One urban dweller's aversion to national parks

If it doesn't have a multiplex and espressomaker, I don't want to go there.

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I AM ABOUT to take one very small step for man. And an even smaller step for mankind.

The tank is filled with fuel. The travel gear stowed. All systems are "go" as I head forth to a place that neither I nor anyone who knows me thought I would ever set foot in – a national park. It's a land that existed for me only in legend. A mythical region I believed was filled with very large squirrels and very few jazz clubs.

I am not really familiar with areas of the country that don't contain multiplexes. For instance, I always thought Disney World would make a terrific national park.

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But then my adventurous British brother-in-law, the (almost) Lord Nigel, decided to visit the Colonies, and for some inexplicable reason asked to see not a traditional American sight like pastrami on rye but something he referred to as "nature." And so we are about to embark on a journey to the so-called "Grand" Canyon.

Unlike many Americans, I have not spent my vacations tromping through primeval forests or rappelling up, down, or sideways on mountain peaks. I have been more likely to find myself strolling through Bloomingdale's than hiking across fields in bloom. Instead of dining on bologna sandwiches at lakeside picnic tables, I tear through Zagat's as I pass through Topeka, Kansas, in search of a restaurant that serves General Tso's chicken.

The truth is that I am what my adventure travel friend, Paul, refers to as a seated person. Unfortunately, I live in a state, California (or in Austrian "Cal-ee-for-nee-a") where the main objective is to spend as little time sitting as possible. I dwell among people who, on the rare rainy day, walk, jog, or cycle without an umbrella or raincoat because they can't admit the sun is not out tanning their bodies.

Unlike me, my wife, the Lady Janet, although she shrewdly chooses to employ rain gear during downpours, has become quite Californiaesque, spending a good deal of time blazing trails close to home. (No doubt imitating her equally intrepid ancestors' treks through the Khyber Pass in their quest for the perfect lamb curry.) But she also spends a lot of time sitting beside me in theaters from London to Los Angeles. Which is why I agreed to "rough" it.

Which is also why my friends are now gleefully rolling on the floor in Boston and Chicago and New York. They know I will be staying in rustic cabins with only 12, at most 14, cable channels. Neither General Tso nor his chicken will make an appearance on any menu.

Instead I will be tromping along the rim of the "really good" canyon (not too close to the edge, of course. I figure 10, 12 miles back. Near Las Vegas.) I will attempt to watch the sun set while I search in vain for an espressomaker.

• Chuck Cohen writes from Mill Valley, Calif.

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