping just isn’t camping without a campfire right?

Now, I probably shouldn’t be sharing this with anybody, but we have a little tradition that has been going on since his first camping trip with me at 6 years old .

Whenever you go camping, it’s mandatory that you drink a sip of beer. Yes, my son took his first sip of beer at 6 years old, and it was an IPA that was over 8% alcohol.

Now, before you start thinking I’m a shitty parent, let me explain to you my theory on this; it’s a bonding tool, but also something that makes drinking not as big of a deal as they get older!

I wasn’t going to get any beer this time, but as we got closer to the campground my son said to me, quote on quote, “Hey, what are we doing for booze?” I thought to myself, “Okay, I guess we cannot break tradition here.”

I pulled into a gas station and bought a 6 pack of Coors Light. I got back on the road and listened to my 9 year old tell me why he thought Bud Light sucked.

Never in a million years would I have thought that one day I’d have a 9 year old telling me that Bud Light sucks! I agree with him on that one.

We made it to the campground and checked in, and I picked up 2 bundles of firewood.


I knew making a campfire was going to be a real bitch this time! The area had gotten a good bit of rain earlier in the week and it made starting a good fire a lot more difficult.

I put the paper and napkins in first, then covered that with what little dried out kindling I could find laying around the campsite.

I started the fire and it began to burn the small stuff fairly quickly, but the logs were a little damp and not fully seasoned, so they just would not catch for the life of me!

So now I became stressed out again and back in the same predicament as that morning; not wanting to let him down!

I sat there watching that fire dying out, and I began to think about exactly what it took to get there that day…

I thought to myself, “You have about 6 hours of drive time in, money in tires, gas, food, campground fees, and you busted ass to get here this evening! You can either sit here and watch this go out or you can bust your ass to make it burn!”

So not wanting to let my son down, I began scrounging for whatever I could come up with! I threw leaves on that fucking thing, and when they didn’t take off I spread them out so they’d burn easier!

I pulled out a hatchet and began cutting my own slivers of wood from the logs as quickly as I could to keep the fire going!

He said to me, “I can do that while you go gather more tree limbs!” So I told him to use the hatchet and don’t let the fire burn out. We became desperate to keep that fire from burning itself out.

At that point in time getting that motherfucking fire burning was all that mattered!

Now, I’m stressing the hell out worrying about whether he’s going to have a good time or not over a campfire, and he’s having a blast trying to help me get it burning!

As God as my witness, we worked for the next 45 minutes to an hour to get a steady fire burning. But in the end, we got it going. He then said to me, “Now what do you want to do?”

“I’m having a beer” I said. So we stood there looking at our fire and drank a beer together. I don’t think a beer had ever tasted so good after that day, and I needed one!

He had a few sips, it was really no big deal. After all, it’s tradition and mandatory if you’re going camping with me!

I could have sat there and watched that campfire burn out.

The easy thing to do would be to sit there and blame the wood and the conditions for why you couldn’t get your fire started.

The hard thing to do would be to bust your ass and do whatever it took to get your fire going. And once that fire gets going, it makes other small things that normally wouldn’t burn well, burn a lot easier!


I don’t care how bad you wish, pray, and hope for that wood to begin burning, if you sit there and just wait for it then it’s going to die out!

We then went to bed since it was getting late and I was exhausted, and we had a big day of mountain biking ahead of us the next day…or so I thought.


Now, one of the biggest reasons that I had picked out this destination for our trip was because of a bike park he wanted to go to.

This was one of those parks with a bunch of banked walls, jumps, and obstacles to ride your bike over. Yes, I was going to try to be a BMX rider that day too!

I looked at this park online beforehand and it said they’d be open on Saturday. The sun was out, it was supposed to be over 60 degrees that day, and it was going to be a perfect day for it!

When we got there, I walk inside the office to check in and pay, and these hippies tell me that it’s not open yet. One of them says ,”HEEEEEYY MAAAN, yea so we need to check the tracks out and make sure they’re dry enough, so YEEAAA MAAANNN, probably check back in about an hour.

We’ll definitely be open today because we have a birthday party showing up. Is that COOOOL MAAAAN?”

So I figured that I’d drive to a nearby trail system and we would ride a trail there and then return to the bike park.

I had to be careful which trail I picked out, because he still rides a single speed and steep climbs just wouldn’t be fun for him.

