Thursday, May 29, 2008
5/29/08: North, eh? "The Vern Moment"
Ha! More lessons learned. One I already knew but apparently needed some 'practical' experience to drive home. But, let's start from the beginning.
I left the library yesterday at about 3:00 and found my way out of Rawlins via US-287 north maneuvering around the ubiquitous road construction from a new sewer system. Getting out of town was relatively easy, but it became clear that I've become spoiled. I called Chris to find out how close I was to where he crossed 287 on his walk and through the discussion learned that he had the opinion that Wyomans (?) were much less likely to offer rides than other states.
Unfortunately I had planned on rides. The next town is 30-some miles north and Lander is 120. I hadn't filled my water supply completely, and was carrying just my 3-liter Camelback. It was soon obvious that I should have left Rawlins better prepared. I also have no idea about my stamina. Wednesday was a good day to find out!
I continued north on 287, and eventually got into the Prairieland of Nothingness; not even trees. Traffic on 287 was medium with a wide shoulder. I took my time, stopped when I needed to to rest and eat, heard my first yells of, "Git off the fuckin road!”, and thought pretty highly of myself when I had gone 7 or 8-miles by 5:30 pm. I had been eyeballing places to camp for quite a while because I hadn't expected it to be so damn flat; no hills or trees to hide behind. I had also noticed places called "Walk Ins" that consisted of barbed wire gates and signs saying not to litter and to clean up after yourself. Obviously public or state land.
I found a spot behind one of these gates that at least had some hills to shield me from the wind, which was incredibly strong all day. I plopped down by the gate, and waited for a ride---which never came. It appeared that Chris was right, although I still wasn’t flying a thumb!
Around 7:30, I hiked thru the gate to prospect for a camp site only to discover it had many uses, none of which had much to do with hiking or camping. It was a dump and a dirt bike trail. Lots of activity and much of the junk left behind had bullet holes! Just like Hilltucky! Ugh...
But, I was pretty sure that, since the sun was setting, there would probably be no one coming back here to dump or ride. I found a decent spot and set up my tent. It was still relatively light out, so I had time to gather wood from the trash I'd seen lying around and I had visions of a glorious, campfired night. The clouds had even dissipated enough to give me a beautiful sunset.
I was out collecting wood when it happened. My lesson. I knew better than to camp near high human activity. See...'stealth camping' is supposed to be...stealthy. I wasn't so stealthy. A truck pulled thru the gate and rudely destroyed my little piece of Vagabond Nirvana. I began having dire thoughts:
“Maybe I’m on private land?” (I knew better)
“Maybe these guys had seen me walking and decided to relieve me of what little I had!” (They'd have plenty of Clif bars to enjoy, I guess.)
The truck bounced around up and down the hills and I believe they parked for a minute to smoke a joint...“Or maybe make sure I hadn't disturbed their cocaine deposit worth millions more to them than my life!”
When one of these guys climbed a hill at the other end of this place, and looked in my direction, I almost literally ripped the big yellow rainfly from my tent. I was sure he saw me and was about to bug out, but remembered what had happened on the S. Platte in Ft. Morgan last week: a big, fat nothing. So, I took a deep breath and decided to wait to see what they did. I mean, where the fuck was I going to “run” anyhow?
They left. Of course.
See how paranoia works?
I waited a while to see if they returned and, when they didn’t, I built my little fire by burning Canada. I mean really: why do I need Canada in my atlas? It was a nice fire; easy to light and I even used horse dung to get it going. Yes it does burn. And, surprisingly, doesn't even smell that bad. Thanks Les Stroud.
The fire helped to regain my senses and since it was getting cold, kept me toasty while I talked to my girlfriend to let her know what was going on. I got off the phone, peed the fire out (that stunk), and hopped in the sleeping bag—first making sure that almost everything was packed—and not even bothering with the rain fly even though it was going to drop to near 40. All in case I had to make a quick exit--still having paranoid visions of doom.
Have you seen “Stand By Me”? Remember the part where they're in the woods camping and the fat kid, Vern, is standing guard? You know, every time he heard a noise, he'd spin around completely freaked out?
I was Vern. All night.
But, instead, I imagined phantom Wyoming rednecks. In fact, I now have a road name:
I'll keep Vern until I earn another one. I'll be taking suggestions for last names and I'd appreciate any correspondence to be addressed “Dear Vern" until further notice.
After a fitful night with little sleep, I awoke early this morning to the sight of my kind of visitors: elk. A herd of them. One was particularly interested in me-just eyeballing me while I smoked, snapped a picture, and eyeballed him back. He didn't budge until I stood up, then darted back to his friends. That was a great way to start the day, even though this cold I got from Leah's kids is getting stickier!
Low on water and with no legitimate prospects for finding more, I packed the tent and slowly walked back toward Rawlins feeling as though I had grown a huge, gaping vagina for being freaked out so easily. But I was also glad that I’d at least ridden it out using the Platte experience. I also had time to think about the wisdom of going further north. I decided no, I'm far enough north; maybe too far. I like warm. Warm gooood. Plus, if I get to Lander and need to be 'stealthy' again, which is a certainty, I'll have to deal with bigger critters than friendly elk and the High Plains Redneck. I'm not yet wanting to play Mountain Man, so I've decided to get back to I-80 and point my thumb west toward California. Maybe Fresno to see what my sister's got going on. If not, I should land close enough to get toward Astoria.
There I go...making plans again. I think I just make this shit up to seem like I have a plan...
Way to go Vern-o!
Oh, about the lesson. If you're going to stealth camp. Don't camp anywhere there's a likelihood someone will show up! Laziness kills! Or at least scares the Bejeesus piss out of you...