During our stay near the Mogollon Rim we were leaving the campsite for hours at a time in order to go on hikes, explore nearby areas or go into town to a sports bar and watch the Stanley Cup playoffs that one of my teams was in (Go Sharks!). Usually, depending on where we are and the quality of our neighbors we always consider the possibility of having someone steal our stuff when we leave it unattended for any length of time and have always taken some form of precaution. That usually means taking items of personal value with us when we drive away from the camp or camouflaging those same items if we are away on foot. In my decades of camping all over the West Coast I have never been the victim of such a scummy douche move…until now.
After the people with the two Ford F-150s and their trailers full of noisy machinery left we had a couple of days to ourselves which was lovely. That lull happened to be in between games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so we had no real reason to head into town for hours at a time. Then, one afternoon, the tortured squeaking of some poorly maintained vehicle announced the arrival of our next set of neighbors. What appeared was a late 90’s black Oldsmobile Bravada SUV with Oregon plates. They proceeded to pull up to our first spot where we stayed for one night before the driving winds convinced us to move to a more protected spot…all of 200 feet away. We surreptitiously watched as they set up two hammocks really close to the Rim and smiled inwardly to ourselves that this was a bad move which was going to come back and bite them on the ass really soon when the winds kicked in. We acknowledged each others presence with a polite head bob which to me means “hey, I see you, you see me, we’ve agreed to leave one another alone, have a nice time” and on the first night that is exactly what happened.
On day number two we did our thing and they did theirs. We were planning on leaving our site and heading down into Strawberry for the hockey playoffs at around 4pm as the game stated around 5:15. They seemed to just hang out, literally, in their hammocks. When we finally drove away we caught their eye and gave a non-committal wave and thought no more of it. In town we watched the game, met some nice people and had a great time even though the Sharks lost that night. Once we made it back to the access road and near our general camping spot we put our headlights on low beam and drove slowly and quietly so as not to disturb our new neighbors. When we swung around the last corner into the actual campsite area we did not see any sign of the neighbors but, for the moment assumed that this was because it was dark out and their vehicle was black. Still being quite and assuming they were there but just asleep we pulled the last bit into our parking spot, parked and proceeded to quickly empty the few items we had in the shell out of it so we could sleep and were soon in bed.
The next morning we awoke with the sun and went to start our regular coffee ritual. Immediately upon walking over to our table where all our cooking gear is usually kept we noticed something was wrong. It was early and I was not yet fully awake but my non-fully-functioning brain quickly noticed that several areas on the table that usually had something on them were now empty. Still groggy I thought perhaps the wind or a curious animal might have swept items onto the ground and so looked around the table. Perhaps I had moved them for some odd reason and so did a wider visual sweep around our campsite…still nothing. Quickly dawning on me was the only other possibility…someone had stolen our stuff! Shock and anger quickly overcame confusion and I instinctively looked over to where our neighbors were…only they were not there. We walked over and saw that they had left camp but had graciously left behind the remains of last night’s dinner for the hidden Forest spirits to clean up.
You can learn a lot about someone by what they eat and how they eat it. In this case they enjoyed a [SARCASM]high quality meal of mac & cheese and a roasted chicken both from Dairy Queen[/SARCASM], bottled Smart Water (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and had eaten them with two plastic spoons out of a new box of 24 spoons. I know this last detail because they left the box of spoons with 22 still in it and the two used spoons tossed on the ground along with the remaining half a chicken and a whole lot of Mac & Cheese to poison the local forest critters. Now convinced that douches who litter can also have the propensity to be scumbag thieves we turned around and went to take a closer look and inventory which of our stuff had gone missing.
Sadly, although it looked like they worked in a hurry and just grabbed without being thorough and totally cleaning us out they still did manage to grab close to $1000 worth of cooking and camping gear and supplies. My MSR Dragonfly Stove that I have had for over 25 years, gone. The box with all our plates, utensils, stove fuel in MSR bottles, coffee grinder and AeroPress coffee maker and more, gone. A Specter MWC, gone. A NATO fuel can full of 20 liters of 91 octane gasoline, gone. My box of off-road recovery gear (HiLift Jack chains and accessories, snatch block, straps, tow cable, wheel chocks, gloves etc), Gone. Right about then (and again now as I write and remember this incident) I felt a close kinship with the Rageguy meme.
Poor Willow slunk away at Daddy’s little outburst and I went over to assure her that she was not at all the cause of my ugly mood swing and, here, have some soothing belly rubs as I try not to pop an aneurysm and stroke out from anger.
The immediate result of this loss was no coffee for me that morning which is a Bad Thing. Now, until we could get to an REI or other outdoor store and replace the bare essentials we would have to pull out my backpacking gear and use my little alcohol stove to cook with which actually works well but still is not as effective and flexible as the Dragonfly Stove. Here is where I got to take some small solace and congratulate myself for my now proven smart habit of not leaving all my essentials in camp when we leave for a while. My backpack, which is essentially a well geared and provisioned 4 day B.O.B is always in the truck so if the Tacoma somehow breaks down we can still leave it behind and be pretty damn self-sufficient.
All this meant that our plan and normal routine had to change and that change couldn’t wait. We were planning on eventually heading up into the Flagstaff area anyway (and as a bonus there is an REI in town) but now we had to do it that day. Weirdly, as we were stomping about angrily breaking down camp we were visited by a red full-size pickup truck with some Fire Fighting Organization’s Decal on the door informing us that a local fire had become a bit unpredictable and they were recommending we calmly but immediately vacate the area just in case. Wanting some excuse to take my mind off this extremely frustrating theft and (soon to be) expensive replacement shopping spree we decided to take this as the Forest giving us a hint and so finished our packing and took the long(er) way into Flagstaff and headed up Highway 87 so we could stop and take a look at that famous corner in Winslow, Arizona.