Bridget and Spike lie on the bench seat in the Perfect Tow Vehicle.
They’re waiting for me to finish breaking camp at Clyde Holliday State Park near John Day, Oregon. They know the routine so well that they’re already in a travel state of mind, ready to nap while I drive us to who knows where.
Actually I do know where.
We’re going west to Ochoco Divide Campground. Fellow blogger Jim Melvin of http://www.jimbosjourneys.com is camp hosting there. I met Jim months ago when he drove his LazyDaze Class C through Elephant Butte, New Mexico.
I make a final check that everything’s as it should be for travel when my phone rings.
It’s Rusty! I met Rusty while we both boondocked at Ash Fork, Arizona, last spring. At first I referred to him as “the camo man” because his truck with camper body is painted in camouflage. I soon learned his given name is Rusty, but for most of his adult life he’s been known as Three Feathers, the mountain man.
(You can read about his life walking the West with his two donkeys at http://www.bigbeargrizzly.net/archive/article_975a1acc-5e94-52db-856d-0147a0817e79.html . I wrote about meeting Rusty in a blog entry posted on April 13, 2011, entitled “rvsue meets the camo man!”)
“Sue? It’s me, Rusty. How are you and your two little dogs?”
“Rusty! Hello! Oh, we’re fine. How are you?” I exclaim. “I’ve been thinking about you. How’s Timber?”
Rusty starts a tale that I immediately sense is not going to have a happy ending.
“We were in Utah, up near Loa on this mountain. I was hanging out with some people up there. Well, it got real smoky one night from all the fires. I could hardly breathe. I had to prop myself up so I could sit up. So I could breathe, you know, and get some sleep. Real early in the morning Timber starts bugging me to go out to do his business. I open the door and let him out, thinking I’ll get him in a few minutes. Then I go and fall asleep. By the time I go outside to get him, he’s gone.”
“I track him for quite a while, calling him and everything. I don’t see any blood or fur on his trail. He went all the way to the road and then I couldn’t track him anymore. I look all over for him, calling him, but I never did find him. Somebody stole him.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Rusty.”
“I couldn’t stay up there any longer because I couldn’t breathe.” Rusty hesitates for a long moment and I wonder if our cell phone signal is lost. Then he continues, “This happened in July. I’ve been doin’ a lot of cryin’ since then.”
I don’t know what to say.
The sadness of the situation overwhelms me. All I can come up with is “I’m so sorry,” which is no help. Rusty starts to cry, choking out the sobs. My heart aches to hear the pain coming from my gentle friend. I try to comfort him.
“You know, Rusty. Timber is an unusual dog. He probably ran around excited in the woods, picked up a scent, and ended up walking down that road. He’s such an intelligent-looking dog, and so pretty. . . He’s the kind of dog that gets noticed. Someone came along and saw him and could tell he’s a special dog, and now they’re taking care of him.”
“Yeah,” Rusty agrees. “I see him in my dreams a lot, so I know he’s still alive.”
We talk for a few minutes, updating each other on where we’ve been.
Rusty had some more bad luck. “The differential went out on my truck when I got back to Flagstaff. I got it fixed. At least now I don’t have to be pouring oil in my truck all the time.” He tells me about his new phone and that he’s saving to get a trailer.
“I’m going to get a seven by seven by twelve cargo trailer and then, of course, fix it up right. I can get one for fifteen hundred dollars.” On and on we go, covering several topics.
“Well, Rusty. I’m in Oregon now and I’m using that atlas you gave me.”
He perks up at the mention of Oregon.
“Make sure you go to Sisters. And look for Round Lake. It’s at the base of Three Jacks Mountain.” His voice has the tone of someone remembering home. I tell him I’m on my way to Sisters and he’s pleased to hear that.
“I’ll keep in touch, Rusty, and I’ll see you when I get back to Arizona.”
I know how the conversation will end.
Rusty always says goodbye with a blessing. “May God bless you and keep you, Sue, and may He shine His light down upon you to guide your path and keep you safe.”