The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

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JimT
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The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by JimT »

We came upon the camp quite unawares. We did not know anyone was camped back in these hills and were not expecting to meet anyone. It was a long ways from anywhere. We had been backpacking, heading into the backcountry for several days and it was just about time for us to stop for the evening when we saw his fire several ridges over. We pushed on and made sure whoever was camped there heard us coming. We were quite far from civilization at that point and did not want to run the risk of getting shot by a nervous camper. Not to worry though. He heard us coming long before we called out, "Hello the camp!" And the answer floated back on the evening winds, "Come on in."

We made our way in the twilight and upon entering the clearing discovered a nice campsite complete with grass, a small spring in the rocks nearby and nice large trees. We said our hellos and asked permission to camp there for the night and received a welcome. The camper was an old gentleman, probably in his 80's. His camp was tidy with a small tent, a nice fire pit ringed with rocks, firewood nearby and a large horse under the trees in the heavier grass.

After getting our packs off we introduced ourselves. The camper said his name was "Smith," first or last name we never discovered. He was just getting ready to fix a meal and invited us to join him, which we were happy to do. We added some of our ingredients to the stew he was making and all in all we ended up with a fine meal; the meat was a bit different but had a very good flavor. He said it was mountain lion and gave no indication he was kidding us. We never did find out if that was true or not, but given the old man's resume, such as he shared, I am inclined to believe he was telling the truth.

He had a big pistol in a holster on his belt, on the right side. He carried a large fixed-blade knife also and later on I saw a smaller pistol in his boot. There was a short lever-action rifle leaning up against the front of his tent. The rifle attracted my curiosity as it had a very short barrel and a large telescope mounted on the barrel, forward of where the empty cartridges flew out the top when you levered the gun. The next day I remarked on it. He said it was a "Trapper" and he had set it up in the manner of a "Scout Rifle." When we got back to town several weeks later I looked those up on the Internet and saw he had described it correctly. He told me it was a "thirty-thirty" and at the time I had no clue as to what that meant, but assumed it was some description of the gun. From the way he spoke I figured it must be a fairly powerful gun.

As we ate we told him about our backpacking adventure and where we were heading, how long we were going to be in the mountains and we figured we would head back. He listened intently asking questions about the trail we were planning on taking and made some suggestions of his own. He had been up that way, he told us, and there were a few spots where there was a much easier way to go.

He also suggested some camping spots we had never heard of. He told us of the canyon, nearly hidden in the trees, where there was once a mining camp. He told us some of the cabins are still sound, the water there is good and there is plenty of game. Of course, we had no firearms with us which surprised him. He was amazed we would venture into the hills without any guns at all. Not for self-protection he had explained. That is rarely needed. But what if something happens and we would be stuck in the hills longer than planned for? Firearms are for helping gather meat as well as signaling long distances. None of us were familiar with guns and passed up his offer to let us take a shotgun he had. I never did see the shotgun but later on wished I had taken it. That's another story for some other time though.

We sat around the flickering campfire sharing coffee and asked him how he came to be so far out in the hills. He was quiet for a long time and we began to wonder if he chose not to answer the question but then he cleared his throat and began to tell us a story. He spoke of his youth and a girl, and exciting vibrant young lady who stole his heart and changed his life. He told us of hunting adventures with her in the mountains, in the deserts and in foreign countries. He spoke of her beauty and strength and of the children they had together. And with tears in his eyes he recounted her passing after 50-some years of being together. "I am glad she went first" he said through the tears. "I would not have wanted her to face this loneliness and heartache by herself."

After her death he said he felt lost. Useless. His reason for living was gone. And apparently he became depressed. His children were worried about him and had taken him to a doctor who prescribed pills he threw away once he got home. He said they made him "crazy." His behavior worried his children and they decided that it would be best to have him live in an Assisted Care facility. More like a jail he said. Wardens watching your every move. So he decided to leave. Figuring out how to get out of town and where he wanted to go energized him and he found some of his old stamina returning.

With the help of some old friends he purchased a pickup and a horse trailer. A friend on a nearby ranch let him have an older gelding at a good price and all the rigging with it. It had been years since he had been on a horse but he snuck out to the ranch and spent some time getting acquainted with his horse and getting the feel of taking care of him. Over a few months he stocked in supplies and one evening he just left. He loaded up the pickup and the horse and drove off into the night, not telling anyone where he was going.

We asked when it was he did that and he told us the date. We were surprised and him that was a year and a half ago! He was startled and said, "Really?" So we showed him on our GPS. He said he sort of lost track of time and wasn't sure what the date was but he knew it was going on Fall and Winter would be coming soon. He was heading South, wanting to get into the southern part of the state before cold weather. He said the cold weather bothered him anymore and he liked staying warm and was even thinking about slipping into Mexico.

