DAY 4: Poo Themes and Candle Magic

Despite my best attempts at exploring the philosophical ramifications of my reintegration with the land and people of my youth, I seem to have ended up writing about shit a lot. I don't know how this happened.

I'm not obsessed with bottoms, or their produce, despite all this evidence to the contrary. Please bear with me. It'll end at some point, I'm sure, and I can go on to talk about stunning vistas, flowers, fluffy bunny rabbits and such. Which will certainly make my mother a lot happier.

* * *
The morning sun woke the boggy smells first to remind me what a bloody awful campsite this was.

The light did slant through the trees rather fetchingly, though, as I stretched the tightness from my muscles. However, this glimmer of a good mood faded when I saw my bike. The nocturnal avian orgy had manifested itself in a bike and trailer absolutely buried in birdshit. I'd propped my rig up against the tree they apparently roosted in, or more specifically, shat from, while watching last night's grouse/tent gangbang. Fucking scat fetishist voyeurs. With acute dysentery, by the looks of it.

I had noticed the forest floor around this particular tree was popcorned with poo, but, like an idiot, I didn't twig what might happen. Another wilderness lesson learned.

Little fuckers.

Revolted but intrigued at what a significant part excrement was playing in this tour only half a week in, I deployed bogroll and spent a good half hour wiping everything down, an inch thick in places, stifling the occasional dry heave.

Not happy with managed wildlife, I generously forwent setting fire to the landscape by placating my vengeful wrath with a Fruit Pastille. I packed and ferried my gear through the woods to the road, hitched up and headed west into the prevailing headwind.

The hills beyond the A1 started to grow. The Pennines of the Yorkshire Dales were dominated the horizon, beckoning me on. By mid-afternoon I was well into the national park, a gritty, hot, determined ride through tremendous scenery ending at The Bridge Inn at Grinton, just outside Reeth. Several frosty pints of lager accompanied my social media catch up, but as daylight dwindled I realized I'd have to stay there well into the night to fully recharge my batteries. Needing to find a campsite before proper dark, I said my goodbyes and headed uphill, determined to either roll back into Reeth the next day for the bike shop and all-important brake pads, or continue on to the one in Hawes.

By the time I got to the top, there was no way I was heading back down to Reeth. That's one big, steep fucking hill. The word 'mountain' may even warrant a mention.

I pitched in the heather off a public bridleway with an impossible view and cooked up a packet of random rice slurry. These rice/pasta meals seem to come in one of two flavours; tomatoey or mushroomy. The blurb may well be more imaginative, like 'Mediterranean Tomato & Vegetable', or 'Cheese, Leek & Ham', conjured, no doubt, from the depths of a marketing department doobie, but it's pasta or rice in colourful sand. You have to continually stir the pot to suspend the aggregate in the liquid or it forms a bank on the bottom that could beach an oil tanker. I didn't have any 'optional' ingredients like milk or butter, both 'advised' by the manufacturers to 'enhance' the 'flavours' but suggested, I suspect, by their legal counsel to introduce at least one edible component.

 I resolved to buy some proper ingredients, and keep this dehydrated muck only for emergencies, but realized my cooking facilities were woefully inadequate. I'd need two stoves, or at the very least a food Thermos for simmering. (It is a strange thing that I'll peruse the packaged foods section in the supermarket, genuinely considering the possibility that this next flavour iteration may well be ambrosia in a bag. I'm always disappointed, and swear off them forever, until a month later when I repeat the process. It's like eating at Taco Bell.)

What? You can cook in a Thermos?! Why yes, you can, as long as it's a good one that retains heat well. You prep them by filling with boiling water, meanwhile bringing the stew or curry or what have you to a steady simmer in the pan. Then empty the water out of the Thermos (preferably using it for some other purpose, like coffee or tea), and pour in the stew, seal it up, and it'll be ready in 6-8 hours, or as long as the Thermos is rated to keep things warm (it's almost impossible to overcook stew, especially by this method). I've got my eye on a one litre food flask rated for 24 hours, but I'll wait until the weather turns cold before I seriously start looking into regularly preparing hot meals.

By the time it got dark, I noticed it was getting really quite chilly, so I set up my Stef ceramic candle heater and unpacked my sleeping bag liner and thermals. (Sleeping bag liners, although gossamer thin, add a game-changing few degrees to a sleeping bag's temperature rating.)

The Stefcandle heater consists of a tealight candle under an empty soup tin with air holes punched in the top and bottom. Then you upend a terracotta plant pot and set it over the tin, of an appropriate size to nestle nicely.

The candle heats the tin, which heats the terracotta, which retains the heat and warms the tent. If your hands get cold while you're outside, you can warm them when you get back in directly on the pot. It's like a hand warmer for a shelter. A tealight candle costs what, a penny? Four to five hours of warmth for a penny. I like these numbers. And once lit, it was warm enough in the tent to hang out in just a t-shirt, despite dropping below freezing outside.

Obviously, you have to make sure your tent is large enough to avoid accidentally knocking it over, and I always put mine in a far corner on my small chopping board so it doesn't fuck with the groundsheet. I didn't invent the idea, though; I reproduced this one:

and found it to be incredibly inefficient, despite extensive experimentation. Eventually I figured less metal was better, because it heats up quicker and transfers heat more efficiently from the candle to the pot, which is what you really want.

Quite pleased with my toasty abode, two episodes of Kill Generation failed to close my eyes, so I fired up that trusty Shakespearian standby: Coriolanus. I've never made it past the twenty minute mark with this movie before collapsing into a snoring, twitching heap, and tonight it proved its worth once more.

However, I was awoken throughout the night by a perpetual conversation taking place outside the tent between, by all accounts, Chewbacca and the Predator. Throaty mewls and groans danced with percussive trills and roars. Hollywood should seriously look into grouse for alien vocalization recordings; their range is enormous, loud, and quite otherworldly. Just grab one, stick it in a cage and poke it with a stick.

I'll be happy to volunteer as the stick man.


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