This next story occurred a year or two after I took an accidental March dip in the Tradewater.
It all began with a deep snow (for Kentucky, anyhow). I guess we got about eight inches or so, which is not unheard of there, but is quite a lot for one storm. School was cancelled, so my brothers Mike (older) and Steve (younger) and our friend and constant companion Sam Brown decided we should go for a hike.
It would have been an excellent day to use snowshoes, but none of us had those. A good second choice would have been boots, but none of us had those either. We had sneakers, and thought nothing of it (until later). We loaded a pack with bacon, eggs, matches, a skillet, plates, and some forks and we were off.
We started our trek by hiking down Route 109 until we crossed the Tradewater on the bridge there. Then we walked along the river bank all the way to Lake Beshear. I guess the outbound portion of the hike took us about an hour. We messed around at the lake for a little while and then headed back, retracing our steps along the same path.
There are a lot of bluffs along the river there, and we chose a place under one to build a fire and cook the bacon and eggs. It didn’t take long to get the fire going, and once it was nice and hot, I sat down on a ledge and took my soaked sneakers off. I set them on the stone ring around the fire with the hope that the fire would dry them out a little. My socks were likewise soaked, so I took those off too, and held them over the fire with the same hope I had for the shoes. My bare feet were also dangling over the cheery flames.
Mike was busy cooking the bacon, and it wasn’t long before it was ready. He used a fork to take each slice from the skillet and laid them on a plate situated on the stone ring right next to my soggy shoes. With all the bacon cooked, it was time to cook the eggs. But there was just too much grease in the skillet! Mike did that which comes natural to a teenage kid when faced with the dilemma of too much bacon grease and a campfire. He poured it right into the flames.
Maybe you can see where this is going. I wish I could say that I had the same foresight at the time that you do now.
With the addition of 15,000 BTU’s of bacon grease, the flames roared upwards, immediately reaching a height of about three feet. And those three feet were plenty to reach my two feet which were still dangling over the campfire-turned-inferno. Quick as a flash, I swung my legs out of the way and leapt down from the ledge, landing in a bank of snow in my bare feet. I don’t remember what I did with my socks. As I leapt, I manged to knock about a pint of dirt off the ledge right into the bacon.
Our tempers flared to match the flames. I was yelling at Mike about torching my feet, and he was yelling right back at me for ruining all the bacon. Yes, all of it. That’s when I looked down and noticed that my shoes were both on fire!
I plucked the flaming sneakers out of the expanded fire and began beating them against the snow on the ledge in a successful bid to extinguish them. But they looked terrible. So here I was, out in the woods, an hour’s hike from home, practically shoeless, and with eight inches of snow on the ground.
We cooked up the eggs.
After assessing the shoes, I decided they were still largely functional. Not pretty mind you, but functional. The rubber around the toes was blackened and melted, but there were no major holes in them (other than the ones that were there when we set out earlier in the day). I put my sopping wet socks on my even colder feet, and then jammed them into the shoes. Yes – this could work.
We hiked home.
I continued to wear those shoes for another couple of months. They seemed to do the job. I told Mom I needed some new shoes, but since the damage to them was largely cosmetic, new shoes slipped down a couple of notches on the priority list. I did not press the issue, and I bet Mom forgot. I was (and still am) fine with that.
I learned that day what will happen when you pour grease on a fire. I also learned something about the importance of hiking with adequate gear, and planning for the unexpected.
As Roald Amundsen said, “Adventure is just bad planning.” I think that applies pretty well to this adventure.