As I walked through the sliding glass doors I was afraid the weather worn trim would break causing the entire frame of the door to collapse. With the strong stench of propane in the air, I peeked and snooped a bit while I waited. India explored with wonder of what I could only image to be a million foreign smells of heaven to a beast. It seemed that she did not share my concern for the propane. I was beginning to think I was all alone until I heard a faint voice from the opposite side of the back room. A moment later a man emerged, pulling his forest green parks tshirt back down over his large tan belly. He seemed to have been napping. His movements were slow yet he seemed rushed. An older man that only showed his true age with a shake to his voice and the wear in his bloated red feet that seemed to only seek comfort in birkenstock style sandals. Once he primped his glasses and wild hairs back into place he stepped around the counter to assist me. This was Dan, a volunteer.
I stopped in the visitor's center where Dan was working while I was camping at The Trails End campground near Pinedale Wyoming. I had almost literally stumbled upon this hidden gem of a site. If it weren’t for a wild goose chase to find the ending destination for a closed bike lift I wouldn’t have found it. Bikes do lead to the goods, don’t they? Trails End is insanely beautiful and has super light foot traffic. I came to find that this area is known for their hiking trails. Rad. Let’s go dog. Once India and I got settled at our site ($7 a nite to camp, hellz yeah) I packed up my camel back and bear spray (yes, mad bear country here) then we headed out. As I walked I passed families, couples, single hikers, even horses and goats! I noticed that everyone had their bear spray on their hip or shoulder, mine was in my pack. After moving my spray in an almost ready Annie Oakley stance, I started to get damn paranoid. Is that a bear? Oh man, there? Crap! I freaked myself out. What do I do when I get freaked, find the facts. I’ve ridden my bike and hiked in bear country plenty of times but not alone and not with a dog. This is why I was at the visitor’s center; I wanted to ask Dan about da bears.
“Someone got eaten by a grizzly last week.” Dan answered so matter of fact, as if he was merely talking about the weather. While I literally think I peed myself, well, actually more like shat myself. I was struck with shock, followed by totally fear. As I opened my mouth to say, “I’m outta here, India, let’s go!!!” only a faint gasp squeaked its way free. If Dan couldn’t sense my fright you could see it plain as day on my face. In an attempt to comfort me, Dan continued, “It was a worker at Yellowstone. The grizzly ate half of him and buried the rest for later. There were 3 grizzles flown out a while back because they were getting to close to the human areas. Only one black bear spotting round here this season.”
“So, so, so what do you do in bear country?” I stuttered out, not really knowing what I was asking. My shock was now turning into the feeling that I had no business being in the wild. What are you doing Casey? Yes, you've camped, hiked, biked all over but come on. No, I can do this! I'm brave. Yeah sure, You are such a fake!
Either Dan didn’t understand my indirect question or I might have sputtered out some of my conversation with myself aloud, either way he had a confused look on his face so I changed the subject. “Sooooo, what’s a fun day hike?”
Dan gave me directions for a beautiful hike that would take about 1 hour and 45 minutes. After some more chit chat and a bit of bonding I bid Dan farewell. Telling him I would stop in after our return. He was concerned that I was traveling alone and wanted to make sure I was safe. I could see his fatherly instincts on autopilot, It was sweet and after traveling on my own for a while it was comforting to have a new friend. I had a sense of calm as India and I headed off on a new adventure, which hopefully didn’t include one of use getting eaten!
4 hours later we were back to the trailhead and campsite. I had misunderstood Dan when he told me it was about a 2 hour hike, he meant one way! And with a pretty nice change in elevation. But we had no run in with bears. Actually, I began to feel at home on the trail and was sad to leave. If it weren’t for running out of water and food we would have hiked longer. Plus, I gotta say, I was beat. As I popped my head into the visitors center to tell Dan we survived he was busy helping a couple with directions. Dan was the man about town. I just gave a friendly wave of accomplishment and we headed back to our site to eat.
After the most delicious meal, which could have been just a can of cold beans for all I cared, I was starving. I did the dishes and we settled into the van to spend the afternoon relaxing. Once the sun started to set I saw a car stop by our site. It was Dan. He was leaving for the night and wanted to check on us before he headed home. We chatted for a long while, exchanging stories of travel, love and life. Dan had lived life. He had good times, he had heart break and I couldn't get enough of his stories. I felt as if I was a 5 year old saying "tell me more".
I would spend about 5 more days at this site and each night about sunset I looked forward to Dan’s visits. One the last night I gave him my card and told him to be in touch but I knew he wouldn’t. Dan comes from the old school world where they don’t email and you only call if you need something. I knew this. Plus I’ve learned to enjoy moments for moments. Enjoy the time I have with the people that pop in and out of my life at that moment, instead of trying to hold onto them almost with a death grip. So I let go of Dan, this amazing gift that I will always cherish. But I will forever smile at the thought of grizzly bears and propane.
Case of the Nomads Residency Deadline is Jan 25th! Please share with others. Thank you!