It was five years ago, when I was searching for people who could help me complete Sierra Phantom's story, that I found Lauren Carrigan. Rennie had given me her number, saying only that a woman from Oregon who knew Phantom in his "hey day" had contacted her and I should call her.
I called, got no answer, left a voicemail. The next day, she called me back. I had a firm rule to not take calls or respond to emails about the book while at work, but I couldn't resist when I saw Lauren’s number pop up on my phone. I sat in a hot, noisy newsroom, amid reporters talking through articles with editors and designers complaining about late ads and missed deadlines, and took the call.
Within a few minutes, Lauren was repeating some of Sierra Phantom’s most fantastical stories. She’d first met the mountain man when he was 33 years old; she was just 10 years old. She spent her summers at her grandmother’s cabin, about 35 miles north of Bishop. Sierra Phantom camped about 3 miles from that little cabin.
Our call was dotted with gems like this:
“When I was a child, he was a hero of mine. I was completely enamored by somebody who could live off the land.”
“He didn’t drive a car. He didn’t believe in cars.”
“I fished up there my whole life, and I’ve never seen as large a trout as the Phantom trout.”
“We ran into him at Denny’s about five or six years ago -- I hadn't seen him since I was just a kid. But I heard someone going on about fishing and turned around to see a guy all decked out in his regalia of glitter clothes. I went, oh my god, that’s the mountain man that my grandmother knew for years. … After that, we didn’t go to Bishop without seeing Phantom. We spent every day with him, morning to night. Our trips revolved around him. Who could ever get enough of that greatness of presence?”
The book would not have been possible without you, Lauren. Thank you.