So this was Show Low, a small town, a popular summer recreation and resort area, but also an agricultural and logging center. Pine trees were everywhere, big pines and little ones. I had traveled about 100 miles from Globe. Not yet six o’clock and about two hours of daylight remained. Highway signs said we were in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, just north of the Fort Apache Reservation. First thing to do, always, was to refuel man and machine. Second thing, cruise around town to get a feel for the place. Since this would be my first night of camping, my intent was to scout out a good spot, near water if possible, for pitching my little tent and sleeping. Having heard of nearby places called Lakeside and Pinetop, my ignorance of this area seemed vast.
Of course, everyone asks how this place called Show Low got its name. It resulted from a card game involving two neighbors. When? I can’t find that (probably the 1880’s). But these two guys, Corydon E. Cooley and Marion Clark had been neighbors for a short time and both agreed the area was getting too crowded and one of them had to move. The issue would be settled with cards. A game, called Seven-Up, where the lowest card wins, was popular then. The game ended when Clark said to Cooley as he dealt the last hand, “If you can show low, you win.” Cooley turned up the deuce of clubs and won. He named the town ‘Show Low’ to commemorate that card game. The main street in Show Low is called ‘Deuce of Clubs.’ That’s the story we all learn.
Show Low was a town of 35,000 in 1960, having a good little business area along the Deuce of Clubs. After getting fuel into the scooter, I stopped at a hardware store for a few nuts and bolts and asked the middle–aged man where would be a good spot to camp alone, not with a bunch of people around. He suggested I take the road south to that Lakeside and Pinetop area, along the Show Low Creek. He said there’d be a thousand places to camp not far from the road, where I could drive the scooter and no one would know I was there. And I did exactly that. But first, some coffee and some food at a café would be good. I could buy a few groceries in the morning.
While having another coffee and sandwich and then looking for a campsite, thoughts went back a few centuries to that morning, actually only twelve hours and two hundred miles ago. A quick visual inventory scrolled through my mind: two or three different types of desert, three or four mining communities, two rivers, an impressive canyon, two Indian reservations, two or three different kinds of woodlands, a jillion wildflowers and I was exhausted. While I had considered myself about an 85 on the 0-100 toughness scale, I knew I had overdone it this day. Tonight would be a time for rest, tomorrow’s travel would be half or less of today’s. The hardware guy was right. It was no trouble finding a suitable place to camp, almost level ground, under a few small trees, firewood and water available within arm’s reach.
For shelter, from rain, insects and serpents, (which seem to like cuddling up to sleeping humans), I had purchased a “mountaineer’s” tent, made of water repellent nylon (very thin and very strong) with a rubberized nylon floor which did not leak, an adjustable screened opening for ventilation as needed. Two collapsible lightweight curved metal supports formed arches at the two ends, essentially causing the tent to become 40 inches in height (1 meter), the same in width, and 80 inches in length (2 meters). While this could be a self-supporting structure, it was not heavy enough, at two and one-fourth pounds (1 kilo) to stand through anything more than a strong breeze. To offset that feature, there were six or eight grommeted tabs on the exterior where ropes could be tied to help keep everything upright. I had purchased this tent and tested it while in Tucson, actually covering the inside floor with an inch of water to see if any leaked out. None did. A strange looking affair, it seemed acceptable, and when stored in its nylon sack was remarkably compact, a most attractive feature for the trip. Less than five minutes was required for pitching and perhaps twice that for teardown and good storage, rolling the fabric tightly.
The tent was unfurled and set between two small pines in a stand of young trees. The Lambretta, Tony, was leaned up against one of the pines and tied to it with one of the half dozen short lengths of small nylon rope included in my tool kit. The kickstand was useless in soft earth and also on sun-softened pavement. Using a large stick (my organic, gluten-free shovel), small trenches were scratched in the loose earth to guide water around the tent in case of rain. A small circle of stones on cleared ground would support the coffee pot in the morning and a supply of small twigs and small branches was gathered and positioned for easy ignition in the morning, enough firewood to boil the two or three cups of water vital for bringing me to reasonably intelligent consciousness in the morning. Crawling on all fours through the entrance, I pushed the sleeping bag ahead of me. Unzipped it. And then ….
It was morning. My guess was 10 or 11 hours had passed. There was some light filtering through the tent fabric. That and bladder pressure probably pushed me awake. First, look outside the tent flap to see if any critters awaited my arrival. Then pee on a tree. Then it was time for coffee. Light the prearranged fire. The pot held almost two and one-half cups. Two cups of water from the water bag went into the pot, three scoops of fine ground coffee followed. Then onto the fire. Wash hands and face and brush teeth. With the higher elevation, (Show Low was at 7,400 ft.), the water boiled more quickly, but was not quite as hot. In a few minutes, I had two cups of delicious coffee (with a little texture because of grounds). I didn’t like to wait for coffee to “settle.” No need to get dressed because I had never undressed the previous night.
