August 2016  What is a Pastime? Flames, Dutch Ovens, and the Definition of a Pastime

In this edition of UJCC, Uncle Jacko advises on stove safety, as well as discusses his view on the ‘profitless pursuit of pointless pastimes’ and being ‘too goal-driven.’ He also reminisces on the hallucinations that come when sleep deprived during a backcountry ultra-marathon.

Dutch Ovens

After reading the UJCC in the March 2016 FMC Bulletin, Marian Cox writes that,where I mentioned simmering rice, she was spurred on to remind me of something she has tried at home, and then on a gas stove: once the rice has simmered for five minutes with the lid off, you can turn the gas off and put the lid put on, leaving the rice continuing to cook for the remainder of its allotted time, 15 minutes, or 20 minutes in total. This saves gas, of course, and the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom (though if you don’t stir the rice, it shouldn’t stick). If newspaper, or anything else, is used as insulating material, the billy will stay hotter. She adds that some of her club members use wool. Technically, this is known as a Dutch Oven. I know of people who have used sleeping bags for this to great effect, though at the risk of someone inadvertently upsetting the billy snuggled inside.

More on flames

Jeffrey Rogers read about cooking stoves mishaps and writes that a few years back on the Milford Track he had an incident with a group on an ‘unofficial’ guided tour. When their white-spirits stove ran out, one of the group took the top off the fuel bottle and started to refill the stove: naturally the fumes caught alight, she dropped the bottle on the bench, the bottle then rolled on to the floor and set everything else alight. Another member of the group threw a bowl of water on the fuel, spreading fire everywhere, whereupon Jeffrey got the fire extinguisher and put out the fire – as well as their food – and then told the tour leader what he thought of him. Jeffrey had already had a run-in with this tour leader, who then demanded that Jeffrey’s group move out to make room for the overseas visitors. Jeffrey dobbed them in to DOC. 

The only overnight guiding on the Great Walks in the Fiordland area is by Ultimate Hikes. As they have their own huts, anyone guiding in the Freedom Walkers’ huts is doing so illegally, so you may want to chat to the warden.

Driven personalities

The great thing about the outdoors is the sense of freedom, and the great diversity of what motivates people. I maintain, as long as you don’t upset anyone else, because there is no good reason to do anything in the Hills in the first place, no one has any better reason to be doing something there than anyone else. Put another way, heading into the Hills is another profitless pursuit of pointless pastimes – which is a nice bit of a tautology because if some activity has a point or a profit attached to it, then it can’t be a pastime.

I enjoyed Mark Jones’ talk at FMC’s ‘Pathways to Adventure’ workshop the other month. He described his solo traverse of Te Urewera with nothing more than a rifle, knife and a box of matches for food. He didn’t have a tent, and I don’t think he had a sleeping bag either. It was a good way to lose weight and meet a challenge, but as much as I admire his efforts, I can categorically state that I can think of better ways to spend a fortnight. Good on him, all the same, and anyone else who is keen enough to undertake such pointless challenges.

I did mention to Peter Wilson that I had got to a point in life where I didn’t really need to set myself challenges to prove anything to anyone. After ruminating over several weeks, he responded to say that he had decided that I was right in that you could be too goal-driven. He reflected that, to his mind, there’s a certain group of his friends that do heaps of trips, heaps of adventures, run lots of races, and somehow, it seems to Peter, miss all the enjoyment in the process. A trip for them, he says, involves months of planning and preparation, which sucks all the spontaneity out of it. There’s no reflection; there are no simple joys; for them, being in the outdoors is all comparative, thinking of the next thing, itemised packages of food and an obsession with new gear. With exceptions, he also observed that ‘they don’t tend to read books, the FMC Bulletin, or even Uncle Jacko’.

Words and Wine

In July, I found myself doing a book reading at New Zealand Mountain and Book Festival in Queenstown. I was in the ‘Words and Wine Show, a mountain reading’ session, because I couldn’t turn down the offer of free wine and also because Coronet Peak’s dire lack of natural snow made it look like a white trellis on a brown landscape. With the possible exception of my reading, attending these sorts of events is good for you and I can’t recommend them enough. 

After my effort, a famous mountain adventure runner read from one of his books and I was immediately reminded of Peter’s remarks. What I found interesting from this reading were the runner’s complaints about our increasingly risk-averse society. Everyone who reads FMC Bulletin knows this is a problem and, indeed, FMC is looking at ways to deal with it, but what we want are solutions, or at least some new insight. I did learn that the whole point of doing ultra-marathon backcountry events, other than to stop, is to enjoy the hallucinations you get when you haven’t slept for three days. That seems to me like a compelling argument for taking LSD instead, not that I have any direct experience with either activity, nor any desire to become acquainted with either. 

After my reading, Nick Allen gave an enthralling reading from his recently-launched book To the Summit, about a guided climb in the Himalayas. Nick, who is in his 20s, is afflicted by multiple sclerosis and he did the ascent to raise awareness for the condition. I confess that I always harbour doubts about people who undertake a fun activity to raise money for a charity of some sort; wouldn’t it be more effective to just quietly take a month’s leave and donate your salary to the cause instead? But being cynical doesn’t do you any good – so my advice is to buy a copy of Nick’s book and enjoy what you’ll discover in it (see: www.masseypress.ac.nz/books/all/all/to-the-summit). On all counts, well done, Nick! 

I also enjoyed an earlier session where a beguiling Liz Carlson (a.k.a Young Adventuress) talked about how she had become a professional travel blogger. Getting paid to blog about visiting Sirocco, and some very doubtful parts of the world, certainly has its attractions. But, it also seemed to me that my earlier point about profitless pastimes holds, at least some of the time. 

Ka kite,

Robin McNeill

85 Sunrise Drive
Seaward Bush
Invercargill 9812

r.mcneill@ieee.org

This column was originally published in the November 2016 FMC Bulletin. We will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife. 

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