I was only half asleep. Was that my own body shaking uncontrollably, or Greg’s? There was no way to sleep in this miserable cold. I had a vague sense of something circling above me and sat up, letting the bird know we were still alive.
“There’s a vulture up there waiting for us to die,” I told Greg, who lay shivering on the ground next to me. Greg laughed, weakly. Apparently he thought I was kidding.
The rustic campground we were trying to sleep in had a couple of portable toilets and I thought it might be warmer in there. The stench drove me out within minutes. As I walked back toward the three quivering, space-blanket-clad bodies of my teammates, I heard a voice from a campsite next to us.
“Want to come over and get warm?” I looked over to see a man with long, frizzy grey hair and a matching beard, sitting in front of a crackling fire. He looked like Jerry Garcia. No, he looked like an angel of mercy. I needed no coaxing.
The Jerry-angel introduced himself as Dan and gestured for me to make myself at home.
“How were the ropes?” he asked.
I was confused for a moment, and then realized he knew exactly who we were and what we were doing. If he’d been in this remote campsite for several days he’d have watched dozens of teams go by. It wouldn’t take long for a curious person to ask what was going on.
“It wasn’t our favorite section,” I admitted. “Only one of us did the ascent, and it was too dark to enjoy the view.”
Dan nodded. “The teams who came through in the daylight definitely had it good,” he said.
“Have you met many teams?” I asked.
Dan’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket.
“I can tell you the team number of almost every team that’s been through here,” he said, excitedly. “Lots of ‘em stopped for water, and a few got warm by my fire. I’m cheering for team 50, especially.” He began reading from his list, telling me about the teams he’d helped—how cold they’d been, what their mood was like, whether he thought they would make it or not. He knew more about the race than I did. He even knew where we were going next. A Primal Quest groupie, I thought. Kind of like the Grateful Dead groupie I’d been when I was a kid.
I glanced around the campsite, curiously. A battered 1969 Chevy van stood with its back doors open, piled with firewood and food supplies, and there was no tent. An enormous pile of beer bottles lay next to the van. Dan had obviously been here a while.
“I quit my job, 28 days ago,” Dan said, seeing me look around. “Always had a job that I looked forward to. Then one day I started having trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I tried to talk to my boss about it, but he didn’t want to help me. So one day I put all my camping stuff in the van and went to lunch. I ain’t come back from that lunch yet. Been up here ever since.”
I nodded, approvingly. I was a corporate dropout myself.
“Got some coffee on, how ‘bout it?” Dan said.
“Could I wake up my teammates and bring them over?”
“Of course!” Dan said, with genuine enthusiasm. “I got coffee for everyone.” He began cutting the tops off Budweiser cans to make coffee cups while I went back to my campsite.
“Wake up!” I said, shaking Greg and Trent at the same time. “There’s a camper next door with a fire and hot coffee.”
“Did you find a hairdryer at the pizza place?” Greg babbled, half asleep.
“Just trust me on this and get up!” I said, anxious to get back to the fire. The three of them got up and stumbled after me like dazed sheep, as confused as I’d been earlier when the “vulture” woke me up.
The next hour was heavenly. Dan handed around coffee-in-a-beer-can, and we stood as close to the fire as we could without singing our eyebrows. Dan told more racer stories, and he and Chuck, discovering themselves to be the same age, reminisced about 1960’s cars and music. It was hard to leave.
“Do you think Dan the Man ever really had a job?” Trent asked me as we got on our bikes.
“Who knows?” I replied. “He’s got one now, anyway.”