Never talk to strangers!

By Stephen Dishong

This has always been one of the golden rules’ parents have told their children. It makes sense you want to protect your children from people you don’t know and could be potentially dangerous. We have been conditioned from a young age to be wary of people we don’t know, resulting in us creating an unfair bias to unfamiliar people. That danger we’ve grown so suspicious of only accounts for about one percent of the population. And by the time we have settled into adulthood, we have accrued a plethora of intuition developed from our knowledge and experience of what true “danger” is. 

So, why is this relevant in an outdoor inspired Blog? The truth is, you never know who you’ll meet on your next outdoor adventure and there’s a good chance you might miss out on some real gems, if you’re too careful.

For instance, while hiking along the Lost Coast Trail in California, we came across a 1980s model Subaru parked on a grassy hill over looking the coastline. There was a well beaten two-wheel track meandering from the wild untouched landscape from the east and no one insight. Just to the south, the trail continued through and led back down to the beach. We continued along the trail and back down to the shoreline, which is where we saw something seemingly out of a Robert Frost poem.

There were two weathered wooden cabins sitting by the sea. The cabins looked abandoned and seemed to blend into the landscape. We continued along, admiring the scene, when we discovered that the homestead wasn’t abandoned. We saw an older man positioned on a wooden ladder leaning against the second cabin. He was focused at his task and looked just as weathered as the cabins.  We found ourselves staring and realized we should be continuing on our way.

We hiked on and found a nice spot to brew up some tea at an old lighthouse. Located just down the slope of the beach were some elephant seals sun bathing. We sat there quietly enjoying our tea and appreciating the scenery.

While finishing up our tea, we saw the old man walk up from the northern shoreline with his walking stick. He walked past without paying any attention to us, however, he was paying special attention to the elephant seals. He sat there and glazed at them for a brief moment, then pulled out a small camera and took a quick snapshot. He turned back northbound and began to walk back.

I knew immediately, I wanted to talk to this mysterious man because I knew he had a story to tell. I assessed that this stranger was pure at heart and would likely give me a moment of his time, however, I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

I introduced myself to him and asked him if he’d mind a quick visit. Without hesitation he obliged me and introduced himself as John McAbery. He told me that he was just coming to check on the seals, so that he could provide a report to the Park Rangers.

John continued to explain that he had been living along the untouched coast since the 1970s, moving to the area to try his hand at ranching and to escape the urban life of Monterey, CA. John scraped together some money and bought 400 acres of land for his ranching endeavors. John explained that ranching wasn’t the romantic lifestyle he thought it would be and decided to sell off the majority of his land, however, he kept a measly 30 acres for himself. Turns out that the Bureau of Land Management was the new owners of John’s ranch, forever protecting it within the King Range National Conservation Area.

John built a rustic cabin on the beach to raise his two children and went on to trying his hand at miscellaneous jobs to get him by, until a small piece of driftwood changed his life. That small piece of driftwood turned into a spoon and was John’s first wood carving. Eventually, John evolved into a master carver, creating thin intricate pieces, some valued at more than $3,000. John found his inspiration out the front door of his cabin. John would hand carve creations of sea life, such as shells and pieces of kelp, all out of one giant piece of bay laurel wood, often weighing 80 pounds. These pieces would be whittled down into masterpieces only using a Japanese keyhole saw, and only weighing ounces upon completion.

Needless to say, I was pretty much speechless after hearing the unlikely story of John McAbery. I offered him some of our tea as a parting gesture, which he politely declined. I then asked John something that felt right but awkward at the same time, I requested a portrait picture of himself. John gladly accepted my strange request and provided me with a piece of art of my very own. We said our good byes and as John began to walk away, he turned to us and asked, “Would you like to come see my cabin?”

We were humbled and eagerly followed him north to his cabin. John invited us into his rustic cabin and explained how he lived simple and off-grid. John had a spring towards the mountains that he piped in for his water, utilized a wood burning stove for heat, and engineered a coil system to heat water for bathing. Situated in the corner was a bed made from 2x4s. A simple crude desk stole the spotlight and it was immediately apparent that this was John’s favorite spot in the cabin. There was a large window positioned in front of the desk, giving him endless views of the sea. It is this desk where John creates his masterpieces and even in its modest appearance, it has this aura of magic surrounding it.

John then broke out a photo album with some of his finished pieces, giving us our first look into how incredible John’s art is. Adding to the story John showed us his Japanese keyhole saw, which left us astonished of how such a small tool can accomplish so much. We visited for a while, however, did not want to overstay our welcome and thanked him for his hospitality. But John had one more surprise for us. Walking us to the door, John showed us how he piped hot water from his stove to a clawfoot tub sitting outside the cabin overlooking the coastline. At that point, I don’t think my wife, MJ wanted to leave and it definitely left her forever dreaming of her very own outdoor clawfoot tub...Life goals for the future.  

We left there full of joy and blessed to have been given such a unique experience along our venture.

Just remember to give strangers a chance because there is always a possibility you’ll run into a John McAbery, but always listen and trust your intuition to stay safe on your adventures to keep your parents happy.