November 22, 2017
I wait two hours before a guy offers to give me a ride to Stovepipe for 25 bucks. “The names Wild Bill,” he shoots out a hand with a warm smile, kind eyes. He drives an old gray ’89 Suburban called The Beast, smokes Senecas, and is one of three black men living in Lone Pine. Over the summer he worked as a camp host at Whitney Portal, “solo” he emphasizes, and is now considered a legend, for it is no easy feat to camp host at Portal alone, especially when hikers show up too cold, weary, hungry, hanging on to a thread, in need of rescue.
“Back in May, a Pacific Crest Trail hiker showed up at my trailer door in the night, icicles in his beard, blue in the face, he’d got caught in a snow storm going over Forester Pass and ditched his pack.”
Wild Bill took him in and nursed him back to health.
“Several days later I was in Bishop and some guy runs up to me and gives me a hug, and I was like Who’s this guy gettin’ fresh? I didn’t recognize him, he’d cut off his beard and told me he was hanging up his trekking poles for good.”
Bill’s favorite thing in the whole world is fishing for trout in the mountains and he knows all the best spots. I ask him if he’s ever fished in Montana or Idaho and he says “Nah I get called the N word up there. Lone Pine is more diverse, there are Hispanics and Native Americans too.”
My heart hurts. I cannot believe that this is reality.
“I always say, just kill ’em with kindness. That’s all we can do.”