When we asked him where he'd been for all this time he just pointed North of the mountains and said, "I started in Colorado. Worked my way into Utah and then came down into Arizona. Went over into Western New Mexico for a while. Not a lot of people in the mountains there and the ones that are there leave you alone." He paused and then added, "Except for government people." At that point we were not sure what he was referring to.

He said sometimes he would ride into a ranch or a small town and buy or trade for supplies; we didn't ask about what he was using for money, fearing that was not our business. He said some of the ranchers let him camp out on a waterhole or let him use a line shack or even a bunkhouse for a few weeks. He told us stories of the country and the land and the mountains and the game. He did not speak of people much and we got the impression he stayed clear of most folks. He said he had some Forest Service people looking for him a couple of times but was able to evade them. When we asked where that was he got quiet and simply said, "Not around here." We didn't push it for we all were thinking the same thing. This was the guy who had shot at a Forest Service helicopter and who had led them on a chase in Western New Mexico last year! They had sent a huge posse of men in to round him up and never found any sign of him.

The next morning before we left I spoke to him privately and asked him about that. He just looked at me and grunted something like, "There are some folks just can't let a man be." I asked him how he had gotten clean away from them and he laughed. He said he just stole a sheriff's department jacket, put it on and rode into their camp and help them hunt for himself. He said the grub was good and it was a pleasant way to spend the week.

We left his camp before the sun was very high and headed on into the hills. A bit over a week later on our way out we stopped at the same place and made camp. Firewood had been cut and stacked as if waiting for us. Other than that and the fire pit in the clearing and some horse manure under the trees there was no sign of him ever having been there.

I often wondered where his journey ended. Now that I am getting older I have envied the man. And I am thinking of buying a horse .........

(I wrote this article in 2013. John Taffin liked it and graciously published it in his “Campfire Tales” column in GUNS magazine – the December 2013 issue)
Walt
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by Walt »

A nice story indeed, Jim! And very likely the dream of many of us as we get older. Very well written....thank you.
Walker
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by Walker »

One of my favorite stories.
TraderVic
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by TraderVic »

I enjoyed this story a lot. Over many years I have shared time with similar old woodsmen. Though, the settings were in the big timber of the Upper Midwest. Interesting rifle..
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Grizz
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by Grizz »

Good One Jim.

