Monday, April 28, 2008

The Fifth Night.

As with every other night on The Trail thus far, when the first yawn stretched across my face I immediately started looking for a camp spot. No need to be picky when you have a -60 bag and bombproof tent in the quiver, right? I descended a short hill and rolled out onto the first little pothole lake in the Farewell chain, took not more than a cursory glance around (not much to see in the dark), then started stomping out a trench for the tent. The night was easily the coldest so far at ~minus 30, and as I fiddled with unstrapping stuff from the bike a small chill set in.

Things only went downhill from there.

Once the trench was stomped out just so I unfurled the tent and slid the first pole inside. Arced it up and around and just as I was about to set it in it's spot I heard/felt a *crick* that was anything but good. I removed the pole and visually confirmed what my heart already knew--the pole had cracked.


The crack was at a junction--the female end had split open. Not having used tents very often in my career as a racer geek, I hadn't considered that a broken pole was a realistic problem. Suddenly it seemed real enough and I didn't have a contingency plan for it.


Although the raw temp was only -30 it had been hours since I'd eaten anything. That fact combined with a lack of movement to produce heat and I was suddenly, acutely aware of how critical that ten cents worth of tubular aluminum was.

Mentally rummaging through all of the 'spares' I had along with (while walking in circles to maintain a teeny bit of heat), I came upon the idea of using a spare spoke to splint the cracked pole. I quickly grabbed my Leatherman and used it to snip a spoke in half, then cinched the two halves tightly to the pole junction using zip ties. Cautiously optimistic yet impatient and *needing* this fix to work, I delicately reinserted the pole and breathed a huge sigh of relief when it held.

However, I hadn't thought far enough ahead when 'installing' the zip ties, and now that the pole was in place I could see that they were poking up into the tent fabric. Drat. I removed the pole again, shuffled over to the bike and unwrapped a few feet of duct tape from the seatpost, then wrapped the tape around the zip ties. Good enough. I delicately reinserted the pole and was again relieved when it held.


Disaster momentarily averted, I reached for the second pole. As I arced it up and around and was just about ready to set it in it's little crook, IT cracked.

Damndamndamndamn. Damn!

Half stressed and half smiling (hey--sussing out gear failures is precisely the reason I came here) I implemented the same 'emergency fix' using a spoke/zip ties/duct tape. Full-on shivering now (partially from the cold, partially from the anxiety), I slid it back into it's spot and delicately set it.

And it held.

I tried to be delicate as I went about the rest of the evening chores, but sometimes I had to contort myself (like while disinfecting my feet just inches away from the inferno that is my snow melter) in such a way that I'd bump the tent wall. I'd instantly halt any further motion and hold my breath (literally--I wanted to be able to hear even the slightest *crick*) but no further noises happened.

Satisfied that the poles would make it through the night, I exhaled out the last of the anxiety, smiled weakly, then turned my attention to making dinner.

And then, apropos of nothing, my stove sputtered twice and flamed out.

God. Damn. It.

I set aside the pot full of slushy snow and picked up the stove and fuel bottle. I could only assume that somehow the jet had gotten plugged, so I shook it every which way to dislodge any debris, then gave it a few pumps and relit it. Slowly and haltingly it caught, flickered, burned a bit then flared down. Uncertain as to any 'proper' course of action I pumped it a few more times and that seemed to help--it flared up and burned strong for a minute or so, then would start to sputter and flare down. A few more pumps made it marginally better, but I was getting paranoid about how much pressure was already inside that teeny little fuel canister. Any second now that flimsy rubber seal could give way and allow ~7oz of highly volatile liquid white gas to directly contact the flames. Poof--instant inferno. Staring at the sputtering stove inches away from the foot of my bag (and all inside of a two-man tent), this seemed somehow sub-optimal.

After several more minutes of fiddling the stove extinguished itself for good, and no amount of futzing could bring it back.


Resigned to no dinner tonight, no breakfast in the morning, no lunch in the afternoon, and no water tomorrow (or at least until I could figure out the stove), I snuggled deep into the warmth of my bag and slept fitfully while dreaming of slabs of ribs, a rare t-bone, and, for some odd reason, 4 (not three, neither five) pieces of dry white toast.

I went to sleep hoping that no wind would come up, and knowing that I'd have mucho fiddling and fixing to do during the 'heat of the day' tomorrow.

The zip tie fixes lasted all night.

But but but...

At 4AM not more than the slightest puff of a breeze came over the trees and down onto the lake. I heard it coming, braced myself inside of the bag, then bolted into motion when I heard the now-too familiar *crick*. I scrambled to unzip my bag then immediately felt the tent fabric pushing down on my face while fumbling to switch on my headlamp. Once I had light it was easy to find the newest crack--the pole formed a right angle at precisely that spot. I grabbed my socks (the first soft thing that I was able to lay my hands on) and wiggled them between the pole and the fabric--just a temp fix to keep the fabric from ripping. Then I set about gathering the spoke, zip ties, and duct tape to fix it.

~30 minutes later the tent was more-or-less standing, my heart rate was back to ~normal, the headlamp had been switched off and I was again getting cozy inside the bag. Sleep, however, never returned, as my mind raced trying to sort out why the poles were cracking, how to stop them from continuing, and how to get the stove working again. The only certainty was that I needed just one more day of warm temps and no wind to effect all of these repairs trail-side.


  1. hmmm! amazing how such a small thing can highlight the difference between, well, life and death i spose...great writing...

  2. Hey Mike can you tell the good readership about the black outfit that you are wearing. It looks like a one piece but i bet it has some crafty features on it.