To build a stove
A long time ago, in a land far away (by the name of Pensilvania) I was biking through the forest. It was the summer of 2009 and I was on an epic bike adventure from Smithers BC to Berlin. I had with me my tent and camping equipment. I was all decked out to setup, cook and camp wherever I choose.
When I pulled into the little clearing on the side of the road that day to make my lunch, I discovered that someone else had beat me to it. I almost didn’t notice him, he was tucked away in the shadowy corner of the clearing, sitting at a picnic table. There were several tables, but I needed some company, so I walked over and we got talking. He invited me to sit down.
As we chatted, I took out my camp stove, veggies, bread and macaroni to make lunch. My stove was one of those high quality, super compact titanium thingies that connect to a gas canister. I had used it camping all around the world and was very proud of it. I offered to make Jack, my new friend, some lunch and he agreed.
I soon noticed that he had far less gear than I. At first I was envious– when you’re traveling by bike for long distances, it’s an art to reduce your gear to the absolute minimum. My grandfather used to say, you can tell how traveled a man is, by how little he packs.
But… This isn’t always true (or so I thought at the time)… sometimes you leave hastily and don’t have the opportunity to pack all you need. Jack’s father had just passed away I learned. In anguish he had thrown what gear he had in his garage on his bike and set into the wilderness to find solace. He was stove-less.
I’d be reading some pretty hard core spiritual books at the time, and well, biking for days in the wilderness does activate the higher parts of your soul, so, when we came to part, I did the unthinkable. I gave Jack my treasured stove.
He was grateful. Then he fumbled into his bag and took out a turkey Baster, two tin cans, and a small plastic bottle. He explained that someone else on the road had given him these things so that he could cook his food, but that he didn’t need them any more, and maybe they would work for me.
As I biked away, I felt like that other Jack– the one who traded his pony for a handful of measley beans. I had no way to cook my own food now! Just some tuna cans and turkey Baster! Wtf! Here, I thought to myself, I had finally had an instance of a mistake in the existential theorities of give and receive in the books I was reading!
A day or two later, I was sitting by my tent, wishing read bad that I could heat up my cold can of chile. I imagined Jack was somewhere frying up a steak or some mutton chops with his new stove.
What the heck… I decided to try the can contraption he had given me, now buried at the bottom of my panier.
The turkey Baster sucked out the Ethel alcohol from the plastic bottle. It then filled the tin can (then one with lots of small pin holes). That can sat in the open tuna can. Skeptical, I struck a match and lit it.
Within a few minutes my chile was miraculously bubbling happily in the pot! The stove ran hot and consistent for a ridiculously long time on so little fuel. I ate my chile in grateful awe.
I later did some research and learned all about tuna stoves. They are makeable from the right tin cans and run on any liquid fuels. Best of all is rubbing or Ethel alcohol that you can easily buy anywhere in the world for a fraction of the cost of the gas canisters.
The experience was an epiphany. First, I was able to reduce my gear yet further– no gas canister! The cans and plastic bottle (you can managed without the Baster!) were lighter and easier to pack the my titanium stove. But more than thatl, I could ditch the whole thing at any time, then make it again whenever I needed! A skill had replaced a material possession.
It was a major breakthrough for me.