Not before, but after coffee, it was a time to plan this day which was already surrounding me. There was more of Show Low to see, I was camping in either Pinetop or Lakeside (not sure which or if there was any distinction). Arizona real estate had begun to interest me … though not yet legally able to sign a contract, it would be less than two months before I could. Thought I might be on the road again at noon, and, let me see, it is now … oh, I forgot, I have no watch. It was purposely left back in Tucson to avoid having a timepiece (other than the sun) to alter my thinking or cause me to change my activities in any way on the way. The next spot to land would be … yes, the Petrified Forest, a little less than 100 miles north and east. That could be cool. Before that, I wanted to wash and change clothing. There was water available a few steps away, I had soap and a washcloth and the water would be shocking and I might die of thermal deprivation, but not until later in the morning, at least until the air warmed up a few degrees. So, explore the local scene first, return to camp, wash, and then head out.
Sounds like a plan, except… did I want to pack up everything, then unpack to wash, then repack or … should I leave and hope everything would be there on my return. How could an unlocked tent, sleeping bag, etc. be made more secure when the owner (me) is elsewhere and not in sight? Taking the last sip of now-cold coffee, I dipped the coffee pot into the creek, swirled the water around and threw the grounds onto the pine needles covering the soft earth and wrote a short note on one of the 4 x 6 inch filing cards out of the small pack I carried. The note was rolled up loosely and tied to one of the drawstring cords used to close the tent entrance. The note went like this:
Hey Big Louie
Hang loose for a few minutes
Be back real quick
So that was my security. We traveled slowly on the main road south of Show Low looking at Pinetop and Lakeside, both areas being thickly wooded, with wood cabins dotted here and there. Tried this side road for a mile and that side road for two miles and everything looked beautiful and after an hour or so, rather boring. It was a bit of a fad at the time, for people from hot desert areas of Tucson and Phoenix to buy “summer cabins” in these pine-forested White Mountains of Arizona and prices for plots of land and house lots were increasing strongly. Turning north again, I returned to Show Low, to a café for pancakes, another cup or two of coffee, conversation with the waitress, and use of the restroom. Then, it was back to the hardware store. One item needed was a small, strong garden trowel for digging … the small pit for my campfire, trenches around the tent, and a deeper hole to be used as a latrine. Said hello to the same guy as yesterday, couldn’t find a suitable trowel , but thanked him again for his recommendation for camping, said it was perfect, and said “See you later” knowing that I probably wouldn’t. The road heading north out of town would soon be seeing us. Show Low seemed a friendly little town … but it was time to go.
Time to go back to the little temporary camp spot and time to see if my stuff was still there. It was indeed, and undisturbed. Now was the time for terror … time to get clean using unheated creek water, soap, a washcloth, and a small towel. My whole body was covered by a warm, perfectly comfortable layer of road dust, dried perspiration, and body dirt. And it was all to be removed along with the clothing that helped hold it all together. That just does not make sense. I was about to risk arrest by some local authorities for stripping naked and rubbing my body with water straight from the artic. It would be quick, but thorough and painful. First, the preparations … fresh underwear and socks unpacked and laid out, and of course, the tools of torture (washcloth, etc.). Then the tent was tied between two pines to form a sort of privacy barrier, which was useless since there was no ‘my side’ or ‘inside’ or ‘your side’ or ‘outside’. The privacy barrier was strictly for explanation purposes if local law enforcement happened by, with me saying in an imaginary conversation, “You see, sir (always use the sir or ma’am word), I tried to stay covered and washed and got dressed as quickly as possible.” Time to do the deed. Slowly strip down to my underwear, place the clothing to be worn in exactly the right place, etc. Knowing that the anticipation was always worse than the doing, I stepped to the edge of the creek and furiously began sloshing and soaping and washing and groping and scrubbing and rubbing and let’s get the hell out of this water, kick the polar bears out of the way, and dry off. And it needs telling, it was, in fact, even worse than anticipated. The body was clean and fitted with fresh underwear, the spirit was only slightly damaged, and the frostbite would heal. The rest was easy. Everything was OK.
So my little camp had been untouched during my absence. Did my note to Big Louie have any effect? If it did, I would never know. If it didn’t work, it would be all too noticeable. As the sleeping bag was rolled up, and the tent was compressed to near original size, my thoughts turned to Duffy from yesterday’s meeting, and then to this morning’s purposely misleading note to “Big Louie” signed by “Joey.” Without thinking about it, I was using “this Italian thing” to my advantage, this partially unknown, somewhat unpredictable, slightly threatening quality that many people attributed to Italian-Americans. I would think about that, as again, my faithful steed Tony Lambretta would be pointed north toward The Petrified Forest.