So we rode this one trail and it was slicker than owl shit! But it wasn’t a big deal because the bike park would be open soon and we would just ride there.

NOPE! We return back to the bike park and I get the same bullshit line again…

“HEEEYY MAAANN, so I don’t know if it’s going to happen today or not. You may want to call back in a couple more hours and check back with us.”

Let me back up here for a minute; so the place is an adventure center with other activities which was why they were still open that day.

I’m just thinking to myself, “You hippie son of a bitches just love wasting people’s time don’t you? I drove all the way up here, it’s the one thing he was wanting to do today, and now you’re fucking with my time!”

The fucking place didn’t even look damp, but I’m assuming it’s a liability rule of not being able to open unless it’s as dry as the fucking Sahara desert!

I told them that they needed to update that kind of shit on their website because now I have a disappointed kid.

So we get back into the car and I look at his face and he looks totally let down. I thought to myself, “Son of a bitch, now what?”

“Hey, I have an idea” I said to him. “There is this really bad ass mountain here and it’s really high and it’s an awesome hike with great views, you’ll love it! Let’s try that out!”

So that was my plan B. We would ditch the mountain bike idea and I’d pull up Google maps and search the fastest route to the park on the mountain with the trails. The day didn’t have to be a letdown, fuck those hippies!

So I drove over 50 miles to try and get to this place. On the last road I turned onto there was a sign that said “pavement ends” and that sign was pretty damned last second!

As soon as I saw that sign it went straight to dirt and potholes and me yelling “fuck, fuck, fuck!” But those 3 fucks weren’t the end of my rant. Because what had happened next, made me want to kill someone…

I drove up to a locked gate that prevented access for the final 2 miles of my drive. Nothing was online about the road being closed!

I’m assuming there was still ice at the top, something I was totally unaware of nor had thought of with it being over 60 degrees outside. MOTHERFUCKER!

So now we had been in a vehicle most of the day, had done little riding, and I knew he was even more disappointed than before! I could just see the look of disappointment go all over him! Damn…

I thought to myself, “Jesus H. Christ, what the hell is wrong with this trip! Can’t a single fucking thing go right for me on this trip?”

I’m sitting in the car, staring at a locked gate trying to think of what to do next. But you know what I was really staring at? ONCE AGAIN, I WAS STARING AT THE CAMPFIRE OF LIFE!

So now it was almost 3 pm and I knew that we only had a couple hours before the sun would go down.

There was a small town about an hour away that had a nice trail system that went through other small towns and alongside plenty of scenic things. It’s a really big attraction and I always wanted to ride through there.

There wouldn’t be any steep hills that would be impossible to climb with a single speed bike.

Maybe, even with just an hour to ride bikes before dark, it would somehow make the situation better.

I pulled off and put another $50 worth of gas in the car and headed in that direction, my only plan being to ride that path and pull something out of thin air to make the trip worthwhile…somehow!

I’d think of things on the way there and hopefully come up with something. On the way to the bike path I passed a race track. It was one of those dirt car tracks and I hadn’t been to one of those races in about 30 years.

My own Dad used to take me to watch those races. I called the track to see if anything was going on that evening and there was! This would be the turning point of all of the fucked up dilemmas that trip!

I said to him,”Hey, you want to go watch a race after we ride bikes? These cars are sort of like cars from the Mad Max movies, you’ll love it!” (Mad Max movies are some of his favorite movies)

So we get to the path and ride our bikes down it. It was really cool and there was plenty to see.

At one part, a train went over the top of us, and the bridge was a bridge where you could see through it and look at the bottom of the train passing over your head! This was something that neither one of us had seen before!

His mood had quickly changed into a much more positive one. Mine had changed too!

So after riding for an hour we drove to the track. As soon as we walked up the stairs and saw the racing, his face lit right up! He had a smile from ear to ear and stood at the fence to get as close as possible to the cars going by.

“Oh my God, this is the coolest thing ever!” he said to me. “Yea, they’re just like Mad Max cars aren’t they?”

We stayed for the next few hours, standing in the cold and watching the races. We then left to head back home, a 3 hour drive still ahead of me.

He fell asleep about 20 minutes into the drive, and I listened to old Christmas music on the radio as I drove home.

Plan C, the very last minute plan out of sheer desperation, was the winner. PLAN C, WAS DOING EVERYTHING I COULD TO GET THAT CAMPFIRE GOING AGAIN!

