Even before we had our camp fully set up and operational, we lost one of my best friends from the crew.
Before we left Wawona, Moose had managed to get some of the tobacco-chewers to at least try to give up chew when we hit the Backcountry.
In some ways, our move to Vogelsang was more stressful than the move to Tuolumne Meadows. It was the first time we had worked with pack mules. It’s harder to load a mule than it is to load a truck. And unlike the move to Tuolumne Meadows, it was going to take three days to get all of our gear up there. Somehow, some important gear that we needed on Day #1 didn’t make it up to Vogelsang on Day #1. Or Day #2. Some of our Day #1 gear didn’t make it in until Day #3.
I’m sure this contributed to the general stress on the crew. Stress causes anxiety. Only one thing is going to calm down an anxious chewer—chew! Dave started jonesing for a chew. Moose mildly reminded him of the goal to at least try to quit. Dave had a pretty expressive, animated personality. Kinda common for Portuguese, from what I hear. Dave had provided positive crew morale by overacting and exaggerating situations. Well, this evening Dave started begging and pleading Moose for a chew. Moose mirrored his drama. There was a lot of laughter around the campfire.
“No. You made a deal.”
“I gotta have a che-e-e-ew!!”
“You gave your word that you would at least try to quit.”
“I can’t do it! I need a che-e-e-e-ew!!”
“Sure you can do it.”
“Oh-h-h-h-h-h!!! I gotta have a che-e-e-e-ew!!”
“Hang in there!”
“Somebody give me a che-e-e-e-ew!”
All of this played out with laughter all around, including from Dave. He was certainly playing to the crowd in fine form. Dave finally got a dip of chew from some merciful soul.
“Aw, Dave. You said you wouldn’t.”
“But I had to.”
“But you promised.”
“I couldn’t do it.”
“OK. You’re fired.”
“But I couldn’t help it.”
So went our campfire entertainment that night. Everybody left the campfire laughing and happy, including Dave, as far as I could tell.
The next morning before breakfast, Dave shook me awake. We were still pretty much sleeping outside. However, Dave was already dressed with his full backpack on. That was odd. We wore daypacks to work, not our full backpacks. Dave said, ”I just want to say goodbye, buddy.”
“Yep. I’m gone.”
“Why?!” I sat up in my sleeping bag, still rubbing sleep out of my eyes.
“Moose fired me.”
“Whaddaya mean Moose fired you?”
“Yep. Last night.”
“You mean by the campfire?”
“Dude, she was kidding.”
“No, she wasn’t. She meant it.”
“Dave, everybody was cutting up around the fire last night. She was not serious.”
“No, she was serious about that. Look, I gotta go. I just wanted to say goodbye.” Dave stood up and walked out of camp.
“Dave! Wait! Let’s talk about this!”
Dave was long gone before I could get my pants and boots on.
Everyone else in camp was just as mystified as I was. Nobody else thought Moose had really fired Dave. Especially Moose! She had never even talked to him after the campfire. What would have made him think he was fired? I have a couple of theories.
Upon re-reading the crew journal, I think Dave might have been more sensitive than he let on. And I’m not sure he was going to do well with the isolation of the Backcountry. I think he saw that coming, so he took what he considered an honorable way out that was handed to him by somebody else. Where is the honor in getting fired, you ask? Well, he wouldn’t have to look at himself in the mirror and admit “I quit.” I think it was easier for him to say “Moose fired me…unfairly…because I wouldn’t stop chewing.”
I also think that a girl he met in Wawona he hoped to meet up with had something to do with it…at least in his mind.
These are, of course, just my theories. I have never seen Dave since, so I haven’t been able to discuss any of this with him. Dave…if you’re reading this, look me up! I’d love to talk!
Anyway, Dave’s departure from Yo2 was the first one that rattled me. We had already lost six people from the original crew by then, plus Xem, who had been an alternate. Losing Dave was different to me. Most of the others who had left had never really gelled with the rest of the crew. They tended to be loners who stayed apart from most of the camp life. I think Xem just got homesick. We kept running into groups of Vietnamese people from San Jose, and Xem just decided to go home from Tuolumne Meadows with one of the groups. I thought Dave was one of the core crewmembers who would have made it through for sure. He seemed positive, motivated, and excited about heading to the Backcountry. He really seemed to have all of the traits I’ve described that successful Backcountry corpsmembers possess. He was always a part of the team. He was a regular dishwasher. He participated in camp life. He had been a CCC fire fighter before the Backcountry, so I think the physical challenge was probably the least of his concerns. This just goes to show that it can be hard to predict who will successfully make it through a season.