"I can't believe you don't have a stove!" Tim Holt had said so long ago, one wet, cold June day near Lake Erie. That day the wind had chilled my marrow-perhaps enough to inhibit the production of red blood cells. I was in dire need of warmth that day. For some reason I had kept going. The sky doused me with frigid droplets of rain. My gortex jacket and arm-warmers were saturated, and did little to keep me dry or warm. When Tim had picked me up in his black pickup, one of the first items of discussion was the importance of a camp stove and especially a cup of hot cocoa in the morning before a long day's journey into the wilderness.
Now, at night in the Okanogan Highlands, there were cold spots in my sleeping bag. The nights were cruel. I spent most of the night waiting for morning. High winds pounded my tent. The big bad wolf huffed and puffed and tried to blow my tent down. When this little pig did sleep he awoke several times, as if his ham was a merciless alarm clock, and every time it went below body temperature he woke up. Actually, this was a recurring theme in the night life of Matthew Muller. For some time I have been plagued by frigid nights my tent and sleeping bag did little to abate. In addition to waking up from the cold, I found my sleeping arm stuck in a contracted position. I waked after using my arm as a pillow. The elbow tingled. I couldn't feel this arm-as if it wasn't mine. Years later, after researching the symptoms at webmd.com, I would conclude that I had been falling asleep with my arm locked, and this decreased the circulation, perhaps even pinching nerves, so that my arm would fall asleep even as I did. I would rouse, and somewhere between consciousnesses, I would try to extend my arm-even grasping it with my other hand, and try to pull it back, fully extended. It was like trying to open up a chicken wing. Pain was the only sensation. If it weren't for the pain, I would not know it was my arm.
Like I said, this was recurring theme. Many a night would go by with identical incidents. This worried me. I thought of things like tetanus. And I heard an old friend of mine echo "Lock jaw," over and over in my mind. Though I did not know what these things really were, the words themselves were enough evoke apprehension.
In the morning I pulled out Tim Holt's camping stove. Was he a single serving of friendship? I don't think so. He was a kindred spirit. We had crossed paths one day, and traded pathos. "I used to be a granoli in my day," he had said, or words to that effect. In any case, I began using Holt's stove on a regular basis. It ran on propane fuel, which was loaded via an aerosol can. I liked to think the Lilliputian flame was enough to thaw out the air bubble of my tent, but in reality it barely boiled my hot cocoa. But this concoction warmed my gullet, readied my spirit for a new day, and most importantly, it gave me something to do in the morning hours before it became warm enough to leave my tent, pack up and journey on.