The Chemical Fire and The Sex Perv

What builds more character? 1) Accidentally setting yourself and your tent on fire, or 2)or thrashing a sex pervert?

You had been in Italy for only a few days. After passing quickly thrugh Genova, you arrived in Cinque Terra, a mountainous national park along the coast. Cinque Terra is a collection of five charming little Italian villages connection by numerous winding (and badly indicated) trails. Your first day in the region proved to be a difficult one for you. Alexis is currently afraid for your safety, and even your life, when you have what can be deemed an “off day.” It all started when you screwed up the coffee making. You then lost your Vega fleece (so long, buddy!) by failing to re-attach it to your pack. You dropped your precious rice and pesto snack (food was getting scarce at that point). You failed miserably in map reading, and led Alexis on a several-kilometer detour. And finally… well, you started a chemical fire in the tent.

A CHEMICAL FIRE? One minute you are trying to serve Alexis a fried egg, but the pan, too hot, burned you through your leather glove (street find!), and you dropped the pan. Yes, dropped it. On Alexis’ leg. She shrieked when it burned her, and you tried in vain to fling it away from her, only to knock the entire stove (precariously balanced, as usual) onto the tent floor. WHOOSH! All the ethyl alcohol spilled out of the stove, over the tent floor, and worse, over the whole of your right leg. Alexis screamed, and you, seeing the whole of your leg AFLAME like a scene from the movies, jumped to your knees and swatted at yourself for several seconds until the flames went out. Meanwhile, the center of the tent was on fire, the flames licking greedily at the ceiling. “Oh my god! Oh my god!” Alexis was screaming. “Get out of the tent!” you screamed back. She couldn’t find the zipper, afraid to turn, lest her hair catch afire (which it did! a little bit…) Once the door was open, you started throwing your gear out the door, and when all that was said and done, Alexis remembered that her fireman brother, Jimmy, had told her NEVER to throw water on a chemical fire. “Smother it with something, quick!” she said, as she watched our “house” burn. You felt behind you for a sleeping bag and started to take it out of the stuff sack. “Not MY sleeping bag!” Alexis cried. Of course. Our abode was burning down, and she only cared about her bag, whereas you were worried you might burn down the neighboring grass, trees, and houses. Alas, you settled to smother it with a foam sleeping mat, which did NOT do the job after several attempts. But, in fact, the ethyl alcohol had all burned off the flame-retardant material of your tent, and you were both left speechless. Flame-retardant, but not fire PROOF. There was a gaping hole in the floor, and a couple in the ceiling. You mat had melted, and… and… well… that’s it. Neither of you knew what to do, so you both scrounged around the floor for the remnants of your egg sandwiches… ate in silence. Cleaned up the mess. Thought about how you could not afford a new tent, and felt generally miserable. You fingered a few burn blisters (your leg was remarkably almost unscathed) and wondered how you had had such a terrible off day.

Another off day. Four weeks later, on the Amalfi peninsula. You fell down. Repeat: you fell down. You never fall. You are like a cat, even with 75lbs strapped to your back. First, however, you had a warning. You were hiking up a winding mountain road, on the sidewalk, missed a step, and skated off the high curb. If your legs were not so strong, you might have completely fucked your knee–maybe hyper-extended it, or torn the ligaments… but you were fine. Shaken. Only five minutes later did you do it again, but lose all composure and fall face first on the pavement with the added force of all the weight strapped to your back. “Wow, Alexis. DO NOT let me cook tonight.” No problem. You were tired, you suppose, and slightly underfed. 15-20km days through the mountains, four days in a row, on 2,000 calories will do that to you… But this was all a set-up for a state of mind that would serve you just thirty minutes later.
While hiking along a near-deserted highway, at 12:30pm, you marvelled at the breath-taking views. The high mountains and low valleys. Parked a few paces ahead was a yellow car, where a man stood appreciating the view as well. You didn’t think very much of him at the time. Nothing exceptional. Average. It was a couple minutes later when, in your peripheral vision, you saw that he had run up behind you. Not much can process in your mind in the space of one second. First, that you had dropped something? No. He was too close, and it was too fast. Second, that he was trying to rob you? No. Because his hand suddenly cupped your ass. You turned with a gasp, and he stepped back a foot, gazing at you with a kind of high-looking expression, and gestured to his waist. Was he wielding a knife? No. His penis. The man had his belt completely unfastened and was masterbating AT you.
“What the FUCK?!” you cried. And, first thing you knew… you were PISSED OFF. Like a total woman, you hit him with the first thing in hand: your grocery bag. It did very little. Seeing your anger, rather than fear, he immediately started to repeat, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry!” He took another step away, like that would be it. You said, “Oh, I BET you’re sorry.” You took a step toward him, and he realized you were not going to back down. He started to run away down the hill. You unclipped your bag, dropped it on the ground, and launched into pursuit. Within 6 stides (bless your ridiculous fit legs, at this point, and the liberty of their being “bagless”!) you caught him. Caught him, threw him down on the hood of his car, and thrashed him. (Ah, if only he had hair, you could have seized it and beat his head against the metal). He finally squirmed free, still yelling “I’m sorry, sorry!” and shuffled backwards further down the hill, away from his car. You kept after him. “Six months, motherfucker. I’ve been putting up with this shit for six months! You picked the wrong girl,” upi said, thinking of all the disgusting, pervy men you have encountered in cars, hostels, farms, what-have-you. You caught hold of him again, and this time (much more like a man) you threw a couple punches (only, your life-long dream of ever landing one in someone’s face was not achieved, turns out it is a lot harder than it looks in the movies to hit a moving target). “I’m sorry!” He squirmed, you pursued, until finally you’d had enough. The fact was, you weren’t actually that angry, and your head was pretty clear. You had been tired, cranky, HUNGRY, and just felt like kicking someone’s ass. You released him, turned, and walked back towards his car. You reached directly through the window, yanked the keys from the ignition, and threw them off the cliff. Done. You thought about smashing the windshield, slashing the tires… something else. But, nahh… It turns out you are not actually that vindictive. You also did not need to commit any crimes. You re-joined Alexis, shouldered the back, and continued your march uphill.

So what have you learned about yourself from these two experiences? Well… in regards to the fire, you can actually be inches from a roaring flame, BE on fire, and still keep a clear head. You remember thinking quite methodically about avoiding further injury, saving the gear, keeping the fire contained, and (thanks to Alexis) not sacrificing the WARM sleeping bag. After the fire, you cleaned the tent, continued your routine. The episode did not ruin your trip, and you were resourceful enough to have procured just enough duck tape over the months, and cut a piece of industrial plastic free from a pile, in order to repair the tent. It still keeps you dry!

In regards to the sex perv… to put it another way, while you and Alexis were feeling squeamish about the dangerous areas of Marseille (and later, Naples) and the high crime in certain areas, you wondered how you would respond if ever threatened. Barring an episode that occurred between you and one of your ex girlfriends in college, you really had no history of threatening experiences. Hence, even though you can throw a mean punch into a body bag, and toss a lot of weight around in the gym, you didn’t know if, in practice, you were a badass or a pants-pisser. Turns out you might actually have some bite, EVEN though you do not get cross enough to detroy people or their property.

Categories: Awkward Situations, Camping, Feminism, Safety, Sexual Harassment, Struggles | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “The Chemical Fire and The Sex Perv

  1. Pingback: Listen To Your Gut: How To Avoid Creeps & Death « Fred Mertz' Triumphant Return!

  2. Pingback: On Being A Hyper-Competitive Traveler | Life Of Travel - A Memoir

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