The hill was steep, I thought, huffing and puffing from a climb just minutes earlier.

The hill was steep, I thought, huffing and puffing from a climb just minutes earlier.

Jim Craven, a Mail Tribune photographer, and I were in the Applegate Valley chronicling the mop-up efforts of the Oregon Department of Forestry and Jacksonville's Fire District No. 9 at the Humbug Creek fire that ignited on Sunday.

The lack of out-of-control flames made it difficult for Jim to find a photo and for me to comprehend the blaze's damage. I asked ODF's public information officer to lead us to the valley's summit for a better view.

He promised it'd be spectacular, that we'd see firefighters, smoke, devastation. He stopped about three-quarters of the way up, while Jim and I trudged on.

The dirt was loose and in some areas it was difficult to get a strong footing. That, combined with the ill-fitting boots I had borrowed from a friend earlier in the afternoon, made the hike anything but a walk in the park.

I had been excited about the possibility of covering breaking news since I first started my internship at the paper at the end of June. This was my chance, and a short hike in crappy shoes wasn't going to deter me from getting my story.

But when Jim and I got to the top, the view was exactly what we'd seen from the bottom.

We started heading down the hillside and quickly realized we'd gone the wrong way. Somewhere near the top, the thin dirt road had forked.

Standing at the bottom of a steep incline, both of us catching our breath, it was decision time. Should we cut through the forest and back to the main road, or go for round two up the hill and head back the way we came?

The prospect of venturing back up the hill in the heat and smoke was unpleasant, to say the least, so we quickly agreed on cutting through the forest.

Before we entered the dense fir and manzanita, Jim advised me to watch for poison oak.

"You know what it looks like, right?" he said.

"Oh yeah," was the response that came out of my mouth.

"Not really," was the response that ran through my head.

It wouldn't have mattered if I could have identified it or not. Thanks to my friend's boots, I slipped at every step, finding myself on all fours several times. At some point, I got a cut above my left eye, but I don't remember how it happened.

When I got back to the office, I wiped the sweat from my forehead (not a smart move) and went to work. After finishing my story and being told it would run on the front page, I nearly skipped my way out of the office.

My excitement, however, was short-lived.

Paranoid about the possibility I had not only crossed paths with poison oak, but that I had rubbed my face in it, I showered with hopes of removing the oils. I woke up the next morning, and all seemed well.

A fellow Mail Tribune reporter advised me that poison oak didn't reveal itself until three days after contact. Every time he mentioned it, I felt the urge to scratch.

I'm not ruling out the possibility that I got poison oak from the woods, but I'm also not ruling out the possibility that my coworker conjured some sort of witchcraft on me.

The next morning, I woke up and my left eye looked like a cross between Quasimodo and one of Mike Tyson's opponents in the early '90s. The photo editor suggested that I was wasting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wear an eye patch.

By Thursday, my eye was nearly swelled shut. I went to dermatologist Doug Naversen in Medford. A shot of cortisone and a couple of sprays, Naversen told me, would clear up my reaction within 12 to 24 hours.

I asked about the eye patch but was sent away empty-handed.

My editor graciously apologized for sending me up to the fire.

"I'd do it again," I told her, especially if it would yield another story on Page One.

Turns out the rash, which is almost completely gone, came with another perk: Not too many interns get to write columns like the one you're reading now.

Bring on the next fire, bring on the next hill and bring on the next rash.

Reach intern Bob Albrecht at 776-8791 or e-mail intern1@mailtribune.com.