It took two hitches to get back to South Pass City. The first man had given a ride to Thor and crew a few days prior. The second ride was an Atlantic City resident, one of the twenty that live there year round. He took us into the historic town of South Pass City, home of the first vote by a woman, and where our resupply boxes were being held. We picked up our boxes and then hopped back into the car and headed to Atlantic City.
He dropped us off at the Grubstake and gave us a heads up about their pies. Once inside, we found two seats at the bar and settled in. Laurel, the owner, was working behind the bar. She took our orders for drinks and food. From the beginning of our interaction with her we already could gather how much she cared about hikers and how much pride she took in taking care of them as they came through town. For such a small town, this was so amazing to see.
At the bar, we met an incredibly friendly woman who was writing a story on Atlantic City, the Grubstake, and hikers. As we were talking with her, locals started to take their place at the bar. Among these locals where a handful of cowboys, a man we met in Encampment (who drove three hours to have dinner), and a man with a loaded and cocked gun on his belt and a face which could have only been weathered by a tough life lived. Laurel gave us a slight warning about the weathered man before going back to her story of how she ended up here in Atlantic City from California. It seems that all the locals we spoke to did just that, they "ended up here". In way, we kind of just "ended up here" too, and by the simple fact that all of us, cowboys, bikers, hikers, outlaws, and a writer, were alike in that way.
Kate, the writer, turned to the weathered man and in her professional, yet kind voice, asked him, "So how to do feel about the hikers?" His eyes fell shy of making eye contact when he muttered back grunts and shrugs. As we spoke to the man from Encampment, he caught him up on the trail since the last time we had seen him.
Fishing was brought up, at which point, the weathered man muttered, "I only fly fish." We shot back with "oh, so do we," and for the first time, his eyes laid on ours before quickly looking back at the ember at the end of his cigarette and his double shot of whiskey. We continued on with talking about fly fishing, the flies we have been using, where we have fished, and what we had caught. Not too long after, the weathered man got up and left the Grubstake. He stepped back through the doorway as the light from outside flooded into the dark bar, and he came right up to us holding in front of him a small red fly box. Inside there was a handful of flies. He pointed out three in particular: a bee pattern, an ant pattern, and a teeny, tiny adult fly pattern. The tiny fly, tied on probably a 20 hook size, was his proudest one. He wanted to see how small he could tie a fly, a delicate, patient task to say the least. He grabbed the bee and the ant patterns out of the box gifting them to us. He walked away before we could say much of a thank you and sat back down at the bar. We dug into our packs grabbing our small Altoids tin full of flies, picked out one of Marty's flies that he had presented to us as a going away gift, and walked up behind the man staring into the wall holding a new cigarette between his fingers. Critter put a hand gently on his back, as to not startle him, and handed him the fly from Nashville. "Can we give you this as a thank you?" He did not make eye with her but immediately fixated his eyes on the fly, mesmerized. He flipped it back and forth in his ruggedly wrinkled hands, admiring the bright orange of the tail, the lightness of the hackle, and the fluidity of the silhouette. "Thank you," he whispered.
Not just were we strangers, but the worlds we live in might as well be strangers too. Currently sitting in the Grubstake in Atlantic City seemed at first to be the only similarity between us and him, a brief passing of worlds barely touching each other as they go by, but in reality, there was a much deeper vein running between us, fly fishing. It just took the right cast and perfect presentation to catch his attention and then to reel his world in closer to ours and our world to his, meeting somewhere in between.