In the era of COVID, my wife Astrid and I have had to make some changes to plans that we made last year. This year is our 20th wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we had planned a trip to Japan, which no doubt would have included a trip to the factory where they build the Toyota Land Cruiser.
We also vowed to get back up to Alberta, Canada to see Banff National Park — hopefully without a blanket of forest fire smoke covering the place, as we encountered in 2018. But because of the coronavirus, we scrapped those plans in favor of trips close to home.
My birthday rolled around in mid-August and we decided to do a weeklong mini trip down to the Cascade Lakes Highway area of Central Oregon. We planned to hit Bend for a couple of breweries, our favorite used book store, Big Story Books (all socially-distant), and do some exploring around Mt. Hood, and the Gorge.
Then end it with a little Washington Backcountry Discovery Route (WABDR) thrown in to get us back home to Seattle. We don’t usually make plans. And forget about reservations. We just go and rely on solid mapping, GaiaGPS overlays, and a good bit of luck. We were also going to finally test the MC Ranch Overland Original Fire Reflector with the many campfires we wanted to have along the way.
We drove six hours south to a little town near the start of a trailhead in Willamette National Forest, which promised wild alpine lakes and dispersed camping. After getting fuel and firewood, we hit the trail for a pair of lakes nestled deep in the wilderness. It was to be a fine way to spend my birthday: my wife and dog, a remote lake, a SUP, bourbon, and a campfire.
That’s when Astrid’s eye caught a red and yellow sign at the start of the trail.
“NO CAMPFIRES.” she read aloud.
“Come again?” I said.
“Look at the sign: No Campfires.”
2020 cancels campfires. Photo: Anthony Sicola
YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT
A bit dejected, we made it up the eight-mile, rocky and rutted two-track to the alpine lake and stayed for a few days. We had a great time and there was nobody at the lake. We had awesome food, read good books, drank bourbon. I had a lake all to myself to paddle in. And we did it all without a campfire.
This is a good opportunity to talk about burn bans. When a government agency asks you to do something that will protect your access to open space, protect the wilderness, and protect the people who live around those open spaces, you comply. Your freedom to have a campfire doesn’t trump the people who live in the area’s right to be safe from forest fire. I’ll get off my soapbox now.
We encountered similar burn bans through the rest of our trip as well. Such is summer in the western United States. So, when our Oregon trip came and went without a campfire, I was itching for the sound of wood crackling, the orange-red glow of roaring flames, and the smell of food cooked on an open fire.
I considered building a fire pit in my backyard and trying out my new Original Fire Reflector there. Common sense and Google helped me out though and I checked the local forests for burn bans and found that campfires were still allowed in Mt. Baker, Snoqualmie National Forest. On a whim, Astrid and I loaded up the truck again for a night and headed just two short hours from home.
I was having a campfire, damn it. And nothing was going to stop me.
Side note: When scouting campsites in late-winter to early-spring, always remember that summer is going to bring more people. That means any place that is easily accessible will be teeming with folks trying to get outside.
The spot we headed to was no different. It was packed. There wouldn’t be any remote, Instagram-able campsites in this area. We were going to enjoy this campfire with hundreds of our closest friends nearby.
In fact, we nearly scrapped this mission, too, as we couldn’t find a campsite that wasn’t being used. We tried going up a remote fire road to the top of a mountain. With no luck, headed back to where the dispersed campsites were, fully prepared to give up.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go!
BUT IF YOU TRY SOMETIME, YOU FIND
As a last-ditch effort, we backtracked, looking for anything that would work for a night.
Suddenly Astrid yelled: “THERE! There’s a spot!”
I threw the Land Cruiser into reverse and we found an area just off the trail to park the truck for the night. Just inside a few boulders was a clearing on the Sauk River with a rock fire pit. Yeah, it was in between a couple of families camping for the weekend, but it was a space. And it was ours.
That’ll do pig. That’ll do. Photo: Anthony Sicola
We pitched the Alu-Cab Expedition III (which took all of four minutes) and got to work prepping for the campfire. I took the Original Fire Reflector from its tan-colored 1000 Cordura military-grade case for the first time and was impressed with the build quality and finish of the piece.
Each panel is CNC machined with a water jet, hand finished, and assembled in Canada. This is no ordinary fire reflector. It is heavy duty and built to last throughout the ages. Something you can hand down to your kids or your kid’s kids. The entire thing weighs about 27 pounds. So, while it isn’t light by any means, it isn’t heavy either.
Plus, it’s flat, so it packs nicely into the back of my Land Cruiser.
The Original Fire Reflector in its carrying case. Photo: Anthony Sicola
I broke out my hatchet and prepped wood shavings, split small logs into smaller sticks, split large logs into small logs and set up the Original Fire Reflector around the fire ring. The Original Fire Reflector is based upon a parabolic arc. In theory, it should reflect back both heat and light to anyone sitting in front of it. I was excited to try it, in the name of science.
Fire prepped, I set up our camp chairs and table. And we prepped our dinner and drinks for the evening.
Fire supplies prepped and ready to go. Photo: Anthony Sicola
YOU GET WHAT YOU NEED
Full disclosure here, I used to suck at making campfires.
I’m impatient and far too quick to mess with the wood as it is taking off. This in a desperate attempt to get the fire burning quicker, which leaves me with a smoldering pile of half-burnt sticks and frustration. I would have made an awful caveman.
It took Astrid to teach me to slow down and build a fire in steps. Paper and shavings, small sticks or kindling, then add small pieces of wood, followed by large pieces of wood. If you learned this all in Boy Scouts and are laughing right now, I completely understand. It is embarrassing and I should have had my man card revoked. But that was a different time and place. Now I am a pretty decent fire starter, if you ask me.
As dusk approached, I lit the fire and was pleasantly surprised by how the Original Fire Reflector enhanced the fire without any extra work.
The glow of a campfire enhanced by The Original Fire Reflector. Photo: Anthony Sicola
If you’re anything like me, campfire smoke is magically attracted to your face. Typical campfire situations include a lot of gesticulating wildly, moving from one side of the fire to the other, coughing and sneezing, and hair that smells like smoke until your next shower.
I’m happy to report that the Original Fire Reflector puts an end to this phenomenon as it provides a wind break that breaks that magic spell. I didn’t have smoke in my face at all that evening.
The Original Fire Reflector does exactly what it says it is supposed to do. It concentrates heat and light back onto the user (as long as they are sitting in front of the fire) it helps conserve resources as wind is blocked and doesn’t burn the wood faster. Above all, it creates a sense of community by creating a space that people want to be around — where they talk, share stories, and create memories. That’s just what we did.
I can’t imagine having another fire without the Original Fire Reflector ever again. It could easily become a key piece of kit that I never leave home without.