TL;DR: To Build a Fire (1902 Edition)

Tom Vincent learned the hard way never to travel alone.

Tom had been told all his life to never travel alone, but he had always laughed at it. He was a strapping young man with absolute trust in his head and hands.

One day when he is in the Yukon, he leaves his settlement to go meet with his group of prospectors.

He has thirty miles to cover and it is sixty degrees below zero, and it doesn’t bother him whatsoever, he rather enjoyed the traveling. He is traveling on unfamiliar territory and by eleven is halfway there.

He sits down and tries to eat but can’t without the frost and snow really affecting him, so he eats while he walks. Tom doesn’t wear such feminine contraptions as nose straps and for the first time he feels like he might need one. but he is happy.

“He was doing something, achieving something, mastering the elements. Once he laughed aloud in sheer strength of life, and with his clenched fist defied the frost. He was its master. What he did he did in spite of it. It could not stop him.”

“Strong as were the elements, he was stronger. At such times animals crawled away into their holes and remained in hiding. But he did not hide. He was out in it, facing it, fighting it. He was a man, a master of things.”

As he walks on the creek, he examines how the creek is. Solid ice, then water, then thin Ice, and as he’s walking on the ice, he falls trhough. He makes it to the bank cool and collected. He must build a fire. He knows he can’t fail at building the fire.

His fingers are chilled as he builds this fire and he can feel his limbs going numb before its built. And then snow falls on his fire.

“He still kept his presence of mind, for he knew how great his danger was. He started at once to rebuild the fire, but his fingers were now so numb that he could not bend them, and he was forced to pick up each twig and splinter between the tips of the fingers of either hand.”

He is desperate now, he had to make this fire. But he can’t. He runs, hoping to find a shelter that he remembers hearing about. He finds the shelter and begins sobbing realizing that he will die.

But the love of life was strong in him, and he sprang again to his feet. He was thinking quickly. What if the matches did burn his hands? Burned hands were better than dead hands. No hands at all were better than death. He floundered along the trail until became upon another high-water lodgment. There were twigs and branches, leaves and grasses, all dry and waiting the fire.”

And he lights the matches with burned hands. He grows the fire, and he saves himself.

“In a month’s time he was able to be about on his feet, although the toes were destined always after that to be very sensitive to frost. But the scars on his hands he knows be will carry to the grave. And — “Never travel alone!” he now lays down the precept of the North.”