The huge Rottweiler bounded towards me, barking at full volume. The only thing between me and his fangs was air.
“I don’t think you are gonna bite me,” I said hopefully.
I had gone around a barrier at a closed USFS campsite. Nature wasn’t calling, it was howling, and I was going to either heed the summons or my shorts were going to pay the price. The only thing standing between me and relief was standing on all fours and snapping.
The owner came out and Charley decided he’d rather play than bite, so his lunge ended with a snuffle and a big lick. Carson was minding the campground while it was closed. “I guess I can let you go, seeing as you’re on a bike and everything.”
I thanked him, dashed in, and did my everything just in the nick of time.
His kindness was compounded a mile later at a tiny grocery where I got supplies. “Thirty-one even,” the guy said, “and the coffee’s free.”
Nice people aren’t rare as long as you nice them first, it seems. The store had a big sign that said “Welcome Hikers!” and “Welcome Bikers!” I mentioned the sign to the guy and how welcome it made me feel.
“We love everybody, brother,” he replied.
A few miles later I met a ranger. He was in his mid-30s and lean as a garden rake. We got to talking. “What’s the hardest part about your job?”
“Occasionally I’ll get some fella wants to settle things the old-fashioned way.”
“How occasional is occasionally?”
“About once a week.”
“I tell him it’s a lose-lose deal. Either he beats up a 150-lb. guy, big deal, right, and goes to jail, or he gets his ass whipped by a 150-lb. guy and goes to jail and has to tell all the other jailbirds about his broken nose and missing teeth and broken arm.”
“You can do all that?”
“I always try to talk to folks. But I’m a 11-year Marine combat vet so if trouble just can’t stay away I guess I do okay.”
We talked a little more and then I rode on. Sounded like a hard job to me.
I finally got to Lassen National Park. “Is there any cell coverage here?” I asked the park ranger.
“Who’s your carrier?”
“You can get one bar over there.” She pointed to a hill up the road. “See that tiny tree?”
“About five feet to the left of it, but not the rock, that’s too far.”
I set up camp and then rode the mile or so to the hill and the tiny tree. There had been zero coverage anywhere in the park. I switched on my phone.
I waited a minute and sure enough, up popped a baby bar. About then the ranger drove by. She rolled down her window. “Any luck?”
“Exactly like you said!”
She laughed, waved, and drove on. Damn.