Reminds me of What Fred Did
what Fred did

He didn’t
He didn’t tell anyone he was leaving. Well, he did tell one fellow, the manager at the marina where he kept his small boat, he told him.
He told Joe he’d be away for a while, wasn’t sure just when he’d be back,but, he was planning on coming back. He wanted his slip left open in his name, paid for; no subletting. He’d be paying every year as usual, in a lump sum. Fred liked the saving’s offered by the marina owner; a whole month knocked off his yearly bill.
Fred learned early on in life, if a small bit of discipline is practiced every day, just how much it equaled in saved dollars. Consequently, he lived next to the bone, as some might say. Paid his way and had enough left over and then some, being able to help others from time to time.
Fred hadn’t taken into account or ever even considered Joe was figuring to skip town later that morning after collecting everybody’s slip fees. Joe did give Fred a receipt, which Fred paper clipped together with other yard bills he’d paid, and tossed them in a drawer.
Fred’s 86th birthday was ahead of him, the rest long gone. Fred knew there were no guarantees upcoming. He’d take it a day at a time, come what may.
Fred was going sailing. He didn’t have a float plan. At his age if he told his family they’d cause quite a stir. Question his sanity and all the other foolishness that one sees with 85 years behindthem. He’s seen his friends put into homes against their will, telling them, the family always said, it was for their benefit. Fred saw long ago just whose benefit it really was. Visiting his lifelong friends who now resided in these senior homes, he watched too many go downhill fast. He wanted nothing of the sort.
Fred had a hankering to visit the backwaters he’d always sailed past for too many years. His shoal draft center border would get him in places unimaginable. He could drop his mast easily enough, if creekside trees called for it, low bridges were also a thing of the past.
Fred left the same day he paid his slip fees. He wouldn’t be missed for nearly a month. Fred’s gunkholing kept him in the first and second bodies of backwater almost within spitting distance of the marina he’d spent years in. Fred fished, read books, hell, his little sloop carried more books than the local towns book-mobile, or so it seemed to those who visited Fred from time to time before he left.
Fred spent his first three weeks anchored at the mouth of a small creek feeding the bay, and he found feeding redfish. Red Fish, beans n rice, nestled up against the bank, Fred found the old itch to draw rising within, he’d drawn many years before, simple pencil sketches. The second week they started looking better, by the end of the third week, Fred started keeping them.
Finding firewood was simple enough. Short walks kept him occupied for a bit, plus on those walks he brought back with him enough fuel to cook with, heat his boat, and start the coffee in the morning. He always did like sailing in the fall.
He moved on after the third week, not for any specific reason, it was just time. His next anchorage was but a few miles further back into the same bay. There was a river that fed a smaller bay, which in turn emptied into the bigger bay, upon which Fred now was, and that bigger bay emptied out into the Gulf itself. It was all connected.
Fred motored up that river to the first bridge where he had to lower his mast. Half way under the bridge he looked around, the concrete supports rising out of the water, the banks on both sides showed no sign of anybody being by in quite a long time, Fred decided to drop the hook.
Just as the bow of the sloop was nosing out from under the bridge, Fred let loose the anchor, and let the slow moving current push him backwards, where with more than enough line out he snubbed his bower; then set the stern anchor, pulling himself forward with the bow anchor , letting out on the stern line, he was what as they say, snug as a bug under an overpass.
When the tide came in, his home would rise to the occasion. Then his home would fall with the tide. Fred knew bottom growth would be minuscule, with the constant fresh water bath from the river and the salt dunking at high tide.
Unbeknownst to Fred, the search parties would soon be out and about looking for missing Fred. The old aged senior citizen who should never have been allowed to leave on such a foolhardy scheme as sailing alone.
Why if only the family had known what Fred was going to do. Well Fred knew what the family would do, that was why he did what he did.
Authorities were notified, the coast guard sent out, the helo’s were sent as well. They didn't spend too much time looking local. They tried to calculate just where Fred would be, having already been gone for a month or so. Lying to two anchors under that bridge the way he was, he was easily hidden from searching eyes. Fred didn’t pick this spot with them in mind, not at all, he just liked the spot.
Fred left the bridge anchorage and sailed back out into the bay, went North East to the second bay, he knew there was a small town with its own marina about twenty miles in or so. A town big enough to have a small grocery store.
Fred sailed into the commercial side of the harbor, tied up between two shrimpers. His small sloop just fit between the two. Their rigging overshadowed his small cruiser, it turned into another hidden spot from flying aircraft, another bonus he hadn’t planned.
Fred improved his Spanish the three weeks he was there. It was while there the authorities threw in the towel and quit looking for Fred. The local newspaper from the nearby city he’d lived in ran a full page story of his disappearance. He found this out when the cap’t of the shrimper he was tied alongside handed him a newspaper from three weeks past.
There was Fred, front page news. The Cap’t also said it best he stayed right where he was for a few weeks more. Stay away from the pleasure boaters, he’d be fine.
Fred did just that. He stayed those extra weeks suggested plus another month. The various Cap’ts of the shrimpers found Fred to be handy with fiberglass, he was as busy as he could be. He wouldn’t accept any money offered from his friendly neighbor, the others however were given deals they couldn’t refuse.
One day the group of Mexicans showed up with a gallon of Navy gray paint, told him It’d help keep him from standing out so much. He thanked them and reaching for the gallon of paint, they told him no.
They then dragged his small boat right up on the dock. In an hour the boat was roughly sanded and painted. They left it there on the dock to dry for the rest of the day and overnight. Fred slept aboard the shrimper that night. He hadn’t had this much fun for years.
It was getting colder with January just around the corner. He’d been gone almost four months now. January and February would be a real bugger with those cold Northers blowing through.
Fred decided to head back. What awaited him would be a grand surprise. The kindly shrimper gave him a card the morning of his departure. Rafael told Fred if he ever needed anything, just get in touch with him. Rafael said he’d be there another week or so before heading back to Mexico. Fred knew Rafael was serious.
Well, Fred got back to his home port to find another boat in his slip.
There was also a new manager behind the front desk. Introducing himself, Fred asked why his slip was occupied?
Fred found out very quickly that Joe had run off with the month's receipts, and took the ledger with him as well. Fred went right down to his boat and got his receipt, showing he’d paid. And the memo that he’d be gone for a spell.
Well while Fred was down to his boat getting receipt the gal behind the counter made a couple of quick phone calls.
Right behind the police were his nosy sister in law along with his brother.
He wouldn’t talk to his family just yet. First he had to clear it up with the police that all was fine. Showing them his receipt, they departed with a warning to let more than just one know of his intentions.
Turning to his youngest brother by twenty years, the fireworks began. A court order was being processed as they spoke. Giving the brother power of attorney over all of Fred’s finances, his house, his truck, and his sailboat.
Fred would not accept a ride with his brother or sister-in-law. “I’ll be along shortly.” Was all he said.
A year ago Fred saw the handwriting on the wall. After visiting his last dying friend in that senior home, he knew what he needed to do. He called Miguel , the gardener Fred had been using for almost ten years, and told him the house would soon be empty. The quick claim papers had already been filed. The house was his. He’d be gone in a few days.
Fred had quit using the bank as a place for saving several years ago. His store of cash had grown quite well. That along with his junk silver and few gold coins, everything else could be replaced.
He called Rafael who said he’d be there in town the following afternoon.
Fred gave his pickup to Miguel as well. Miguel gave Fred a ride to the town docks in his wife’s car, per Fred’s request.
Rafael pulled in shortly after the sunset, taking just a bit longer than thought. Fred got aboard, put his finger to his lips towards Miguel.
Miguel understood and grinned. The shrimper backed away from the dock and was soon heading South.

