Monday, September 22, 2014
Every so often when in the boonies I get the feeling Armageddon has happened and I've missed it. The whole world gone. Pfft. None left but us paddlers out beyond cell phone range and no one left to call even if we could hook up. Anyhow, that's what I was feeling when I awoke. That, a stiff back and a right arm that hadn't as yet rejoined the living.
Light level is my alarm clock. It's hard to stay in bed past 6am in the summer and hard to roll out of the sack before 7am in the dreariness of winter. Several times during the night I'd awakened to eyeball the tent ceiling looking for signs of morning. For an hour after my mid-night stumble into the woods to urinate, it got a little brighter, then got darker again like the earth had gotten tired of spinning west to east and reversed itself. Not sure what was going on I did the only logical thing, hit the snooze alarm in hope morning would eventually arrive. Finally both of us gave up the ghost and arose under an intense overcast. Layers on layers of clouds shielding us from from the evil, melanoma raising rays. But it wasn't raining and no rain was in the forecast. We had food, a stove and a lake full of fish to catch right outside our door. Out of the tent we found no frost on the ground but we could see our breath in the air. Our morning prayer of thanksgiving was for the person who came up with long johns (rumor has it they were named after John L. Sullivan. Must have been cold when he was in the ring. Could have been his bare chest and knuckles that brought on the chill). Life was good.
As far as the fishing went on Friday I'd best talk about how well we ate and all the firewood Brian gathered. Yeah, it was slow. The cause could have been the massive cold front that'd passed through on Wednesday. Could have been the angle of the sun during the few moments it'd peeked through the clouds. Could have been our lure selection, where we fished, the color of my boots or even what I'd eaten for breakfast on my last day of school back in eighth grade at St. Austin's. Best skip the last one or I'll start blaming it all on the nuns once again (truth be known I'm leaning on having done something terribly wrong in my previous life as a flatworm in Ireland. Karma is a powerful thing.).
Sausages, eggs and Texas fried potato patties? Could be that's what we had. If we didn't, that's what we should have had. A few days earlier while packing I distinctly remembered thinking, "Spatula? Spatula? We don't need no stinking spatula!" On Thursday while flipping the grilled cheese I realized my mistake. Fingers and a fork worked okay but a spatula would have been way better. Looking at six eggs in the morning's pan that little voice in my head laid another of those nasty 'I told you so's' on me. Nasty little voice. Only one thing to do, grab the fork once more, cut and scramble the whole mess up and call it breakfast. It ate good.
It's not like we spent all our time in camp working out the day's menu. In fact we pushed off and covered most of the east third of West Pike. Hours and hours of fishing. And we weren't skunked. We worked bays, points, protected spots and wave beaten shores. Jigged them, spun them and threw plugs both big and small. The bass, they were a tight lipped pack on Friday, no fun at all. That's why we finally pulled ashore for Brian to gather deadfall and drift wood. All bone dry and bark free. There we also learned birch trees are next on a beaver's pecking order after aspen. Got me wondering if it's the taste of aspen or its relative softness Bucky finds attractive. While I pondered that earth shaking problem, Brian scampered along the shore gathering this and sawing that, then throwing armfuls of wood into the canoe. Yup, he was pilin' himself up quite a load. Good thing we were in the middle of a lake in the middle of rain drenched forest. Our chances of being hunted down as the perpetrators of the Great West Pike Fire of 2014 were slim.
Dinner was a whole different story than the fishing. Sometimes it's not so much what you're doing but how you're doing it. Dinner was high on both. Steak, taters and a lot of carrots. In years past I'd brought along a bag of little carrots as grinders with digestion in mind. There's a lot of soft food consumed in the backwoods. Seems soft food has a way of sticking to your ribs as the old folks used to say. Not only sticks to your ribs but has a way of moseying through one's digestive system in no hurry what-so-ever to again see the light of day. Call the carrots an inducement.
Before firing up the stove Brian broke open a wedge of French cheese he'd brought along to go with the box of wine he'd also packed. So there we sat, or stood, cup of dry wine in one hand, bits of cheese in the other, men in the woods. Yarrgg!
We'll start with the potatoes. They were store bought hash brown patties. Had the seasonings and some kind of oil already infused. Outside of the potato chunks there was little in them that smacked of homemade. But they were tasty, kind of like having fast food in the forest. The carrots were fried en masse in a puddle of foaming butter and seasonings till they were caramelized and nicely browned. Decadent indeed and all Brian's idea. The strip steaks were fried much the same, seared to a black crispness on the outside then warmed through over a much reduced heat. Dessert was granola bars and honey crisp apples. Damnation it was fine!
One of the pleasures of camping is taking the time to prepare a good meal. I didn't know that in the early days. Back then my idea was packing a dozen envelopes of freeze dried meals, to save weight of course, adding water and heating the meal to a tolerable warmth. The stuff wasn't nauseating and if we were hungry enough, which was pretty much every meal, it went hot and fast. At least until the last few bites from the pouch when the stuff had cooled and my tastes buds were in shock.
Regardless of the passage of time freeze dried was no real improvement over the c-rations and LRRP rations we had in Vietnam. Yeah, they also went down easily at first. Hunger can overcome bad tasting food for a while but only for a while. Finally, after a month in the field, my menu was reduced to crackers, peanut butter, fruit, desserts and candy. Meals be damned. Travel light and eat what you can stomach on a daily basis was a grunt's motto.
Back in Allan and my Canada days we began to drag along a cooler with fresh food. All told our food weight doubled but our meal appreciation went off the chart. Maybe that's an exaggeration but you get the idea. With fresh food, cooking turned into preparing, took longer but became part of the experience, the fun.
Long story not so long, Brian and I ate well and took some of the edge off the mediocre fishing. After the sun went down Brian kindled his bonfire. He fired up a big bright blaze with occasional billows of smoke to make up for our lack of tobacco. These days I seem to enjoy a fire more when someone else does the tending. The weather was supposed to hold for another day and in the morning we were off to East Pike Lake.