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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.

A week later, the woman was back, and this time she marched into the store, and when one of the college kids asked if he could help her, she slapped him across the face. The manager saw it and asked what the problem was.
“The problem?” the woman asked. The problem!?!? The problem was one of his dirty, drug-addicted, hippy workers had been putting dreams in her kid’s head, and there was already something off about the boy, and now he wouldn’t shut up about the magic place, and did she look like she was someone who believed in magic?

The little kid was standing by the car, playing with a daffodil, humming. The kid with the motorcycle jacket was standing in the doorway, smoking another cigarette.

The manager said, “If you would explain what…”

She shoved a wrinkled piece of brown paper at him. There were mountains and valleys drawn on it, and rivers and waterfalls, and a skull and crossbones next to a circle of blue touching a dotted line. And at the end of a red dotted line, a few inches past the blue circle, dancing golden fish and a little stone house with smoke curling from its chimney. The smoke curled into letters that said, “Magic Lives Here.”

“Look outside,” the woman commanded, pointing past the kid in the leather jacket, at the little boy talking to his daffodil. “Does that look like someone who needs more dreams cluttering his head? Do I look like I need it?”
“But,” the manager said.

“Does that look like a child who needs another fairy tale from another man?”
“I see…” the manager said.

And did she look like she could afford to take a weekend off and go gallivanting in the hills? Did she look like some fancy housewife who could take her son away whenever he got some fancy notion about make-believe in his head? What was wrong with that idiot with the hammer and the crayons, and why was he even allowed to talk to children?

As she yelled, the manager kept glancing toward the back of the shop, behind the canvas curtain, where the sound of hammering had fallen quiet.
 
“I’ll take care of this right now,” the manager said, and walked back toward the curtain. And as the lady was leaving, grabbing her chain-smoking kid by the ear and dragging him to the car, one of the college kids snatched the homemade map off of the counter. At closing time, for the first time any of the college kids could remember, Jim stayed late. The students played hacky sack in the parking lot, and drank Olympia beers, and they heard Jim rummaging through drawers and slamming things around and muttering. When he came out, he cut them all looks, but they ignored him. They were planning a trip to the place where magic lived, a trip that would change their lives in ways none could have guessed.

There were three of them, all Stanford seniors, and oddly matched the way college friends often are. Betsy was a blonde, blue-eyed film major from Kansas City whom the others called Mad Dog because of her early morning, pre-caffeine crankiness and grouchy demeanor even in good times. Betsy drank her coffee black and referred to the two male students with her as “punks,” as in, “Are you punks ready to get this show on the road yet, or what?” Betsy was only 5’2”, but she scared people much bigger.

Max drove. Max was studying political science, and had announced his plans to be a millionaire by the time he was 30. Max wore button-down shirts and loafers, shaved every morning, even on weekends, and called adults “Sir” or “Ma’am.” He had brown hair and brown eyes, was a shade under six feet tall, and he never seemed to worry about anything. The three friends were riding in his Jeep, a green Cherokee that had been a high-school graduation gift from his parents.

Roger sat in the backseat. Roger had started as an English major, switched to philosophy, and ended up studying Eastern religions. He carried around a copy of Baba Ram Dass’s Be Here Now with him at all times, and lately had taken to wearing a purple silk robe that he had found at a flea market and playing his harmonica, loudly and badly, in public places. His hair, parted in the middle, hung to his shoulders. He was the same height as Max, but thick with muscle where Max was lanky. Roger had been recruited out of high school, from Corvallis, Oregon, to play point guard on the Stanford basketball team. But after a week of practice, when he told the coach to “mellow out,” the coach kicked him out of the gym, and Roger never returned.




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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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