The Happy Camper: Awkward Moments on Stage

Kevin Callan discusses some of his most awkward moments while speaking on stage (including an excerpt from his book, Dazed But Not Confused).

Credit: Kevin Callan

I’m in the midst of a speaking tour across North America.

Over the last few weeks, I presented at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show, Michigan’s Quiet Water Symposium, Canoecopia in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Ottawa Outdoor Adventure Show. I will have given 26 presentations by the time camping season is upon us. So, I thought this chapter from my Dazed But Not Confused: Tales of a Wilderness Wanderer would be fitting for this week’s blog. Enjoy.


I love presenting to a crowd of paddlers. I always have. I’ve been standing in front of campers for over twenty-five years, from quaint evenings in small-town libraries to Madison, Wisconsin’s Canoecopia, a show I once described to a border-crossing guard as a “Star Trek convention for canoeists.” Hard to believe I was the shyest kid in my class throughout public school.

I used to work off some sort of script to keep me organized, but gave that up a number of years ago. I’m just too darn hyper to keep to a script. Besides, a set dialogue doesn’t necessarily work, especially during Q&A period. You just never know what’s going to happen. I’ve been interrogated by a few individuals. At times it’s been landowners who hated me for promoting a canoe route neighbouring their cottage or camp. Sometimes its part-time historians who beg to differ on a point of historic fact. At Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, a professor of the outdoor education department belittled me in front of the crowd. That was an odd incident, and I’ve refused to go back to the university since. I also had a government official disrupt a presentation I was giving on dealing with bears and actually take over the lecture with her counterpoints because I was telling too many jokes. True story. That was the only time I lost my temper during a show, and I actually kicked her off the stage.

Less serious moments are far more memorable, however, like the number of times I’ve been corrected when attempting to pronounce the names of particular places to paddle, including Chiniguchi and Tatachikapika. I even incorrectly said Reese’s Penis Butter Cups, and described GORP as Good Old Raisins and Penis (rather than peanuts). I’ve had my fly down, sat on a chocolate bar just prior to the show when wearing beige pants, and even did the classic before-the-show water-splash on my frontal area while washing up and got caught trying to dry my pants with the wall-mounted air-dryer.

My Ontario Parks tour had to be the source of the most memorable moments. It seemed like a perfect plan: a relaxing time, travelling from park to park, giving presentations in the evening and spending the rest of the time taking in the joys of camping at a variety of government campgrounds. How naive! I’ve never had so many bizarre things happen to me in such a short time.

Algonquin was my first stop. I camped under a mono-cultured pine plantation and had the nasty job of asking the rowdy campers beside me to keep the noise down a dozen or so times, only to have them come to my talk that night and heckle me. At the next park I met some fans who insisted I go back to their campsite after my presentation for refreshments. They were equipped with a fancy trailer and all the elaborate things that went along with it: beer cooler, big screen TV, Xbox game console, deafening sound system and a little poodle that kept trying to have sex with my leg. The third night it stormed just minutes before my evening show and all the campers were moved into the basement of the interpretive centre, where we listened to the hurricane-force winds blow trees down onto trailers and tents, and hail the size of marbles dent away at our vehicles parked outside. The fourth night I defended myself against a family of snarling raccoons, as well as a past student I had the misfortune to fail the previous year at the college I teach at on a part-time basis. He staggered into my campsite after my show to confront me about his past mark. It was an uncomfortable situation all around.

Next was Wakami Lake Provincial Park. I like this park because no one seems to go there. Of course, that meant I was a tad anxious no one would show up to my show. It was an awkward moment. Truth is, I had a record crowd for the park’s interpretive program—a total of twelve people. The problem was that my computer shut down a couple minutes before the show due to a virus. I ad libbed, and it seemed to be okay. But I spent five hours in Sudbury the next day trying to get my computer fixed for the next show. It took four hours (and $500), and, while waiting for the repair, I went walking around the city. That’s when some shirtless, baggy-panted youth tried to rob me of my camera while I witnessed a man taking a poop beside a bus-stop sign.

My last stop, at Restoule Provincial Park, was the most memorable. During my talk, I told everyone about a magazine cover story I had just written titled “How to Make Love in a Canoe.” After the show I wandered back to my campsite beside the water’s edge and noticed a canoe floating in the moonlight. Two heads popped up and one of the occupants yelped out, “Thanks for the idea, Kevin.”

The quirkiest things have happened, and the oddest questions have been asked. Where do I purchase bear-proof fencing for my canoe trip in Algonquin? How do I convince my canoe partner to carry more gear? Are you the same Kevin Callan who’s an accused murderer? Is your wife single? And, when presenting in Thunder Bay for the Friends of Quetico, how did your schoolteachers deal with your attention deficit disorder?

Being compared to a fellow writer who was wrongly convicted of a murder, or being labelled as someone suffering from ADD, is well worth it, though. Why? Over the years I’ve actually encountered a few paddlers out on canoe trips who I originally met during presentations — and more than once they’ve claimed that it was my inspirational talk that convinced them to head out on their trip in the first place.

You can’t get any better reason than that.