After heating water and making coffee, LC suggested that we invite George (the only other camper at the camp ground at the time) to have dinner with us.
We had planned on a basic, no frills meal of hot dogs and beans, but suspecting that George was homeless (and knowing that he was picking up odd jobs in and around Challis) a free meal was a free meal, and both LC and I would welcome the company.
He eagerly accepted, and our new acquaintance was soon sitting beside the fire, eating beanies and weenies, drinking coffee and engaging in animated conversation with us.
I asked him before we said goodbye and headed home a day and a half later if he minded me blogging about him.
Smiling, he did not mind.
As our first day turned from sunshine and warmth to darkness and increasingly freezing temperatures, we all three talked late into the night around a camp fire that felt good but which did not quite succeed in keeping me warm.
You know.............you make assumptions about people quickly, based on random pieces of information that you unknowingly put together in your mind like pieces of a jig saw puzzle, until a picture inevitably begins to form.
George was camping in this campground when we first visited in June. He was camping in this campground when we returned in October. He was picking up odd jobs in and around Challis. He looked a little rough around the edges but only a little, and he was living in a camp ground so looking rough was completely understandable.
In June he mentioned breaking up with his girlfriend.
In June I did not know for certain, but suspected, that he was financially down on his luck.
In June we offered him a pair of boots when he lost his after driving to Challis and forgetting that he had left them on the roof of his camper to dry.
He thanked LC but declined the offer.
As I drank coffee I studied this interesting man, listening intently and trying to put the puzzle pieces together.
As he asked LC questions about his military and law enforcement background and then listened intently to LC"s answers, and as he talked about his own background, I realized that this man was both engaged and very intelligent.
College educated as it turned out.
At one point a stock broker trainee as it turned out, .
There had been some tough times. Many bad decisions. Some betrayals by those who turned out to not be friends after all. And finally a retreat from "the world".
As the evening progressed George drank a whole lot of beer and pretended that it was an unusual occurrence.
He had spent some time in the mountains around Challis between the first and second times we had seen him, as he worked with a local to cut and haul wood, and as he got ripped off yet again.................
At one point during the evening I mentioned kayaking on a mountain lake just outside of Salmon, and how much I had enjoyed it.
That fact was the jumping off point for George to share an extraordinary experience that he had last winter.
When you turn off the highway and pick up a gravel road just south of Salmon, the road quickly splits.
If you turn left the road winds and climbs its way up into the mountains until you eventually find Williams Lake:
Late last January George visited with his then girlfriend in Salmon, and later drove out of town, turned off the highway and instead of turning left towards Williams Lake (the road would have been closed at that time of year) he stayed straight.
20 miles later he pulled off the gravel road, intending to winter camp for a few days.
Every mistake he could have made, he made.
He was driving a two wheel drive truck. He left town with only 1/2 tank of gas. He was wearing boots that were both too small and ill equipped for the temperatures. He had not checked the upcoming weather forecasts so did not know that there would be heavy snow fall and then the temperature would drop down to negative double digits.
George had planned on staying out there for only a few days.
His feet got very cold. His truck got stuck. It snowed and he could not get the truck out. When trappers stopped to check on him he told them he was fine. He ignored his cold feet and did not recognize the early warning signs of frost bite.
Thankfully he had enough food for both him and his dog, because he spent three weeks out there before the weather finally broke, he could get the truck out and head back into town (limping in on gas fumes).
His toes were black and I do not know how he managed to keep them but he did. Apparently now they are red and both very tender and mis-shapen.
I wondered why he limped occasionally as he wandered around the camp ground................
By the end of the day I was exhausted, but both LC and I slept fitfully that first night.
I did not take any pictures throughout the entire next day, and the event I attended turned out to be disappointing from a business and professional standpoint.
From a personal standpoint I greatly enjoyed it though, because it gave me many hours and many opportunities to visit with locals from Challis.
I really liked this area. I liked the town. I liked the mountains and rivers surrounding the town. And after spending so many hours talking I was surprised to realize that I liked the people as well.
Some were a little strange and some were a little normal, and some were eclectic, but all greeted me with a welcoming smile and spoke easily and extensively with me.
I also met a woman from Blackfoot who was helping with the event.
We talked a good deal off and on throughout the day, and she told me the second story of survival that I had heard within the last twelve hours.
She, her husband and their three young children a number of years ago traveled into the Little Lost River Valley in February.
As it always happens, things were going well until that very moment when they weren't.
Wheels went off the road, the rest of the truck followed, and they found themselves unexpectedly stuck on the shoulder, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of winter, with three small children.
With no cell phone reception and no homes close by, the husband climbed out of the truck and walked a long way to the Ranger Station, intending to break into it and find emergency supplies. There was also the possibility that the young family would hold up at this place if it looked as though they would be spending the night in the area.
Eventually he found chains, he made them fit on his truck, and the family did indeed get out of their tough situation.
As George was talking about his three week experience marooned in his camper I could hear the disgust in his voice at all the mistakes that he had made both before and during the event.
Lesson learned by him.
Lesson learned by the young family.
LC and I have learned plenty of lessons in remote areas over the years - the least of which is that when you travel into remote areas the distance between "life is good - who's got the next joke" to dire and life threatening can be very short
LC and I knew exactly the area the woman was talking about because we visited it during the winter last year.
It is incredibly isolated, the terrain surrounding the area is incredibly rugged, and we ended up turning back during this trip because driving conditions became much too dangerous
As disappointing as the event was for one perspective, I overall had a very good day.
And as it turned out, so did LC.
