The Second Definition of Fun

It was a cold and stormy day, but we’d committed to float the Matanuska River for an overnight trip. We got a bit of a late start and it was raining when we finally got out onto the water.

Although we were bundled in warm clothes with rain gear to protect it, because we were floating on frigid glacial water, misery descended on us quickly, brought down with the relentless, cold rain from above.

We were also graced with a stiff wind that decided we needed an extra douse of chill, just to assure we knew it was summer in Alaska.

Do you see that blue tarp bundle in the rear of the raft? That’s a pile of children, attempting to maintain some form of heat. Can you feel the glacial water carry us into sheets of rain that are being thrown against us by the arctic wind?

Our fearless raft guides held it together better than the children and me. At some point while I was contorted under too small a tarp with three whiny girls, the toddler fell asleep on me (the only escape he could muster), and when we were doused from a wave train, I chose to not readjust in fear of waking him, so took the more noble course of letting the glacial water run down my pants and soak me.

It’s all a bit numb and fuzzy, but at some point there was a consensus to take a quick gravel bar break so that we could layer on some more warm clothing and stretch our legs. I generally don’t condone impulse buying but think this one may have been more along the lines of divine inspiration. Thank you lollipops for a spirit lift.

So you’re probably thinking we were having a bit too much fun. That was definitely the word that was (not) blinking in neon lights in my head. As we navigated further down river, trying to find a good spot for a warm bit of supper, I began to count on my fingers. It went something like this: one finger numb and white, four fingers down. Six fingers gave up the fight, now all ten have drowned.

When Nicki finally pulled in to a good sized gravel bar and we set up a shelter under which to cook, she said those words. “Well, that was fun!” And this wasn’t done in the tone of sarcasm that her thirteen year old son has mastered. And she has Raynaud’s syndrome as well as I. And she sat out in the weather for the whole float. So naturally, I attempted to raise my frozen eyebrows in question.

She explained thus: “My younger brother once told me that there are three types of fun.”

“Type I Fun is the kind of activity that feels fun while you’re doing it. This is what we usually think of when we use the word ‘fun’.”

(We decided somewhere in between full bellies and kids moaning about getting back in the boats to call it a day and just accept that the next would be a long one to reach our cars at the pullout.)

(I’m not sure what was going on here but thought it amusing that the pandemic gear had translated into some kind of serious fantasy drama.)

Type II Fun is the sort of adventure that although you are miserable throughout, but when you look back on the experience, you remember it amusedly and can say, “that was Fun”. Nicki explained that this first afternoon on the river fell into the category of Type II Fun.

In fact in less than 12 hours we were already laughing about the kids bickering about who was letting in more cold air under the tarps and my frozen buns + fingers situation.


The next morning we awoke to blue (ish) skies and this day turned out to be a Type I Fun day. The wind had blown itself away, the sun peeked out, and the rain (snow a few hundred feet above us) had done its work.

We were surprised by how MUCH snow had fallen in the mountains above our camp while we slept, finally warm.

There is a third type of fun, according to Nicki’s brother. This is indubitably called Type III Fun.

You may have already guessed the definition of Type III Fun by the previous progression between Type I and Type II Fun.

Type III Fun is the type of activity that is miserable throughout, just like Type II Fun.

But, instead of remembering this memory fondly, the imprint of how wincingly awful it really was, is branded into your reflections and you choose generally never to recall it unless you really must (such as in the case of preventing some other poor sap from engaging in similar Type III Fun experiences).

I’m happy to say that our float down the Matanuska River was Fun.

And if we’re going to get nit picky, the first day was Type II Fun, while the following proved to be Type I Fun. Thanks to the good piloting of both rowers, we avoided any disaster towards the end as we wove through mazes of braided river full of sunken trees, washed down in the fluster of breakup.

We were able to see a beaver, porcupine quills, bear tracks, moose sign, a red fox and on the second day, each other. We even pinpointed a few new gravel bars as camping spots for the next time we come, in pursuit of some good old-fashioned Fun.

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