Once I have the tin can hooked up to my car, and Rooney in the back seat, and I am driving on the highway headed north, I think not just of the places I'll go, but the people I'll meet. I always meet plenty of people on my tin can trips that are just like me. They don't care who I am, or what I've done, or how much (or how little!) money I have; they are drawn to me, and I to them, by a common love
of living in the wilderness. No one I meet on a hiking trail has ever asked me what I do for a living. Often they don't even ask my name. They are not concerned with who I am outside of the wilderness, only who I am in that moment. We share stories of our adventures, talk about what we have seen that day out in nature, and form an instant bond born of our similar experiences. I have met some amazing people!
I was nervous about going alone to the Porcupine Mountains, because the wilderness area is far removed from cell phones, gas stations, grocery stores, and hospitals. Help, if I needed it, would be far away. So it was that I experienced a moment of panic when I pulled the tin can into my camp site to discover one of the tires was completely shredded. I asked a Ranger if he had any advice for how to get a new tire, and he gave me the number of a guy who lives 35 miles away who might be able to help. I couldn't call him, though, because I didn't have a cell phone signal. Fortunately, another camper overheard my conversation with the ranger, and said he and his buddy would help me. They jacked up the trailer, took the wheel off, found the spare tire, and sadly told me the spare was the original one from 1970, and useless. But they knew the area well, and sent me an hour away to a shop in Bessemer, with very good directions, where I met a life-long Yooper and really good guy.
Jim, from C & M Oil Company, took one look at my tire and said,
"Ya, these here new tires are bigger than yer old ones, yer gone want ta put da spare on da other side, you betcha."
Alrighty, then. I worried that eventually I would need the third tire for the spare, so we agreed that on the day I left the mountains, I would drive back to Bessemer and get a third tire put on the wheel. That way, I would have two new tires on the tin can, and a spare, and they would all be the same tire.
Jim was really nice, and went out of his way to make sure I would be safe. He only charged me for the tires, no labor. And he agreed to meet me early at his shop later in the week, to get me back on the road at a decent time.
I stopped there to let Rooney out of the car for a walk and a potty break. We wandered behind the outhouse to a narrow trail in the woods, when we heard a low growl. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, Rooney immediately went into defensive stance, and my hand went to my gun. A rustling in the branches produced an old geezer, complete with white beard to his belly, flannel shirt, and a missing tooth. I laughed and told Rooney to relax. The growl had come from the old man's sled dog team, tied up in the woods.
"Oh I've made millions. About 50 years ago, I got the idea to sell deer urine to hunters. Now we manufacture the stuff and sell to all the outdoor stores, all over the world."
Huh. Millions, eh? I guess the money really doesn't matter to him. But if the Discovery Channel ever decides to produce a reality show about him, I think they should call it Piss Posh.
I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the old man, he had to have been at least 85. He patiently answered all my questions about living off the grid in Alaska and told some great stories. I wished him well and went on my way, but I will never forget him.
Back at the campground, my new friends returned to help me put the wheel on, and I was good to go. I may have lost a day of hiking, but it was worth it to experience the friendly help of strangers and meet the old man.
The 4 Guys had been destined to be friends since birth. They grew up together, married each other's sisters, and are now raising families of their own together. The bond the 4 Guys shared was deep and strong, and I found myself longing for that kind of closeness and companionship. They made a pot of coffee over the fire and shared it with me, and told me how the raccoons had gotten their cooler and they had little left to eat. Long time outdoorsmen making a Rookie mistake like leaving the cooler out made them that much more real.
We compared notes about hiking trails, told funny camping stories, and waited out the storm. When I went to bed that night, I was grateful to have been given the gift of their friendship, if just for a moment in time.
Everyone I meet in my travels to the wilderness is of a special nature.
They all prefer to be outside, away from society, and all appreciate the miracle and wonder of the balance of nature. Living simply, for whatever time they can get, and loving all of life is what these people share. I think Dr. Seuss would have liked it in the wilderness, and if he had written a book about my travels, it might have gone something like this:
Oh, the people you'll meet
when into the wilderness you go
Some are tall, some are short
Or small, or big, some "just so"
You will meet ones who are rich, and ones who are poor
But none of that matters, who cares?
They have no need of money or things
When getting lost in the middle of nowhere
Oh, the people you'll meet in the wilderness
When you hike on the shore and the trails
They all have the same smile, as they walk and they see
Through the sun, rain, snow and gales
They are young, they are old
and everywhere in between
They all know so much of the world they are in
They all know what it means
The people who come to the wilds each day
Are all seeking the same thing
The people you meet deep in the woods
Have hearts that know how to sing!
Oh, the people you'll meet at the end of the day
When you're tired and achy and weary
Some will be smart, some will be not
But each loves the wilds so dearly
They will tell you their stories
Which sound just like yours
When you live in the wilderness
There are no walls and no doors
Oh, the people you'll meet who know how to be free
In the wild where space is a given
The calm ones, the excited ones, all of them know
Being in the wilderness is livin'!
Some will come happy, some will come not
Some will be angry or tired or sad
But once in the wilderness none of that stays
They will forget the life that they've had
Oh, the people you'll meet when you walk in the wild
All put one foot in front of the other
They are never alone, no matter their troubles
In the wilderness we walk with each other!
On my last night in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Park, I took Rooney along the Lake Superior shoreline to climb and jump the rocks and watch the sun set. Coming up over a steep rock, I was startled to find a man, sitting in a camp chair on top of the rock, beer in hand, quietly watching the waves. Not wanting to interrupt his reverie, I apologized and tried to move on, but he invited me to share the sunset with him. Rooney and I sat on the big slab of rock, and the man and I told each other about our time in the Porkies. We had seen many of the same things that week, but had not crossed paths until now. I found a sense of peace sharing a sunset with a total stranger who understood me better than any of my friends at home. We fell silent, and as the sun hit the distant horizon with a sizzle and the waves lapped at the rocks, I was content. Oh, the People I've Met! who have enriched my life for mere seconds. They all have a place in my heart.