Anybody who knows me, even slightly, understands that I have absolutely no mechanical skills whatsoever. So when my stove broke halfway through my JMT hike, I knew I was in deep shit. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but I knew I was going to be uncomfortable for a while. In the past, whenever I tried to fix something, an all too familiar pattern would develop: First, a flash of panic when I'd first discover something was broken. Second, a wave of calm that would last about five minutes, when I'd tell myself "Surely you can fix this. It can't be that complicated." Third, a couple of minutes of profanity laced outbursts. Fourth, a couple more minutes of profanity laced outbursts. Fifth, breaking all surrounding mechanical parts. Sixth, a final kick into broken mechanical device. Seventh and final phase, a satisfied declaration on my part exclaiming "Now it's @*% fixed!!"
This time around I told myself, "Surely you can do this. It can't be that complicated. Besides, you've matured a lot." Indeed I had matured a lot. This time, a wave of calm ensued that lasted about ten minutes before phases 3 and 4 kicked in. When phase 5 began, my "angel on my shoulder" started to scream, "Don't do this!!! Look at your surroundings!!! You're going to starve!!!" "Fine!!" I shouted. "But I'm going to phase six damn it!!" After one triumphant kick to my stove, I resigned myself to eating cold mashed potatoes and tuna for dinner and went to bed bitter. The worst part about my broken stove was that the moment it stopped working, I had ten days worth of food in my backpack. After burying my first night's dinner of mac and cheese in the Kings Canyon National Park, I wondered how many more meals I would have to bury. It didn't settle well with my conscience to bury food anywhere in this beautiful park. To make matters worse, I was also struggling with the idea of burying my stove because the extra weight really starts to add up with a full pack. I'm estimating my pack was close to 60 pounds with all of the food. I was welcome to any idea that would lessen my burden. My second night with a broken stove, I was able to start a nice campfire and cook my food. It was one of my best dinners on the trail. Unfortunately, it looked like it would be my last because the second half of the JMT is mostly above 10,000 feet. Campers are prohibited to make fires above 10,000 feet due to the lack of bio-mass that occurs at high elevations. My third night, I spent another half hour or so attempting to fix the stove but to no avail. I attempted to eat mac and cheese without cooking it. I simply soaked it in cold water for about 30 minutes until it was soft enough to consume. I practically gagged after every bite and was unable to get more than ten spoonfuls down. As a result, I buried the rest under a rock and went to bed annoyed and hungry. The fourth night, something amazing happened. Again I was camped above 10,000 feet and was preparing myself for the likelihood of eating another cold dinner of uncooked noodles. I was camping next to a glacial lake called "Marjorie" and decided to take a quick dip to cleanse off not only the dirt, but the negative mood I found myself in. Once again, the "baptism" worked like a charm and I soon found myself feeling refreshed, happy, and with clarity of mind and purpose. "I'm going to fix this stove!" I told myself. What happened next is something I don't think has ever happened in my life. I had a moment of mechanical clarity where I was able to pinpoint the origin of the problem by simple trial and error and process of elimination. As it turned out, a hole the size of a pinpoint (that I didn't even know exhisted) was clogged by tiny pieces of dirt that was prohibiting the gas from flowing through the jet into the base of the stove. Once I unclogged the jet using a small needle, the stove worked like a charm. It was one of the high moments of the hike for me. The following dinner was absolutely delicious and I was thanking the high heavens that I chose not to bury the stove in the wilderness. Too bad I already sold my Volkswagen.