Nothing great in my life ever came from some master-plan. The greatest things in my life came from struggling to keep that fire from burning out. These great things came from not throwing in the towel no matter what!

You are going to have to kill me in order to make me stop!

I could either sit here and watch this fire die out or I could keep going,

I could push at locked doors,

which one will finally open for me?

throwing leaves into a fire in a desperate attempt to make it burn,

pushing with everything I have at what directly lies in my way,

you will not defeat me, I will build this fire and you will see it burn bright,

life will not defeat me, I’m going to build a fire on this cold night


Becoming The Bull ebook


18 thoughts on “The Campfire of Life”

  1. Love it. Thanks for the constant inspiration for life, bodybuilding and how to be a great dad to your kids. The time and money I have invested reading your blog and your books has been time and money very well spent. Always look forward to your content.

  2. Dear joe,
    Awesome article. I used to take my kids camping every summer when they were younger and they loved it. It was a free for all for them and they looked forward to it every year. One year i said to my daughter that i was thinking about taking them to disneyworld instead of camping and she chose camping over disneyworld. Thats the impact this place had on them. Can you imagine a kid choosing camping over disneyworld? Like you said you have a battle plan but we made.our own fun everyday and it paid off in spades. On a side note; whenever you trouble getting the fire started remember it needs oxygen so blow on it or have a newspaper or piece of cardboard handy to create more air flow to get it going. Or use some bug spray or gasoline, whichevwr whichever works for you. Rock on brother.

    • thanks for reading!! Brother, I blew air until my lungs about gave out, hahahaa, now gasoline I didn’t have unless I got it out of the gas tank in the car,lol, wished I had it! Wow man, camping over Disneyworld? Now that is pretty shocking, but I’ve never been to Disneyworld myself. Nvr had a desire to go really. Thanks for the response- JD

  3. JDB,
    Thanks for that story as it’s a great analogy for life. Sometimes life sucks; for me it’s been a fractured vertebrae, 3 bulged discs, fractured heel, broken sesamoid bone, ankle cyst, entrapped nerve, broken rib, torn ACL, tibial bone graft, torn gracilis and semitendinosus off bone, seroma, 2 hiatal hernia repairs, abdominal hernia, and diseased gallbladder, and I literally died last year (son brought me back with CPR), on top of it all the pain killers stomped my T into the ground permanently. Even after all of that crap, I have managed to blow on a little flame that you helped start with your blog and ebooks and in the last 5 months have gotten in the best shape of my life. The flame is now strong and I just keep putting fuel into that fire. My wife asked me the other day how I have the energy to keep doing what I do. I do all the right things to keep that flame going, because life is cold and dark without it.

    Using your analogy, blowing on your campfire sends embers through the winds of the Internet and you have no idea where it will drop and start a new fire of its own. My fire has started other little fires and through my own transformation into healthy living has inspired 4 others to change their life.

    Thanks again JDB. Keep blowing on your fire. You are changing lives with just a simple blog.

  4. Good shit JD. I agree that allowing a little one to experience things like beer will remove the curiosity when they are of age. I do the same with my girls.
    I appreciate the raw and vulnerable side you expressed through stress. We all go through it, but too many of us don’t have the intestinal fortitude to admit it.
    Glad to get these. Hope you and Vic are seeing Red grow exponentially!

  5. Fantastic article as usual John. I recently discovered your blog after reading about you on B&D and I am so impressed. You seem like a great guy and a role model as a father. I highly interesting and inspiring read, keep up the great work!

  6. Sounds like a trip you and your son will remember. The most important thing I think is that he saw you not get stopped when faced with opposition over and over again. Kids follow what you do, not what you say, so you acting in the face of defeat repeatidly was the best thing you could have done. What a great dad!

    Tradition is not the making of a new flame, but the preservation of fire.

    The trust you build with your son is so important. It’s what makes you his father and as he continues to grow next to you he’ll really be able to see just how much you do for him (not to say he doesn’t already!) so way to go with your grit on the trip!

    I’d love to see an article from you about managing stress, What do you do? I like doing cold/ice baths, stretching through the day, and really aiming for good quality sleep. When I treat stress management as important as a workout and nutrition, I find my mood and recovery skyrockets.

    Thank you for what you do!


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