I disembarked from the Greyhound behind a motel in Camp Verde. The sun was behind the mountains and wouldn't show itself until it rose on Easter Morning. I had to go all the way to the other side of town on Hwy 260 and didn't want to be tramping after dark in an unfamiliar municipality. What's more, with my two oversized duffels, I had to hike ahead with one and return for the other; suspicious behavior.
Lacking a government issued ID, I couldn't get a room for the night. I could talk my way into lodging at a mom and pop operation with any number of excuses. “My pocket was picked on the bus” and “I had a fight with my wife and left without my wallet. It's best I wait for her to cool off” are a couple I had used successfully over the years. I particularly liked the one about the pickpocket, because it made me look like a rube. I played the yokel card often. People aren't so wary of hayseeds, yokels, or rubes, and those conditions help cover possible inconsistencies. I often looked to Woody Harrelson for inspiration. His characters in “Cheers” and “White Men Can't Jump” were largely above suspicion with their portrayal of corn fed Indiana innocence; a role I had a face for and can play well. Unfortunately, these motels were all national chains. I learned that if you are poor or on the road, Corporate America could give a shit if they have your business or not. I bet they wouldn't let Woody Harrelson himself stay there without proper documents.
I found a Denny's, left my bags in the foyer, and asked for a booth where I could watch them. I was famished. I hadn't eaten since sun up. I ordered an omelet with everything, well done hash browns, and a side of slaw. I love slaw. Soon, I would have to subsist on hard rations. After my meal, I ordered coffee and asked for the manager.
I told her that I was headed out to hike the General Crook Trail and delays had brought me to town a little late to begin. She gave me permission to review my maps and journals over coffee in her establishment until morning, provided I tip the servers generously.
It was raining when morning came. The waitress who served me most of the night hooked me up with a ride to the other side of town with the night cook. He dropped me off at a combination Shell Station and Indian Tobacco joint called “Ernies”.
I left my bags on the sidewalk in front of the store and went inside. I bought a can of tobacco, rolling papers, lighters, a large cup of coffee, and a six pack of hostess chocolate doughnuts. There were a couple of booths in the store, but I went outside for my coffee and doughnuts so I could have a smoke.
I'm sure I looked bad. My head was sunburnt and peeling and just starting to show stubble. It was my third day on the road in these clothes. My lips were chapped and cracked, and I hadn't slept since Chavez Park. The doughnuts were gone and I was standing under the awning next to my bags with a cigarette and coffee when Ernie showed up. He didn't like the looks of me.
He told me to leave because he wasn't going to have me bothering his customers. I told him that in spite of appearances, I was no panhandler. I had patronized his establishment and was just finishing my coffee and cigarette before I hit the General Crook trail. He became irate. Actually, he was a giant asshole and threatened me with the police if I didn't leave. Thinking I would have been better off at a booth inside, I carried first one bag and then the other to the edge of a bridge over the Verde River where I would resume my journey. I was tired and angry and distraught. I'd had enough of society for a while. It had been a rough couple of days. All I had to do was make it a few more miles, and I could set up camp and sleep.
That asshole Ernie (he didn't look like an Indian to me), must have called the cops because it wasn't long before a white car pulled up with U.S. Marshall emblazoned on it's side.
I've mentioned before my thoughts on the various branches of law enforcement. City and county cops didn't worry me much, but feds are a little smarter, a little more educated, and have a lot more resources. As Americans, we are subjected to the scrutiny of local law almost constantly. It is a matter of course, for both them and us, to interact in an official capacity. Because of this familiarity, and their limited perspective, I had grown more comfortable in explaining myself to them. Feds, on the other hand, scared the crap out of me.
This G-Man exited his vehicle and asked me where I was heading. I told him and he said as long as my ID checked out, he would let me be on my way. I carried two photo ID's. One was from a swap meet, and the other was from a check cashing joint. Both were stamped in bold letters across the bottom “Data Provided by Signatory”, which is legalese for “These Documents are Bullshit”. I'd used both cards on deputies and city cops, but I reckoned a fed would know better and might be curious. I told him I had no papers.
He said “In that case, let's have a look at what's in the bags”. I had those questionable cards in my day pack, and a little grass in a pipe in one of the duffels. I chose the third bag, which contained mostly groceries, and started emptying it.
I'd gotten about halfway down into the bag when a Mexican guy in a truck came around the corner and took out a couple of the traffic cones that marked the beginning of the new bridge. The fed pointed at me sternly and told me not to go anywhere. Then he jumped into his ride and tore off after the pickup.
I shoved everything back in the bag as soon as he was out of sight and stuck out my thumb at the next passing van. It was a brown conversion van from the seventies or eighties and had a back window shaped like a star. God bless 'em they stopped for me. Noticing a girl in the passenger seat, I got in the side door and offered my thanks as I stowed my gear and closed the door. The trail to the rim and to Fossil Springs was nearly within reach.
As if reading my mind, the girl I had noticed asked me if I was going to the springs. When I answered in the affirmative, she produced a cardboard hitch-hiker's sign that read “The Springs”. I had lucked into a ride with people heading right were I was. I thought.
We blew right by my trail head from the 260 and turned onto a dirt road. The driver offered me a Guiness and the girl rolled a joint. I tried not to be nervous that we had passed my turn. The rain was annoying, but not hard. The dirt road they had turned on though, had become mud. We came to one wide bend where the road was a thick red clay and we slid toward the edge of a ravine and I might have yelled a little. Don, the driver, and Leslie, the passenger, thought this was hilarious. I was terrified. I had another beer.
After nearly thirty miles of this, we came to a cattle guard with a sign that said “Nudity Prohibited”, and they announced that we were home.
Just then a bearded homunculus and a naked hippie kid leaped in front of the van, barring our way. They told us there were rangers in camp and suggested we surrender any drugs or alcohol or extra cash. We told them we would take our chances and they walked along side as we eased our way down the precipitous hill to the camp.
Don parked, and I removed my gear and found a spot about thirty feet away to set up. It was pitch dark and I sat a lit zippo on the low branch of a mesquite tree for the little light it offered. The two would-be highwaymen came to my camp and warned me not to have sex with Leslie. I was really in no danger of sleeping with Leslie. The blond, naked guy told me she had raped his friend Goat (to which the homunculus nodded emphatically). It was then that I noticed another guy, older than myself, lurking in the shadows. “She gave me the fire dick” he said shyly. “Good to know” I responded, not knowing what else to say.
I had no idea where I was. I crawled in my tent and slept like a fugitive that had been pinballing on the road for three days with no sleep.