Last night it took me four attempts to get my campfire going.
I’ve never claimed to be the most manly of men, but that sort of effort is akin to having one’s genitals removed to be replaced only by a deep pit of shame.
I could have forgiven myself if it had taken four attempts after I had foraged in the wet Washington wilderness with nought but my axe to gather a campfire’s worth of timber.
Timber that was soaking wet, but ready to be burnt by a cunning outdoorsmen such as I thought myself.
But, nah, I’d just picked up two rolls of perfectly dry cedar from the gas station outside the beachside campground and dropped it in the rusted truck wheel at my campsite.
The whole tragedy also included an entire local newspaper (including advertising liftouts), several pages of the very notebook I drafted this pisstake of a post in, and the dust cover of Richard Flanagan’s 2014 Man Booker prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Don’t worry, the book itself is fine, and a spectacularly depressing world war two novel that owes a great deal to classical Japanese literature; if you’re into that sort of thing.
After I’d managed to deplete the small supply of twigs that came with the firewood I’d bought, I split one of the logs into a better stack of kindling with my trusty axe (that, in retrospect, I scarcely deserve) and rebuilt the fire.
And I only managed to get that going after another two attempts with the aforementioned toilet roll, noteboook papers, a string of expletives and a couple swigs from the “Loser” Pale Ale I’d bought to keep me warm in case my fire lighting skills did leave something to be desired.
The beer’s label proclaims that ‘Corporate Beer Still Sucks’ is an homage to Sub Pop Records, the home of Nirvana. And indie beers. Or something.
But on that fourth attempt, having rebuilt my teepee of kindling, replaced the noteboook paper, readjusted the toilet paper (Oh yeah! My third attempt was so god awful I had somehow fucked up setting a roll of toilet paper on fire successfully), and stepped down the enthusiasm of my fanning, she caught.
She caught and she caught beautifully, rising from the base of the luxury three-ply through the structurally integral teepee of identical hewn kindling and then outwards to the larger logs, no doubt fighting for the oxygen I sought to inhale between gaping sighs of relief.
Not only did I retain the right to call myself an outdoorsy type dude in any future online dating profiles, I had something to use to cook my shitty, processed, barely-even-food Franks hotdogs.
It was night number 10 of however many nights it’s going to take me to run my Chevy Astro, Laika, in to the ground on this great Pacific North West road trip, and I’d just circumnavigated the entire Olympic Peninsular.
I’d hiked some beautiful trails, encountered some of the country’s most notorious fauna and scored some rad beach break surf; goddamn, I was going to celebrate with a decent beer, some shitty food and a campfire.
It was only the fourth fire I’d had, despite having camped every night but the two I spent at a hostel in Victoria, where I hear they frown on you lighting fires next to your bed.
I would have lit one on my second night, on the edge of Horne Lake and under a mountain peak the name of which I’m let to learn, but I forgot a lighter and I’m yet to master creating fire by rubbing two sticks together.
It wasn’t until two nights later on the west coast of Vancouver Island, at the Sombrio campground on the Juan De Fuca hiking trail, that I managed to get a decent fire going with a combination of driftwood and previous campers’ left over kindling.
And the third campfire, on the shores of La Push, I can’t even claim as mine – but I was invited to share it with a few great people, so I count it as a success.
But maybe it doesn’t get easier with practice.
Maybe even with perfect conditions and the right equipment, even the most well built campfire can collapse and leave nothing but a smoldering pile of ashes from which I can attempt to revive something worth gathering around.
Each of these days I gather the necessary supplies for a day’s efforts; some days it catches in to just the spark of an idea and occasionally the roar of a full blown adventure.
But I’m yet to figure out the perfect mix that will leave my lying in bed at the end of the day without some lingering feeling I could have done more.
Maybe that’s not the idea though, maybe there’s something that will always be left undone and something that will be worth doing again tomorrow.
So I will continue to light these fires and hope that the spit and hiss of the flame whispers something in my ear worth listening to.