The People You Meet at Campsites
This is an anecdote that is intended to accompany an article I wrote for the San diego Reader on camping in Colorado. That article can be found here.
Ken and Baby weren’t the only campers when my partner and I arrived at Priest Lake dispersed campsite just outside of Telluride a few summers ago, but they would be the only ones left as the sun began to set.
Ken’s yellow mid-60s Chevy Suburban was parked in the centre of the main clearing that formed the campsite, and his tent, attached to his van, was already set up. Ken was very amiable, and wasted no time in coming over to say hello. Baby, his brown American pit bull, with her pink collar, was equally friendly.
It turned out that Ken had been here for a few days and planned to stay longer. He gave us a potted version of his life story that concluded with the elderly Russian couple that had left the Priest Lake the previous day. He went into detail about how the old Russian woman had collected wild mushrooms and made a stew with them one evening. He commented, he told us, how good the stew looked and asked her if he could try some. She said no.
Ken was nothing but friendly, but there was a hint of mania about him (or that is how it seemed). As my partner and I set ourselves up, Ken reappeared and told us how, during festivals in and around Telluride when the site was busy, he would drop bundles of firewood near campsites. Campers, he said, would sometimes give him a few dollars for his trouble.
The actual lake at Priest Lake is small but beautiful, and so we walked among the wild flowers and around the lake. When we were about halfway around we noticed the only other car that was at the site was leaving. We returned to find a bundle of wood next to our fire pit.
Perhaps it is the numerous films that start with well-meaning strangers offering friendly advice to visitors but end with bloodbaths, but an alarm bell began faintly ringing in the back of my mind.
Not long after, Ken’s possible mania manifested itself when I overheard his raised voice. I looked to see him on the phone. “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother,” he shouted over after he had hung up. With the alarm bell still faintly ringing in the back of my mind, I wondered if he even had a phone.
With my mind whispering the definition of mania - either euphoric or irritable; indeed, as the mania intensifies, irritability may become more pronounced and eventuate in violence - over and over again, I began to think about the Russian couple and wondered, for a second, if the refusal of stew had prompted Ken to kill them.I looked around for freshly turned over earth.
The last straw came when Ken came over and asked if we would like to look at the hut he was planning to move into. The small hut close to the main campground was, as far as we could tell, abandoned. Ken told us it was a communal hut for anyone to use, but he was going to move in anyway. He pointed out the graffiti he was planning to remove, and he told us of his plans for the little cabin the woods. He also told us he had exorcised the bad spirits that were previously resident in the cabin.
The faint alarm bell was now a full on siren.
When we got back to our site we decided to move to the recently vacated spot closer to the water. We lit a fire and discussed what to do.
I had visions of waking up in the middle of the pitch black night to see Ken staring into our car, barely visible and asking if I could help him with something. In this nightmare, I stall Ken while I prepare to jump into the front seat, glad I had insisted we face the vehicle the correct way for a quick getaway. We get a few feet before hitting a rock, noticing in the headlights that a large boulder had been moved in front of the vehicle to prevent us from leaving. We run for the road, but Baby, who is no longer Ken's slobbering, lumbering, dopey companion, tracks us down and, as she jumps, Ken's magical laugh fills the night sky lit by a full moon.
I decided I wanted to leave.
We packed up quietly and, as we drove away, shouted over to Ken that we were going to get supplies. A few miles down the road we stopped at Matterhorn campground.
It was here that we reflected on what we had just done, and we came to the conclusion that we had made the right choice.
I have no doubt Ken was just a nice guy and not an axe murderer, but if I were to come across him again I might just have to politely move to another spot.
I also have no doubt that this whole affair says more about me than it does Ken, but what can I say, I like the adage better safe than sorry.