When things go wrong in the backcountry, I blame alcohol


A lot of things can go wrong in the backcountry.

Any number of backcountry advice books and glossy outdoor adventure magazines will spin you worst-case scenario serials about lost and hungry hiking teams found shredded from their Capilene after trying to stake claim to a blueberry patch from a mother grizzly or a boat-shoe soled husband and wife from Fat Springs, Ohio attempting a July rim-to-rim during a day trip from Vegas.

But what these pedantic passages rarely share are the countless little annoyances and mistakes that occur on every backcountry trip. More often than not, they amount to nothing but a band-aid, however, they can sometimes have a ripple effect, creating a perpetual undercurrent of tiny misfortunes that build up with every mile you put on your boots until eventually … you end up becoming a something one mountain lion helps another pick out of its teeth.

On my last trip to the Black Mountains, my friend Jake decided that our sleeve of summer sausage would be enjoyed better as an after dinner snack instead of as next day’s trail lunch, fried and glazed with some cheap honey liquor he brought along in case I had a craving for a hangover and the aftertaste of sugary turpentine. Convinced it’s worked before, his idea was to coat the pan and sausage in the alcohol and light it on fire. Just like in Iron Chef.

So, while Jake is from South Carolina and can spit out more vulgar backwoods southern witticisms than a state fair t-shirt designer, he is a very skilled backpacker, climber and a Wilderness EMT. Which, right about now, you’re probably thinking is his most valuable asset.

Believe it or not, this story does not end in one of us needing a cold compress and an immediate evac. It ends with a really crappy breakfast.

After several attempts to ignite the sausage, Jake, like a suburbanite grill-master struggling to light charcoal at the annual cul-de-sac cookout, is convinced the concoction just needs more fuel. Because of the sugar and well, the general lack of anything remotely identifiable as characteristic of good alcohol, the stuff just wasn’t catching fire. But he eventually managed a brief flame and I complimented him on his effort while picking at a few slabs of hot drunk sausage.

I planned our meals on this trip and was excited to dish out a solid helping of blueberry pancakes to kick-off day two. Everything pre-mixed, I needed merely to add a bit of oil to the frybake and water to the batter. In only a couple of minutes the first cake was on the griddle. And boy, was it on the griddle. Really, stuck isn’t the best descriptor here. “Fused” may be more apt. The spatula didn’t stand a chance of penetrating the undersides of these … well, they weren’t pancakes. We tried everything. Turning down the stove, adding more oil, flint mapping a chisel.

The team decision was to turn what was left of the batter into a pancake mash by stirring it over the flame in the mixing pot. It sucked. But we finished it and plodded out of camp.

For a while unexplainable, I eventually came to the conclusion that the pancake calamity stemmed from the sugar in the “honey” liquor creating a culinary adhesive on the surface of the pan while it heated in preparation for breakfast. Just to ensure that it wasn’t the frybake, the mixture or the oil, I cooked pancakes the other night at home on my camp stove while my wife dined on grilled pork chops. My pancakes, banana this time, we’re perfect.

Like I said, a lot of things can go wrong in the backcountry. And like most of America’s problems, alcohol is usually the source.




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