Tuesday, June 06, 2006

To the Pain

It's that time of year again, when my thoughts turn to stalking through the woods, on the hunt for that most elusive of game - my best friends.

It's called paintball, and it's a game I've enjoyed for over a decade now. I don't get to play as often as I'd like, but ever since my friends and I celebrated my bachelor party with paintball and poker instead of booze and strippers four years ago, it has become a highly anticipated annual event.

On 250 beautiful wooded acres up north near Fiddletown California, we wage our war among the pine trees and poison oak. Bugs bite, burrs attack and sweat drenches our camouflaged bodies - as we taunt one another and shoot gallons of paint mercilessly through the air.

At the end of the day, our skin is splotched every color of the rainbow with deep bruises and a myriad of welts. We soothe ourselves by drinking and trying to take each others money (in that other form of combat known as poker.)

Four intense days of competition all day and night, and yet somehow we remain on speaking terms, and in fact, by trips end have reaffirmed our bonds of friendship many times over. A great thing at our age, with more and more family/career obligations upon us - it's a welcome indulgence in fellowship.

The camaraderie is what makes the trip great, but the paintball is the draw. And paintball is a bit strange when I really think about it. Grown, privileged men, far from the bloody horror that is actual war, seek to basically replicate the sadistically giddy adrenaline of firearm combat. But with the fear of actual death and/or dismemberment conveniently removed, paintball becomes instead boys at play; as we were as ten year olds - romping around with sticks and toy six shooters. "I got you! No you didn't!" etc. One of the great adult things about modern paintball markers, that shoot 68. caliber gelatinous balls of paint at over 200 mph, there is little doubt when you have been shot.

It hurts like hell to get hit, but this seems to only add to the appeal. It's a great incentive to keep behind cover, and a bit of pain adds a vital ingredient of "danger" that makes it seem that much more real. Of course, it's a very safe sport; statistically less injury laden than golf or bowling. But it's hard to remember that when someone is shooting at your head.

There must be something deep rooted in us that gives such a thrill at this stalking and being stalked in the woods. I never feel more alive than when I come across an enemy player unaware of my presence. The thrilling rush I get from "lighting him up" is second only to a handful of carnal and gastrointestinal pleasures that I've had in my lifetime. Paintball is truly something I savor and look forward to all year long.

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