He drove me into Challis early that morning, went in search of a restaurant and breakfast, brought me breakfast back and then went back to the camp ground to relax until mid afternoon when he returned again.
Within five minutes of his return, my Mountain Boy was standing in the parking lot buying things out a rough looking womans' car trunk.
A 10 foot Ugly Stick fishing pole, five reels, a gun holster, and a small box full of other odds and ends.
The lady only wanted $10 (supposedly for food) but LC happily handed her $25.
30 minutes later she walked back into the building with her younger boyfriend, and they headed over to where the event organizers were dishing out spaghetti dinners.
The dirty looking boyfriend was drunk. He pretended that he wasn't. She pretended that he wasn't. We pretended that he wasn't.
LC and I had seen plenty of enabling behavior in our lives and I smiled and chatted with the woman briefly that second time, all the while feeling sad for her.
Her life was sad and she was trying desperately trying to hide it from both herself and the world...................
After eating spaghetti, thanking event organizers, and packing up everything I had brought with me, my Mountain Boy, my dog and I headed back to the campground.
That evening was a complete repeat of the night before.
A big camp fire, me and LC drinking coffee, George drinking can after can of beer, and plenty of easy going and engaging conversation.
George was having ongoing problems with his feet. He had been living this lifestyle for a couple of years, and it was beginning to wear on him. He had a chance for a job cooking at a camp in Island Park through the winter, and I gently pushed and then gently pushed some more for him to take the job.
You need to be indoors this winter George.
I hope that he accepts the opportunity.
Because he needs to hold up indoors for the winter.
He was a man who definitely had issues.
But then............don't we all?
I liked this man.
I really did.
I did not know if he was trying to deceive himself about certain things, or if he was trying to deceive us, but I felt that whatever his reasons were, he was living a life that contained deceit as a means of self-preservation.
A way to neither confront those issues personally, nor have others judge him BECAUSE of those issues...................
I slept better the second night, but LC was up and sitting beside a campfire for a couple of hours, kept awake because of ongoing back pain.
This is getting to be a regular thing now. I don't think that he can ignore it anymore.
When he finally climbed back into the camper a couple of hours later, he was finally ready to sleep.
Before dozing off though he sleepily told me about the two elk that he had heard bugling to each other across mountain tops, about the wolf that he had heard howling and about the coyotes that he had heard yapping in unison with each other.
Pulling two thick sleeping bags up to his ears I smiled at him and then slept soundly beside him for another couple of hours, before being woken up by a dog who was frantically dancing from one leg to another.
I shivered before I had even climbed out of bed, knowing that it was freezing cold out there.
Kory had slept the past two nights on the folded couch on the opposite wall of the camper, and surprisingly had slept under a huge quilt that we laid over her.
The first time we threw it over her both LC and I had fully expected her to immediately shake it off. She didn't.
Stepping outside with Kory I sleepily looked around me.
The sky was incredibly blue and I knew that eventually we would be looking at one more beautiful and warm day.
But right at that very moment the sky was blue, the temperature was freezing cold, and low lying and frozen mist lay across both the fields and the river..................
A giant fog spot in the middle of my picture, but the only full picture that I took of George during our trip.
He was already up and moving around by the time Kory and I stepped out of the camper ready to greet the world.
I waved and he waved back from the opposite side of the camp ground.
Walking towards me I met him half way and he asked me if I wanted coffee.
I spent the next two hours sitting around his camp fire, drinking his coffee, listening to more of his stories..............
Finally at 10:30 I left Kory tied to the picnic table at Georges' camp site and walked over to our OWN camp site to wake up my overly tired man.
George had promised to make breakfast as a way to thank us for the pitiful hot dogs and beans dinner two nights before, and after LC not sleeping well for two nights in a row I made the (correct) assumption that we would be heading home today.
The day was ticking away and we needed to begin moving.
Leaving my Mountain Boy and our new camp friend while they drank coffee and more coffee, I ducked underneath the jake fence and slowly began walking along the shore line of the Salmon River in a direction that I had not yet explored.
This was private property and I knew that.
But I had seen George fishing there a number of times, decided not to wander too far and stay right along the shore line, and hoped that it would all be OK.
Although I could see the small home that belonged to the same owners of the property I was walking, it was a very long way from where I was.
I had met them the night before as they drove into the camp ground after dark looking for one of their dogs. And had met them again on our last morning as the happy little pup surprisingly showed up at the camp ground.
He was a cute and fluffy and happy-go-lucky little guy who seemed no worse for wear for having spent a cold night out where the predators roam.
I had enjoyed our two hours of coffee drinking and conversation, but was ready to wander the beautiful shore line alone.
I needed some quiet, and as I slowly wandered I embraced the unbelievable beauty that was everywhere in front of me....................
I did not walk for a long time.
Knowing that breakfast was likely on the make by now, I slowly headed back the way I had come.
The horses were all close to the shore when I ducked through the jake fence and began my walk by the water.
They were friendly and curious about me, and I pet one of them briefly before continuing on.
For a few minutes they actually followed me before breaking off and returning to their grazing.
I had learned in Wyoming, but had forgotten in Idaho, just how beautiful and how curious these creatures were.
On the way back to the camp ground they slowly closed in on me again, and all of them followed me as I headed towards the sound of two talking men.................
Breakfast was indeed cooking by the time I got back, and while George continued to create whatever he was creating, LC and I each pet the horses and fed them handfuls of grass.
I had forgotten how playful and curious horses were.
And I had forgotten how very sweet they were.
Even now the thought of handling them, and silently communing all that morning with them, makes me smile.................
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.............. Martin Buber