I didn’t like this place. There are some places that just give me the creeps, and this was one of them. A bad vibe, a sense of dread, I don’t know what it is, but this place had it all. On the third night’s work, as I tried to get this thing done as quick as possible, about midway through the night I experienced another close encounter. I had just dropped off a load at the garbage cans in the field, and turned to walk back to the edge of the road in order to cross back over to the silos, when a little voice in my head said: “Watch out… there is something on the road.” It wasn’t a strange voice – we’re not talking schizophrenia here – but it was my voice just accentuated. I was curious about this so I stopped at the edge of the road and sat down in the bushes to listen. Just moments later I heard a distinct metallic sound and the whirr of bicycle tires coming out of the darkness. It was a man on a bicycle heading toward Marble. “A lone bicyclist”, I asked myself, “At this hour? What are the chances of that happening?" No, I definitely didn’t like this place, and I decided to try to finish this part of the process as quickly as possible. The weather unfortunately wasn’t cooperating, for rain moved in the following day and threatened to continue into the night.
Generally when it rained there was nothing to do but to stay under my poncho shelter and wait it out. At any other time the rain would have been a welcomed guest. The rain, like the dark, was a security blanket. The choppers, hunters, and the accidental passerby were hunkered down in some form of shelter as well, and this produced a feeling of well being conducive to much sleep. I laid there listening to the rain murmur on the coated nylon thinking of better times, and the planned move coming up.
Toward noon the rain slackened and I decided that I should cook my daily gruel before the rain returned. Usually I would cook up on the ridge were the woods were thick and the likelihood of someone stumbling across me was slim. Cooking the gruel was a time and water consuming affair. I would usually get my water at night and bring it up to the camp before bedding down, and use this the following day for cooking and drinking. But since the weather was crappy, and it was a weekday as well, I thought I would go down to the creek and do my cooking and washing. I gathered up my pot, grains, and dry wood that I had stashed in a plastic bag and headed down the ridge through the dripping forest. The creek runs down out of the woods coming out right next to the church. There wasn’t a trail of any sort next to this creek; the rhododendron was thick growing horizontal, making it difficult to walk up or down the creek. I came down off the ridge about two hundred meters above the church in the thick of the rhododendron and proceeded to go through my preparatory cooking procedures.
Cooking in the rain is often problematic, for making fire with wet wood is a drag. I learned this quick and consequently always kept a load of dry kindling in a plastic bag or under a tarp. I carried enough wood down to the creek in my rucksack and went to making fire. The usual method starts with finding or cutting some larger green or saturated logs, laying these parallel to each other about a foot and a half apart. Then I’d find a few flat rocks and lay these on the ground between the logs and begin to build my fire atop these rocks. A checkerboard pattern works best, small to larger sticks, until you get a good bed of coals, then you can supplement your wood supply by putting a little of the wet wood taken from the surrounding woods on the fire. Once I had a good flame, I’d get two or three smaller green lengths of wood and lay them across the two green logs, like a tic-tac-toe kind of thing. You use the green logs to hold the pot up over the flame, which you continue to feed by replacing the burned wood with new dry pieces placed in between the green ones. Depending on what needed cooking, I would take this pattern up several levels – the higher the level, the more flame is possible underneath. As the wood burned under the pot I’d replace each stick one at a time. The green props burn through slowly and require replacing less often, thus allowing you to relax knowing your pot or pan isn’t going into the fire. It takes some getting used to, but it’s extremely efficient. At a more permanent camp I used large rectangular rocks for my first tier, and rebar or metal pipe beat flat for my crossing tiers.
Just as I had a good flame going and was in the act of putting the pot on top of the fire, I turned to look upstream and there walking down the creek, stepping over the horizontal rhododendrons, was the visible lower half of a man carrying a small caliber rifle, wearing blue jeans and a camouflage smock. Caught off guard, I had only enough time to run up the opposite side of the ridge. I moved quickly, my ears tightening in an attempt to make as little noise as possible. “God, I hate this place,” I thought to myself as I wondered if he had seen me. I made it about a hundred meters up the ridge when I remembered that I had left the pot of soybeans on the fire. The fire going, a pot of soybeans starting to cook, and a man with a gun now standing over this probably wondering what to make of this strange situation. He would have just passed this same spot a little while earlier on his way up the creek, and now on the way down, this. “Did he see me?” I asked myself. “Will he run and tell?” A thousand thoughts rush in at these all too familiar times, as your struggle to think in a singular fashion.
After a minute or two, he started to move down the creek at a quick pace; obviously he saw something he decided it would be best to distance himself from. The sound of snapping rhododendron could be heard in the distance, growing fainter as he moved toward the church. “He knows! He will go get the Feds and be back here in less that a half hour,” I thought. "I have to get my things together pronto and have a plan of action ready within that thirty minutes. They’ll have a helicopter over the area within the hour, and I need to get out from underneath their infrared scopes if I’m to have a chance."
I ran down the hill, grabbed the pot, dumped the gruel into the creek, and quickly tore the fire apart putting the coals in the creek and camouflaging the area as best I could with some leaves. I bounded up the other side of the ridge to the camp where I expeditiously packed and started to consult my maps and compass. “Think #&*(% you!” I demanded of myself as I tried to beat down the monster of fear. As anyone who has been in this type of situation knows the sooner you can get your mind involved in the action the better. The best antidote for fear and anxiety is action – one begins to think about the task at hand and therefore loses a quantum of fear because you don't have time to dwell on it. Your mind becomes consumed by the action.