“You look bored,” I say to Mad Dog.
“Well, this is strange for me,” he confesses. “I almost always travel by myself. I hike from sunup to sundown. When it’s too dark to hike anymore, I stop and sleep. Then I get up and do it again. I don’t move fast. I take my time. But without so much gear or an elaborate camp to make and unmake, I’m free just to walk.”
The Dog wanders off to wade in the lake, while Jeff continues setting up camp. Once he erects his tent and fluffs up his down bag, Jeff has a snack (cheddar and salami slices, pita bread, with Grey Poupon spooned out of a little plastic bottle). He settles into a shady spot and starts dissecting his stove. Jeff is measured and methodical in everything he does. He sets things down instead of dropping them. He buckles all buckles and tightens all straps. He knows where everything is at all times.
“I like to tinker with gear, make repairs, figure things out,” he says, unfolding the screwdriver from his multitool. “My friends call me MacGyver because I can fix just about anything. And I always have the right tools on hand.”
Once the stove is clean, he carefully puts it back together and organizes his dinner things. He notices the knob from his pot lid is missing, so he digs back into his repair kit. Within minutes, the lid sports a neat wire grab loop.
As the sun starts to drop, the air takes on a chill. Jeff changes into a pair of thick polyester tights, turtleneck, and puffy insulated jacket. The Dog, back from a short reconnaissance around the lake, gets into his nighttime garb: baggy, pilling wool dress pants that probably once belonged to a traveling vacuum cleaner salesman; a moth-eaten, butter-colored sweater with a gaping rip at the neck; a brown tweed, grandpa-style porkpie hat with a band that hangs down like the floppy ear of a basset hound. We don’t laugh at him for too long.
Jeff starts his stove with a poof. “Sounds like a blowtorch,” says the Dog, lighting his can of silent Sterno.
“Yeah, but it’s fast,” says Jeff. “I’ll be fed, cleaned up, and counting sheep by the time that thing reaches a boil.” Within minutes, Jeff’s bubbling water is full of rotini. The Dog patiently watches his pot. He’s in no hurry.
Jeff is swirling one last noodle in a bit of pesto sauce by the time the Dog’s water has started to steam. Mad Dog takes a peak under the dented lid. “Hot enough for me,” he says. He unties his shoe, removes his sock, and uses it as a potholder, pouring the lukewarm water into the pouch of sweet and sour pork. Mad Dog doesn’t worry about microscopic bugs that might be in the water. “I don’t filter. I don’t iodine. I don’t boil. I just drink. And I haven’t gotten sick yet,” he claims proudly. Jeff has had beaver fever. “It wasn’t pretty,” he recalls. Jeff filters or boils every drop.