Some of the best and worst things about a life of travel are the people you encounter. I've always been a bit of a misanthrope and love my time alone. Occasionally, however, I get interested in engaging with people I meet on the road since I spend so much time in solitary thought.
On my last trip to the hills above Big Sur in the Los Padres National Forest I was open to meeting with people. I'd been a couple days out and hadn't really spoken to anyone. I didn't believe I would meet anyone, of course, I was just open to it.
I found a gorgeous, and I believed, private spot that had a view of the sea, some shade from a large Madrone, lots of trails around, and I arranged my camping gear perfectly for a couple of nights sans humanity.
It was 10:30 AM and the weather was already hot despite my proximity to the ocean. I have a small battery operated fan that would cool me off a bit but it needed fresh batteries. I couldn't find a damn tiny screwdriver to fit the battery compartment screw and so I pulled out my trusty Swiss Army knife.
While attempting to open the compartment I heard a voice say, "Hello!". At that instant the knife slipped and dug a deep cut into the tip of my index finger which proceeded, like Dan Aykroyd playing Julia Child, to form a small geyser of blood. It freaked me out at first- "OH SHIT- where's the nearest hospital?". I grabbed a wad of tissues and wrapped it up and a fellow walked right through my campsite and appeared to be inspecting it. Now, ordinarily this would draw an objection from me - something like, "What the Hell are you doing"? I was, however, preoccupied with seeing if I could get my finger to stop bleeding and not worry about going to the Emergency Room at a hospital miles away.
"You going to have a fire?" the guy asked.
"Uh, no, that would be illegal and stupid. You'll have to excuse me for a minute- I've lacerated myself".
"That's OK- I'll wait. You sure you're not going to have a fire?"
I didn't answer. Instead I opted for getting gauze and adhesive tape and I wrapped my oozing finger like a tiny mummy.
The guy's dog now ran in front of me and jumped into MY truck sending my medical supplies flying. To my relief he did call his dog out of my vehicle. The dog ran off into the woods...
I figured that my Jerry-rigged bandage might work. I did have a bloody wad of tissue to deal with and the stranger saw it and said, "Whoa, that's nasty!"
"How can I help you?"
"I live up here and want to make sure you aren't going to start a fire".
That made sense. The brush in this area was bone dry and would be perfect kindling to start a forest fire. I had been to the Ranger Station and was told no fires and that I needed a fire permit to even use a stove in the mountains. I got the permit while reassuring the Ranger that I certainly wouldn't start a fire during the worst drought in California in 500 years.
So, having satisfied his desire that I had no fire or plans to have a fire I presumed he would move on. He was a friendly sort though!
He sat down and opened a beer. He offered me me one but I told him I hadn't had a drink in 14 years.
"FOURTEEN YEARS? FOURTEEN FUCKING YEARS? I should do that too, I guess but I love it too much. Guess you loved it too much too, eh? HAHAHA!"
I realized at that moment giving him any personal information would be an error. I stopped that immediately.
He was adamant that I'd found the best spot on the Central Coast to camp, "No question, I've lived up here for 35 years, grew up on the Hearst Ranch, and I've been everywhere on this coast- you found the best spot".
"I've seen Orcas out there at Tit Rock from this very spot."
"I'm sorry, did you say Kit Rock"?
"NO- T I T. Tit rock- doesn't it look like a big old titty sticking out of the water?"
"Hadn't actually viewed it from that perspective, I guess".
"I don't think that's the name on the mariners map though. Mariners maps! Haha! Yep, saw them Orcas grab a sea lion and tear it apart with those big old teeth and toss it back and forth just the way a cat will play with its' prey- my God, there was blood and guts all over the water".
The good news, at this point, was it appeared as if the cut on my finger was no longer bleeding and MY blood was congealing.
"Yep, blackmailers stayed right here about a month ago".
"I'm sorry. Blackmailers?"
"Oh yeah, tried to blackmail me and everyone else up here".
I wasn't sure how to respond.
"They asked me for a joint. I gave them a joint but they wanted to pay for it."
"In fact, they insisted on paying for it and I had to tell them, NO. Then a week later they tell me they're having me busted for solicitation. Said they knew my name and my past and that I'd tried to sell them pot - they were gonna bust me. Had a phony badge and all. I hated those bastards. Y'know if this was the 1850's they'd be dead right now."
I was really glad it was the 2000's for a number of reasons. While he was getting wound up about the blackmailers another car stopped at my "wilderness" campsite. A guy gets out- dressed exactly like the guy who was talking to me - jeans, t-shirt, work boots. He wanders over and says, "You're not gonna build a fire, are you?".
"Nope. Just got a stove over there and have a permit for that".
"A stove? Hell, you don't need a permit for that!" (you do- but whatever).
He says hello to visitor #1 and asks if he has any beer.
"Sure I got a case in the back of my truck! Wanna buy a 6 pack?".
They both go over to the car and I think they're leaving now that their fire concerns have been addressed. Nah- they wandered back with a joint the size of your thumb and fired it up.
# 2 says, "You want some?"
#1 says "Nah, he don't get high or drunk"
#2: "WHAT? Ok- more for us!"
#1: "I was just telling him about the blackmailers. They are almost as bad as Gary Whiting".
#2: "I thought you was gonna kill Gary the other day"
#1: "That man is the devil hisself! He swung on me and tried to drop a rock on my head the other day when I was running the back hoe and all because he still owes me $300!".
#2: "Yep thought you were gonna kill him".
#1: "All these years growing dope up here and I was fine until him and the blackmailers showed up".
Wait. What? What did he just say? I guess I shouldn't have been surprised and I have no judgement about people who grow weed but it seemed, as they say, like a little TMI.
They went on for another 20 minutes about Gary Whiting and I learned far more than I ever wanted to about the people who lived in these mountains ("You know there's only 25 of us and half of us don't even own cars! HAHAHA!").
I was now seriously getting fatigued.
"Gentlemen", I said, "I think I'm gonna take a little nap in the back of my truck. Haven't been sleeping well".
No sooner did I say that when #3 arrived with beer and a dog and looking for pot.
It's true that I haven't had a drink in 14 years and rarely engage in other mind-altering substances but I was just about ready to give it all up.
#3 only stayed for about 15 minutes as he had to dump his week old garbage in one of the dumpsters at Sand Dollar Beach. He said he barbecued chicken about a week ago and it was "getting ripe". He told us that the way to fool the folks when dumping trash illegally is to never put anything with your name in the trash and make sure you used a blue trash bag so it "mingled better" with the trash that was already there.
Did I object to his practice? Uh no, would you have?
#3 left and I repeated my nap story.
They went on for another 20 minutes. I kid you not.
"Well, that's fine if you gotta sleep", #1 said finally. "I'm glad you enjoyed our company and wish you'd be here longer. You're a good person I can tell. I spent two years in prison and no one ever bothered me because I could read them. In fact, they were scared of me- Blacks, Mexican Mafia, nope, never bothered me at all. I can read you too- you're a good guy".
No, I didn't mention the blackmailers or Gary Whiting which seemed at odds with what he'd just told me. It didn't seem smart.
"We may come back. You never know!".
They left. They were drunk and high as kites and roared off down the dirt road.
Perceptions are a funny thing. If you'd asked me if I thought I'd run into any people in a place this isolated place I'd have said no. If you asked me what kind of people might live in the hills above the Big Sur Coast I might have told you they were probably artists...poets and musicians...maybe painters, actors, writers and photographers.
I always think about what new places will look like before I get to them. I'm always surprised. Occasionally, I think about the people I might meet on the road. I'm always surprised.
My finger is still healing.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.