Michael j Beebe
Fiction
this narrative is a template for some of us seamen. I call it the Final Solution, but someone hates the sound of that . . . . but i don't know what else to call it . . .

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JimT
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by JimT »

Great story! You could try "The Ultimate Solution" .....
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Grizz
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by Grizz »

JimT wrote: Wed May 17, 2023 4:06 pm Great story! You could try "The Ultimate Solution" .....
Good alternative, lacks the bite of the other, but there is a long list . . . .

When I was in Ballard getting the tug reformed into a fishing boat I told my family we could have a contest to pick the boat name. The prize was 1$. When it came time to fill the fuel tanks for the run to Juneau area, I picked my choice, Dry Pass, a name with a couple of interpretations. "Aw, Dad. That's not fair." "I know it kids, but I need the money for fuel." . . . .
Walt
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by Walt »

I'm not that close to the "Ultimate Solution" yet but I can see it way up yonder.
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Grizz
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by Grizz »

Walt wrote: Wed May 17, 2023 7:48 pm I'm not that close to the "Ultimate Solution" yet but I can see it way up yonder.
there are several applications, or apps, related to this. one is a cruise ship version that sails around the world. I think the plan was to sell or lease condos . . . when you reach your final destination, you debark.

the other is saltier, a communally built sailing vessel that does the same thing, but with a much smaller crew and no resource eating amenities . . .

i have not followed the discussions, but i will likely sail alone, like Mr. Slocum, etc.


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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by Griff »

Grizz wrote: Thu May 18, 2023 9:22 am
Walt wrote: Wed May 17, 2023 7:48 pm I'm not that close to the "Ultimate Solution" yet but I can see it way up yonder.
there are several applications, or apps, related to this. one is a cruise ship version that sails around the world. I think the plan was to sell or lease condos . . . when you reach your final destination, you debark.

the other is saltier, a communally built sailing vessel that does the same thing, but with a much smaller crew and no resource eating amenities . . .

i have not followed the discussions, but i will likely sail alone, like Mr. Slocum, etc.


grizz
Not me... I want the Swedish bikini team as crew! :wink:
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1894cfan
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by 1894cfan »

Grizz wrote: Wed May 17, 2023 2:56 pm Good One Jim.

Reminds me of What Fred Did
what Fred did


Michael j Beebe
Fiction
this narrative is a template for some of us seamen. I call it the Final Solution, but someone hates the sound of that . . . . but i don't know what else to call it . . .

Wasn't there a Sherlock Holmes story with that title? Something to do with Professor Moriarty?
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Grizz
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by Grizz »

1894cfan wrote: Thu May 18, 2023 5:24 pm
Grizz wrote: Wed May 17, 2023 2:56 pm Good One Jim.

Reminds me of What Fred Did
what Fred did


Michael j Beebe
Fiction
this narrative is a template for some of us seamen. I call it the Final Solution, but someone hates the sound of that . . . . but i don't know what else to call it . . .

Wasn't there a Sherlock Holmes story with that title? Something to do with Professor Moriarty?
Hey, good tip... I found one called The Final Problem . That has some resonance. Thanks, it's added to the list.

P.S. There is a Sherlock Holmes, The Final Solution by John Pirillo so there is that also.

grizz
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by piller »

My Wife is likely to outlive me. Not sure what I would do if I were to live longer than her.
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Grizz
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Re: The Old Man - A Wilderness Encounter

Post by Grizz »

piller wrote: Thu May 18, 2023 9:54 pm My Wife is likely to outlive me. Not sure what I would do if I were to live longer than her.
time for the sailboat medicine . . . do what Fred did . . .
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