How Not to Cook a Fish: A Tale of Stupidity, Nudism and Nature

The most important part of a road trip is not the number of miles that accumulate on the dash of your vehicle. The memorable parts of a roadtrip happen when you’re free of your metal cage and out exploring the world. As I was driving through Ontario, Canada the thought occurred to me that I had been burning down the highway like a trucker headed for a strip joint. I had time, time to relax and enjoy the scenery, time to hang up the hammock by the river or stay a couple extra nights in an intriguing city. I had a full month and no one was expecting me to be any particular place, any time particularly soon. As I rolled along, I saw a sign for a hiking trail on the right hand side of the road. Ah, perfect chance to get out and stretch the legs. More importantly, I needed to get away from my music selection. I had two cds that worked: Dave Matthews Band and financial advice by Dave Ramsey for nearly 8,000 miles. I could recite every word to those cds like an angst filled adolescent at a poetry slam. Making my way down the trail, I knew I had made the right decision. It’s easy for me to become fixated on a destination and speed by small opportunities; like walking down a fern lined trail with my fishing pole strapped to my pack on a sunny afternoon.

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Arriving at the river, two beautiful fishing holes slowly spun in a semicircle as the current washed against the polished rock in a crescent moon and reentered the flow of water further downstream. I quickly ditched my shoes and shirt and started casting lines in the water.I wasn’t getting any bites, but I was simply enjoying the process of the cast, letting the lure float downstream and then battling the current as I pulled the sparkling hunk of metal back to my rod, sans fish. This went on long enough for the sun to disappear behind the hills and take its warmth with it. Unphased by my inefficiency as an angler, I started gathering kindling and built a small fire. No skin off my nose, I brought Peanut Butter for this very situation.

After setting up camp and enjoying the half-light of dusk, I decided to throw a couple more casts simply to pass the time. Within five minutes, I had a beautiful rainbow trout lying on the rocks along the river. After separating the spirit from the body, I realized that I hadn’t really intended on catching anything. I knew I had a Dollar General version of a swiss army knife but it wasn’t so sharp. It would surely do though, because it would have to. Prepping the fish was a rather gruesome task with the dull blade, but I managed to make it work while covering myself in blood and fish slime. By this point, darkness had descended on the river valley and the mosquitos appeared to give me company. Taking the fish to my fire, I run into a second conundrum: how to cook the fish without tin foil, a pan or some kind of small prop up metal grill. Upon short order, I decide to build an altar over the fire with a thin flat stone connecting the two pillars over the lashing tongues of flame. Genius. Freakin Bushcraft genius. Well, not exactly. I couldn’t get my rock hot enough to actually cook the fish like a skillet; it more or less just made a smoky, fishy, bear signaling device that radiated throughout the hills and invited all carnivorous creatures to come feast upon my bones.

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After some time, I realize my excellent bushcraft skills must be called upon again to configure another deviation of my current Weber 5000 grillmaster. After careful measurement and notation of geometric deviations, I decide to balance the slippery fish torso over a pronged stick and hold it over the fire, weiner dog style. Although an excellent idea in theory, I did not account for the high mathematical probability of the fish falling  off the stick and into the fire. Curveball, I know. Shrieking like a cave hermit, I plunge into the flames after my fish, who is undoubtedly watching me from some purgatorial river in the sky and lamenting that it would be consumed by such an imbecile.
At this point, I have lost a little gusto. This whole nature hike has gone downhill rather quickly and I have managed to burn the piss out of my hands while trying to rescue my poor fish. She deserved a better sendoff than this. All the while, I am sending out smoke signals that I have fresh, half cooked fish. I further the invitation by shouting cursewords and grunting like a neanderthal. I eventually get the fish cooked to reasonable sushi status and decide that this debacle has gone on long enough. Tearing into the fish by the northern moonlight, I realize how I likely appear: I have no shirt or shoes on (still), I am covered in fish scales, blood and soot from the fire and I am tearing the flesh from a very undercooked fish while sitting beside a river in the woods. I realize that at some point in the day, I have morphed into Golumn. We eats the fish indeed.

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I finish the fish, barely, and am unbelievably glad the ordeal is over. If I had possessed a 40 oz. of Olde English, I would have poured a little out in remembrance of that rainbow trout. I wash off in the river and strip down naked, as my shorts are covered in fish blood and slime. I’m now mostly concerned with the threat of bears or animals showing up and investigating what all the ruckus was about earlier in the evening. I make a bear hang and put my clothes and everything fragrant into a stuff sack and hoist it in the air. I take a moment to survey my bear hang and realize that maybe there’s something to the whole nudism/naturist thing. Kind of nice. I breathe a sigh of relief and make my way across a minefield of cuckleburrs, briars and sharp sticks (more cursing) to finally, at long last, arrive at my tent and sink into my sleeping bag.
As I lay in the silence of the night, I begin to feel around in the tent for the canister of bear spray I had brought along with me. To my great disappointment, it was not in the tent. “Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it” I mutter, as I make my way back across the cuckleburrs, briars and sharp sticks (more cursing) to retrieve my bear spray. You know, us nature lovers gotta be smart about these things. As I hobble around in the darkness, my fears are realized. I see a large black bear huddled over the extinguished remains of my sacrifice altar. I am now hiding behind a fallen tree, naked, trying to cease the existence of sound. If you’ve never been in that position, believe me when I say you feel rather vulnerable. I crouch in the darkness for at least 5 minutes, peering around the edge of the fallen tree to monitor the intruder. He seems to not be moving at all. Occasionally shifting? I can’t tell. After a quick motivational speech to myself about helping Frodo reach Mordor and saving Middle Earth, I spring out from behind the stump, throwing rocks and caterwauling like a wounded mountain lion. He doesn’t move. Not one single centimeter. A few flung stones in, I cease my primal attack to reassess the situation. I just thought it would be a little more intense I guess? I look closer to realize that I had just waged paleolithic war upon a bear shaped stump.

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After laughing at my endless courage and retrieving my bear spray, I decide to give the lifeless fire pit a quick shot of bear spray before calling it a day. My logic being, should a bear appear, it would smell the linoleic acid and go on its way. As I press the lever to release the super charged pepper spray, a breeze happens to drift directly into my face; bringing with it enough chemicals to stop a charging grizzly bear. I’ll spare you the details: the snot, the coughing, the crying, the questioning of why God blessed me with such an above average intellect. I climbed into that sleeping bag with the realization that if I had to hack it in the woods, well, I probably wouldn’t make it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how not to cook a fish.

‘Til Next Time,

Mike

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