It wasn't the first time I had returned from the lake to find groceries. When I would meet people while fishing or in line at the shitter or on the trail, I would tell them a little about my trip. People fear what they don't understand, and I wasn't quite normal with my tarp and chair and no vehicle, carrying water and fish from the lake each evening. To keep people from speculating too closely about my circumstances, I would conversationally volunteer how I took the summer off work and was backpacking the Rim Country.
I didn't ask for charity, or rely on it. Shattsworth didn't get it. He never would. The weeks he followed me around, he kept saying he was going to figure out what my scam was. The funny thing is, I was being myself for the first time in years. My “scam” was telling it like it is. I omitted the part about the felony warrants. Most people appreciated my adventure, and wished they could do the same. I was doing something most people only dream of. I told them the hardest part was making the decision to do it. Every couple of weeks, I'd get an invitation to dinner where my hosts pried me for stories, or I would find a sack at my chair.
People wanted to be a part of my journey even if only by leaving me some food they didn't want to take home anyway. They wanted to help me to succeed. They wanted to think I could make it because then maybe, just maybe, it was possible to have their own dream someday. Whatever it may be. This is how I quit hiding after all those years, using my very freedom as an example of the possibilities you can encounter if you let go of your fears and pursue your dreams. I had a purpose and a goal and something good in my life. On top of it all, look at my front yard!
Of those two sacks, one was full of hot dog buns. I learned that people bring WAY to many hot dog buns camping for some reason. The other sack held a pack of partially frozen hot dogs, potato chips, mustard, pickles, and an apple. I tied a rope between two trees, hung the bags on the line, and covered them with a tarp. We retired to Shattsworth's camp to cook the fish on his stove. He was like a sponge. A deformed little sponge who required me to explain everything I did. He wanted to learn and I wanted to share what I learned. He left no stone unturned in his search for my “scam”. He was continually disappointed to learn that hard labor and good citizenship were the main principles of my success. He learned how to clean and cook a trout though, even if he couldn't catch one.
We cooked and ate on the side of his van opposite my camp. After dinner, he reassured me that he felt bad that he hadn't shared his grass. I told him not to sweat it and returned to my camp. When I got there, I found that my pots and pans were smashed flat and my journals and maps were missing. The groceries were camouflaged in the darkness under the tarp. Pots and maps, even hand drawn maps, can be replaced. The loss of the journals was a blow. Then I heard the explosion.
The loud bang came from about three hundred yards away. I looked and saw four teenage boys rapidly backing away from their fire. Likely suspects. I hurried to their camp and found them dripping with scalding hot Dinty Moore stew. I was feeling no sympathy for morons in the woods at this point and immediately launched into my own concerns. “You boys know anything about somebody trashing my camp over yonder?” I pointed.
The guy who looked like he'd been burnt the worst spoke up as he was toweling himself off. “Mister, I'll be honest with you. We saw a chair and some pots and pans and papers over there and thought since there wasn't a tent or car or anything, that it was an abandoned camp. When we were walking over to check it out, a guy in a camouflaged bronco drove over your gear and started poking around. Some old bald guy chased him off. We didn't take anything, honest. If anything's missing, it was the guy in the bronco. You can ask the bald guy. He;s camped down that way” and he indicated a jeep trail that led through some Aspen trees. It turns out they didn't know enough to open the can of stew so it wouldn't explode. They had no other food, so I took them the hot dogs and a pack of buns. The dogs might not be good in the morning, and I was full of fish.
It was late, and there was no sense in looking for bald Samaritans or camouflaged Fords in the dark. I went back to camp and rolled up in the remaining tarp with Maya. In the morning the sight of my flattened cookware depressed me. I had no clipboard to start my day. I set out looking for the Bronco.
I found the miscreants I was looking for about a mile and a half up Forest Road 89 by the power lines. There was a guy heating a pot of coffee on a gas burner. In addition to the bronco there was a red Ford Ranger. There were two tents. “Is that your Bronco?” I asked in the most menacing voice I could muster. “Nope” he said. “Why?”
“That truck has been identified as one that destroyed my camp last night. I need to settle with the driver.” He nodded as if he knew what I was talking about and walked over to one of the tents and stuck his head in. After a minute he came back and said “He said he's not going to get up yet.”
I pulled a lawn chair alongside his cooler, felt around for a beer, opened it, took a drink, and said “I can wait.” Even I was surprised at my bravado, but I intended to get my journals back. I was thankful for the chair. It kept him from seeing me shake. He went over and stuck his head in the tent again. After a few minutes of mumbling back and forth, I heard him say “You get rid of him then!” Neither of them wanted to face the wild man in the forest. This gave me hope of getting out of there intact.I finished the beer.
Shortly, a small round man with a black beard emerged from the tent looking sheepish. I explained that I understood that mistakes happen and told him about my trip, I stressed how I depended on the gear I had to survive and couldn't just run to the store for pots and pans. I requested he return the journals and maps. Afraid my entreaty showed weakness that he might take advantage of, I punctuated it by helping myself to another of his beers. I tipped my head back and downed most of it in one draught. I leveled my gaze at him and awaited his reply. His friend busied himself at the burner. It was obvious that he blamed this intrusion on his bearded buddy's bad behavior.
He was apologetic to say the least. He explained that he was drunk and that was no excuse. He said that once the old bald guy straightened him out, he put the papers behind a tree with a rock on them so they wouldn't get scattered (I found them later). He was genuinely remorseful and gave me a two quart pot, a small skillet, a two liter of soda, and a sixer of Coors light. I thanked him and told him he was a stand up dude.The next day I took the lid off the two quart for the first time and found a fifty dollar bill.
After leaving my new gear and supplies at camp and ignoring Shattsworth's curiosity as to my latest “scam”, I found the Samaritan and thanked him. He invited me to visit later, as he was interested in hearing about my journey. We became friends and bumped into each other in the woods for years to come. He was in charge of security at the Palo Verde Nuclear plant.
Shattsworth hung around for weeks. I fished for him and fed him and tried to teach him as best I could. He was looking for shortcuts though, and I didn't know any. One day I came back from fishing earlier than usual and found him behind his van with three crates full of canned goods and tinned meat. When I asked him where he got the food, he said he always had it. I was flabbergasted. I'd been fishing and feeding him for weeks and he was well supplied. His response was “I have to conserve, I can't do things like you.” That was Jefferson Shattsworth's scam.
There was something that had been nagging at the back of my mind for months, and before we parted company, I had to have an answer. I asked him how he got back and forth to the shitter without ever being seen that first month. He said he didn't. He took me to the side door of his van and showed me a piece of hose that ran out his passenger door through which he peed. Then he opened a cooler and revealed to me newspapers wrapped in freezer bags. “I thought about offering you some hamburger from my cooler” he told me, “Then watching your face when you unwrapped it”. The possibility that he was a deranged cannibal began to creep back into my mind. “I think it's time I was moving on” I said.
His name was seriously Shattsworth. Honestly, I couldn't make this shit up.