The Summer of 1998 Part XVIII

A few miles up the road, I turned off at the Lochsa Campground, making a half-hearted attempt to find a campsite (they had the usual metal cook-stands). There were a few vacancies, but I said “To heck with it”. But there was something rather unique about this campground – it was replete with a general store/gas station and a bar/restaurant. What an ideal situation…if I could just find a cozy little spot right off the highway somewhere near-by. I continued east on route 12, ascending towards Lolo Pass (elev. 5323 feet).

About two miles up the incline, I spotted a good-size clearing, shielded from the road by a grove of evergreens. I pulled off into the clearing, only to find it occupied by a young Oregonian couple, hauling one of those classic Airstream house-trailers behind a pickup. The Almighty Himself must have been looking after me. I backed into this alcove adjacent to the clearing… it was like a niche cut out of these towering pines…it was perfect. To add to my fortuitous happenstance, there were two trappings left behind by a former camper – a pile of rocks and plethora of dead wood. It was like I had just re-upholstered my proverbial seat in the fabled catbird house. I was in seventh heaven.

Before I had gotten situated, I had asked the couple if I was infringing on their privacy. Fortunately, they had no objections. In fact, they made me feel like they were glad to have some company. We conversed for about a hour, swapping stories about where we’d been and where we were going. .At one point, Oregon launched into a jeremiad about literally blowing out the engine in his F-250 Ford.

They ended up having to spend a week in Helena, Montana, waiting for a new unit to be installed. Well, I could certainly empathize with than, but describing my radiator woes was like comparing a hangnail with heart surgery. We finally parted company, and I got down to the priorities of building a fire and roasting wieners on a wire. The embers were still glowing as I crawled into bed, and gazing up at the cathedral of pines, I again thanked the Lord for a safe trip and counted my blessings. Even the moon was aglow.

To my chagrin, Oregon had packed it in and pulled out the next morning, before I had a chance to say goodbye. It was Labor Day weekend, so I decided to backtrack down the road to see what the Lochsa Lounge and Restaurant had to offer. The establishment was your typical all-timber construction (the pseudo-log cabin variety), complete with pool table, dart board, pin-ball machine, and pot-bellied stove. The best thing about the joint was the working TV above the bar. I pulled up a stool and ordered a soda, and who should be sitting next to me…Arizona with the ’78 Chevy van (the same old guy I had met at the pedestrian bridge pull-off). Well, we had one heck of a good time, watching a gridiron battle between Tennessee and Syracuse.

I asked “Arizona” where he had stayed the night before, and he said, “I found a space right here in Lochsa. Cost me eight bucks. It was okay.” I responded, “I found a place right up the road. It’s perfect, you’ll love it. There’s a red ribbon tied to a tree right where you pull off. You can’t miss it.” I was hungry for companionship, but not desperate, mind you. He never did show up. That was the last I would see of Arizona. As I was stoking my camp-fire, I was amusing myself with the curiosity that I had been referring to my acquaintances on the road by their license plates (”Hey, Arizona, how you doin’?”). It just seemed to come natural

. To be by myself was happiness in itself. The solitude gave me a chance to bang out a few lines on the ol’ Royal, then tape a couple of minutes on the recorder, and finally, just sit and think for awhile. Mesmerized by the red-hot coals still ebullient in the rock-pit, I could only think of Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Mozart, who never saw a movie, heard a radio, or looked at television. People often ask me what do I do with my “loneliness” in the woods. Those guys had “loneliness’ and knew what to do with it. They were not afraid of being lonely because they knew that was when the creative mood in them would work. Hey, I could relate to that.