February 25, 2017
About 5:00 p.m., we stopped at Plum Orchard Gap Shelter to fill up on water. Due to a predicted icy temperature drop, several thru-hikers had decided to spend the night at this low elevation shelter.
Dave vainly put his lighter to some leaves in the fire ring. “Does anyone have a tip for starting a fire with wet wood?” he asked morosely, as the leaves sputtered but refused to burn.
I squatted by the pile of sticks and leaves. “Maybe I can help,” I volunteered. “I used to be a Girl Scout, decades ago. My mom was the troop leader. On our camping trips, she would give each girl three matches, and send us out to build our dinner fire. No fire, no dinner.” As I talked, my hands were busy feeling the twigs piled in front of me, keeping dry stems, rejecting most of them as too wet.
A sudden stillness from the shelter made me look up. All the young men were looking at me with identical expressions of incredulity. Is this woman for real? Dave spoke for them as he said, “That sounds kind of rough!”
“Well, our troop always won the fire building contests at the yearly Girl Scout Jamborees,” I laughed. I held up a small handful of slender dry twigs. “Let’s try your lighter again.” The sticks sputtered. “Hmm, needs some wind,” I muttered.
“Here,” Jay volunteered, “let the tuba player operate the bellows.” He knelt down and began a long, slow, steady blow on the tiny flame. I added more thin branches, and after just a few moments, a cheerful little fire was burning.
Dave looked in amazement at the blaze. “I’ve been messing with this for hours! You come in, and it’s burning in less than five minutes!” he marveled.
“Well, we have had a few decades of experience.” I shouldered my pack.
“Wait, you’re leaving already? You built the fire and you’re not even staying to enjoy it?” Dave asked.
“It’s a beautiful evening, and I think we’re not quite ready to stop walking for the day. Guess we’ll see y’all down the trail. Have fun with the fire tonight!”