I slogged on, downhill now, and at about four o'clock I made out the shape of the little building where I had found the coffee can. I celebrated by taking a drink from the stream and indulging in a 20-minute break before the final push. I was within 100 yards of the house—I was going to stop there and head for the car when the sun came up—when I heard an alien sound, the mechanical thumping of an engine. Straining, I could even hear the bumping of wheels along the gravel. Then a pair of headlights rounded a curve. I stood at the side of the road and waved—anxiously, but I hoped not frantically. The lights came closer and resolved themselves into a dilapidated pickup truck that, unbelievably, went by me! For a few seconds I just stood there, letting the shock and anger boil up. Then I realized that the truck had lurched to a stop about 100 yards beyond. I walked slowly back to it and met the driver standing on the road in the blazing glare of his lights.
He was a wiry, gnarled-looking old cowboy with bowed legs and wire-rim glasses. He looked at me skeptically. "Stopped a little slow 'cuz my damned brakes ain't no good," he said. "Where you going, boy?"
I started to blurt out my story, saying that I was looking for the Mary's River Ranch and my car had broken down. You must have seen it back there....
"Yep, I seen it," he said. I added that I'd been walking for 12 hours and was glad to see him.
"You were a-going the wrong way, weren't you?" he said. My gratitude had not moved him.
"Yeah, I finally figured I was," I said. "Was that fork back there the turnoff to the ranch?"
"Yep," he said. "Well, you might as well get in."
In the truck he told me that his name was Jack Wise and that he was on his way to a cow camp about 25 miles away. A roll of toilet paper and a sirloin steak, cow camp necessities, rested on the dashboard. He told me that what I had taken for a line camp was actually a "sheep-shearin' outfit, but there ain't no one works there this time of year." I asked him about the meager flow of traffic on this road.
"Well, you're about half-lucky I came by," he replied. "You coulda been out there two, three days without no car coming."
"How far would I have had to walk before I came to civilization?" I asked.