We first saw him as he was paddling his way back across the lake. I noticed him first as we were nearing the shore again. We had expected to see someone, even though the majority of our weekend had been Mama Bear and me. His truck, or what we assumed was his killer 70’s era Toyota Pickup, was parked at the top of the Hole. It was our only company as we poached the trailhead and slept on the sandstone looking out toward 50 Mile Bench. Among our assumptions was also his name, there was a giant note under his windshield wiper that clearly called him and his truck Harry.
We beached our boats and began the process of deflating and packing them back into our packs. He drifted in. You could tell he had spent his fair share of nights in the desert alone. He had one of those hats with the mullet shade thing and sunglasses that would you could probably weld with. We greeted him with, “We assume you are Harry.” He looked confused. We mentioned the truck which he confirmed was his, but it turned out his name was Bill. Not sure what that was about, but… He climbed out of his boat and answering our query began telling us about his trip to the other side of the lake.
There were two things that were immediately apparent. Bill was a bad ass 60 something year old desert rat. And he hadn’t seen anyone in 5 days.
Most desert rats shy away from human contact. It’s not that they hate people, they just feel more comfortable alone, in the quiet of the desert with lizards staring them down. They tend to wear some sort of strange head covering that provides shade in a place that doesn’t have any and their sunnies are the kind that block out all the sun almost as if they were vampires that needed to shy away from UV rays to survive which they kind of do have to do. They are sun tanned beyond what you think is possible if you spend more than a couple hours in doors on any given day. It’s kind of a leather, exoskeleton kind of thing.
He climbed out of his boat and began the same process we were undertaking.
He mentioned he had been on the other side of the lake for 5 days, hiking, exploring and hadn’t seen anyone in that time. Not that he needed to mention the last detail. When you come upon a Rat, they will do one of two things: Shy away or talk your ear off. The determining factor for which you will encounter is how long they have gone without seeing another human being. A rat that is a day or two, up to 4, without seeing another homo sapien will most likely greet you and then move as quickly away as possible. Once they hit day 5, you will meet one of the friendlies people ever. They don’t care who, they just feel the need to be social, to chat, to tell you about their adventures. They will never be offended if you aren’t interested and will usually take the clues, but they are willing to gab and that is noteworthy.
We hadn’t been quite as long without human contact, but were eager to hear what adventures were awaiting us on the other side of the lake. The fact that we could paddle for about 30 minutes and access a whole other level solitude was exciting and we gladly obliged his gabbing to get as many details as possible. How far? How many miles? Water? Anything notable he would go back for? He gave us the deets and more making our mouths salivate and our minds ponder the greatest question of a desert rat, what if I just don’t show up for work on Monday?
Full disclosure, it wasn’t the only question racing through my mind that I kept to myself. I couldn’t help but fantasize about the other side of the lake. We had just spent the night and morning in a place that historically, geologically and aesthetically is one of the coolest places I have experienced. And we were all alone. What was over there that had Bill so excited after spending 3o+ years experiencing what we just did.
In 3 days we had seen people in cars, ran into one person in Harris Wash and spent the evening at the end of a road that takes people to some of the most amazing places in the world and there was no one around. It was the exact reason we had chosen to escape to this place, solitude. We had found exactly what we were hoping for, but… What would 5 days without anyone, with unknown canyons, potholes, arches, potholes with arches over them (this was what he was most excited about) and water, water everywhere, be like. I’ve never gone quite that long, but god dammit I intend to.
We came to the end of our packing. Shared beta about the climb back out and seeing that there was nothing else to keep us there, chatting with Bill, we left him on the beach and began the 3/4 mile climb back up the crack to get in our car and drive (I fucking hate driving).
As I looked back down and saw him chilling next to the lake with his giant pack ready to be heaved up the Hole, I couldn’t help but feel that I was peering into my future. There is nothing that soothes my demons than a trip into the desert where my phone is useless and there is a high chance of getting lost. Based on those needs, Bill is just Moose 30 years from now on some trip that no one will know about or care about, but I’ll be so stoked to live it up in the desert by myself that when I see someone 5 days in, I might actually want to chat.
P. L. and R.