To Build a Fire, Part 1

The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances.

Jack London, To Build a Fire

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This quote has nothing to do with this post.  It’s just one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite stories.  However, as we have spent the better part of January with temperatures never getting above freezing, it has felt a little bit like the Yukon.  Since we’re all longing for warmer weather, I decided to do a post that I should have written last summer but never got around to it.  It got pretty long, so I’ve decided to break it into two parts.  Robert, I hope it’s manly enough for you.

Last June, when Tara was gone for the week on business, I headed up into the mountains not far from my office for a few days of solo camping.  Granted, it was car camping, and that hardly counts when it comes to going solo, but I’d never done it before, and this was a good first step.  The plan was to spend the nights up at camp and come down each day to go to work.

When I arrived at Hope Campground up on Squaw Peak Wednesday evening after work, the campground hosts, a cute elderly couple from Florida, informed me every single spot was available.

“Anybody with you?” the man asked, looking curiously past me at my car, full of stuff, but void of another human being.

“Just me,” I replied.  Husband and wife gazed at me for a few seconds, their eyes slightly narrowed.

“Anybody meeting you?” He eventually asked, breaking the silence, and again I said no, feeling as though they suspected me of planning some sort of booty call up there.

The man abruptly stopped questioning me, put the friendly smile back on his face, and took my money and asked me if I needed firewood.  When I hesitated, because I did not have enough cash on me, he quickly told me it was free, and I accepted.  He retrieved a bundle of wood, tied with twine, which I took, thanked him and prepared to leave.

“Oh, you probably need some tinder!” He exclaimed suddenly and began rooting through the back of his pickup for bits of paper and other refuse that could be used as tinder.  I began to suspect that they felt bad for me coming up all alone.  The man, unable to find much in the way of paper grabbed a roll of paper towels.  I tried to gently decline his generosity, and he looked up confused, his hands poised to tear a few sheets from the roll.

“I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to fires,” I tried to explain, unsure of how to get the good-natured Florida couple to understand that I have a weird obsession with starting fires using only natural fuel.

“Well, this will burn pretty clean,” he tried to assure me, assuming me to be some sort of eco-freak.  I surrendered and took the paper towels, figuring I could always just use them for cleaning.

I did not have a fire that night.  Instead, I set up camp, grilled a steak which I washed down with a micro-brew, and headed for bead early.  I would be meeting up with the guys early the next morning for a mountain bike ride before work.  The trail was only a stone’s throw from my camp.

I awoke with a start quickly realizing I’d missed my alarm.  It had gotten down to around 40 during the night and my cell phone battery was completely exhausted.  It was 6:45 and I was supposed to meet the others at 6:30.  They may have already ridden by on the gravel road above the campground.  I jumped out of my sleeping bag, threw on clothes, downed half a can of Starbucks Double Shot, jumped on my bike and pedaled hard up out of the campground.  I had guessed right and managed to catch up with the others within a few minutes, my body still trying to figure out what the hell I was doing to it.

After a beautiful ride on Squaw Peak, I returned to camp for breakfast and a shower before heading down for work.  I had a solar shower that had been quite hot the evening before, but now was ice cold.  I had rigged up a crude structure with tarps to spare the host couple a view of my naked ass should they have happened by.

As I stood naked in my makeshift shower, shivering uncontrollably from the cold water, I was less than satisfied with its construction.  The ground was just dirt, so it immediately turned to mud.  It was also sloped, which proved to be nearly disastrous as I attempted to wash my hair and my feet slipped out from under me.  Blind from the soap in my eyes, I grabbed for anything that would save me from going ass-first into the mud.  I found the shower head, a small plastic sprayer attached to a tube that goes to the big black reservoir.  This provided just enough resistance to arrest my fall before it popped free from the reservoir.  I stood for a few moments afraid to move, the disembodied shower head in my hand, using my full lexicon of curse words two and a half times through while water from the bag sprayed everywhere.  I resolved to use the shower at work for the remainder of my camping.

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