Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
See the latest RNC updates from NPR

How a homeless man helped this writer overcome his fear of the woods

This story originally aired Dec. 22, 2018.  

Olympic National Park, with its temperate rainforests and stunning views, exerts a natural pull on many Pacific Northwesterners. But it repelled Seattle writer Rosette Royale. To Royale, the park seemed like a damp, mucky, inhospitable place. "I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to haul a 50-pound pack into the wilderness and camp there for days," he said. "It didn't make sense."

Then he met Bryant Carlin.

Credit Bryant Carlin
A black-tailed deer in the Queets Rainforest

Carlin was a vendor for Real Change, the Seattle weekly sold on the street by vendors who are homeless or low-wage earners. He was also a skilled outdoorsman and a nature photographer who would take weeks-long photographic journeys to the park. The two men connected in the fall of 2011 when Royale interviewed Carlin for a feature story in Real Change about Carlin's photography. 

That first time they met - and for years afterward - Carlin invited Royale to go camping with him. Each time, Royale said "Thanks, but no thanks." Until one day, in the spring of 2015, when Royale surprised himself by saying yes. 

"Little did I know," said Royale, "that saying 'yes' would change the course of my life."

Royale and Carlin went on five separate journeys to the Olympic wilderness. They camped in spring, summer, fall and winter. For Royale, the trips were exhausting and terrifying. But the trips were also revelatory, and helped Royale - a black, queer man - to develop a relationship with the outdoors that he'd never experienced before.

Credit Bryant Carlin
In the Hoh Rainforest.

For Carlin, the trips were an opportunity to throw off the label of "homeless." In Olympic National Park, sleeping outside just means you're a camper. But there was one aspect of Carlin's life in the city that he couldn't escape: alcohol abuse. While he never brought beer on their camping journeys, the effects of years of drinking weren't so easy to leave behind.

Against the backdrop of the park, a friendship developed that would help each man work through these challenges - and allowed each, in his own way, to help the other transform his own life.

This story originally aired on January 20, 2018.  


Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.