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Backpacker Magazine – November 2010

The Last Best Place

More than three decades ago, a tiny band of California hikers discovered a magical valley in the Sierra Nevada. They possessed a rough map, but told no one. Now, the truth comes out.

by: Eddie Oglander

The original article, sent to backpacker in 1983. (Julia Vandenoever)
The original article, sent to backpacker in 1983. (Julia Vandenoever)
Restored photos show hidden peaks in the Sierras.
Restored photos show hidden peaks in the Sierras.

That must have been what Jim thought, too, when he’d slipped my brother the map. So I did bring him to the magic place. But my brother did not really like the outdoors, and he didn’t really need the secret hut. He just needed something to occupy that big, dreamy brain of his. My mom used the money Jim left her to find that something—in an accelerated math program at a private school. Now my kid brother’s working on computers. He says someday they’ll be small enough to fit on a person’s desk. It seems to make him happy, though I can’t fathom why anyone would need a computer instead of an adding machine. But I never was much of a businessman.

Me? Turns out, I was the one who needed the magic place. I returned there every summer for the next three years. I loved being there in late August, when shadows were lengthening and the Sierra days shortened and you could smell the coming cold. I would pack in canned food, and I would spend my afternoons replenishing the firewood for the stove, and mornings and evenings I would read about bullfighters in Spain and hunters in Africa and fishermen in Cuba. Roger had lugged in the books. He told me he wasn’t much of a reader, but that he thought I might find what I was looking for if I checked them out. He knew I was looking for something.

So as winter blew its chilly breath on our hidden meadow, I walked the dusty trails of Yoknapatawpha County and I felt the fluttering caress of the butterflies in a place called Macondo, and as the season changed, so did I.
When I finished high school, I enrolled in college. That was thanks to Roger. Even though he called me “Spirit,” and even though there was something off with him, I think he knew I was just an angry, confused kid, an older brother and a forgotten son who wanted to be a man. Roger helped me find the way.

But he stayed missing. His parents called the Palo Alto police in the fall of 1979 when they hadn’t heard from their son in six months, and when the cops searched Roger’s apartment, all they could find were some incense sticks and, in the refrigerator, shriveled sprouts. The police tracked down Max and Mad Dog, but they didn’t tell the cops about their hiking trip from four years earlier. After another six months, the cops stopped looking. A month later, Roger’s parents received a letter in the mail, on yellow paper from a legal pad, with a dried wildflower larger and more drenched in color than any they had ever seen.

“I love you,” Roger had written. “I’m safe. Stop looking for me. I am found.”




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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

goodstorybadvibe
Jul 23, 2011

What a great story. It sure got me to look into who John Muir was. But it was pretty lousy to pass this off as a "report" related to a true event. Most of the time a great story can stand on its own.

What2be
May 11, 2011

I dont care what you write Steve, but a small disclosure with the word "ficiton" in it would have saved me the trouble to read it. I could care less about fiction, so now Im pissed you wasted my time.

Anonymous
Apr 20, 2011

Best story I've read in Backpacker yet

Becki
Feb 20, 2011

I'm confused as to why Backpacker touted this as real. Why not just let it be a good fictional story?

Tasty Beverage
Jan 29, 2011

I should have jumped online sooner; I've had this issue opened on my nightstand for a while meaning to make a contact... I agree it was a great and mesmerizing story, but I'm always suspicious of what gets sent out near the Halloween season. I was even more suspicious when I noticed that "Eddie Oglander" is an anagram for "Died or a Legend." Nice idea for a pen-name Steve! Great read. - crachor062202athotmaildotcom

Tasty Beverage
Jan 29, 2011

I should have jumped online sooner; I've had this issue opened on my nightstand for a while meaning to make a contact... I agree it was a great and mesmerizing story, but I'm always suspicious of what gets sent out near the Halloween season. I was even more suspicious when I noticed that "Eddie Oglander" is an anagram for "Died or a Legend." Nice idea for a pen-name Steve! Great read. - crachor062202athotmaildotcom

Steve Friedman
Jan 15, 2011

I'm also known as Eddie Oglander, and yes, the piece is fiction. Norm, as to your question about whether any of the story is true: I actually went to Stanford in the mid-70s, worked at Sierra Designs, and went on quite a few backpacking trips, many with a friend of mine who drove a Jeep Cherokee, and once or twice with a woman we called Mad Dog, still a friend. The truest and most important part of the story--at least to me--is the idea that wilderness can provide peace and even salvation, sometimes to the most troubled among us.

Cindy
Jan 14, 2011

I was mesmerized by the thought of getting to a place so tranquil. That secret magic place exists for each of us if we just take the time to believe and perceive our surroundings.

norm hall
Jan 12, 2011

Norm Hall
Like many others, i just read the story "The Last Best Place" and found it to be a wonderful piece.
So I understand that this is a fictional story written by Friedman under the name Eddie Oglander.... Is there ANY truth to the story? the Beginning causes us to believe that a journal was really found and at the end suggests that the guy actually taught creative writing at stanford and that the article had been submitted some time ago and then found.... again, is any of this real or total fabrication? norm.hall@greenville.edu

chris
Jan 09, 2011

wonderful story especially since it was sitting around for so long. how did packpacker ever find it again? jim is not muir. jim worked at sierra designs. anyway....the story keeps me believing.

Dan
Jan 08, 2011

So, where is this place?

livefree
Jan 06, 2011

help me here...what am i missing is Jim, john muir If not whos this jim and how does he relate to the John Muir story?

david maisel
Jan 03, 2011

This is one of the best stories I've read in backpacker. No offense to the writers at backpacker... I love lots of the articles, but the content here is what my dreams are made of.

David in Denver
Dec 29, 2010

I'm not sure who wrote it, but it's a brilliant story. There's a bit of magic in the creativity of writing sure as in the last lost places of this shrinking world.

Cory
Dec 28, 2010

Help a fellow BP reader win a trip to Glacier NP. Only takes a second and a click to vote! http://stinkatnothing.com/?p=619

JGH
Dec 25, 2010

dis is tizzight

Anonymous
Dec 25, 2010

I bet Eddie is still out there

Coop
Dec 23, 2010

Should have saved this one for the April Fools issue

R. Wilkinson
Dec 23, 2010

I'm sure secret, wonderfull places like this exist all over the country. I know of a few in the Unintah mountians. If not for familial obligations I could be lost (or found) for a long long time.

June Fitzpatrick
Dec 12, 2010

My question is a simple one, where's the book "J M" wrote?
Sorry I have a second question, is there a map or guide book of this trail?

Of all the wonderful articles I've read in Backpacker this one is an A+, don't think it's the masterpiece. Keep writing and exploring Steve Friedman, I am right behind you.

June Fitzpatrick
Whidbey Island Wa.

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