I like my dogs better than most people I’ve met. In fact, I love my dogs, and I actually love very few people. The ones I do are very, very special to me. Like Walkin’ Jim Stoltz…
I met Jim about eighteen years ago at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana. Nestled in a valley below the Spanish Peaks in southwest corner of the state, “The Ranch” was one of those very special places many people only read about. Jim and I both worked there.
During the early 90’s, Jim, his wife Leslie and I (along with various bow paddlers for me) canoed many of the rivers in eastern Idaho and Southwest Montana. I was an eyewitness to the only time Jim and Leslie ever capsized a canoe — under the railroad bridge on an otherwise pristine flat-water float through Harriman State Park on the Henry’s Fork in Last Chance, Idaho.
To say that Jim Stoltz was unique would be one of the great understatements of all time. Jim was truly one-of-a-kind! A gravel-voiced singer and songwriter, Jim hiked somewhere over 28,000 miles in his lifetime. Nearly all of those hikes he did alone and off trail in some of North America’s wildest and most beautiful places.
Jim had a bone-dry sense of humor. Adult audiences often totally missed one cleverly worded joke after another when Jim spoke. But Jim was really in his element when he was with kids. School kids. Jim traveled the country year after year with his “Forever Wild” multimedia show, all the while stopping at elementary schools to teach the kids about “Manfred the Mopey Moose” and other critters, as Jim liked to call the wild creatures he understood so well.
Jim was an amazing man and a great friend. He fought cancer once and beat it. Fought polycystic kidney disease and, with the help of a kidney donor, beat that. Jim faced untold perils in the wilderness during his many years of hiking alone and, in at least a few cases, barely lived through those. He was a survivor in the truest sense!
Recently Jim fell sick again. This time we knew it was going to be different. An old enemy had returned with a vengeance. But we all thought we had a little time… time to plan a trip to Helena, Montana in the near future for one last visit with our friend. It was not to be…
Jim died Saturday night with very little warning. Those of us who knew him are stunned. It all happened so quickly. Thankfully Leslie was there with him!
If you did not know Jim, I cannot begin to tell you how much bigger than life he was. His amazing music and his writings will live on. And thousands of kids who listened to his stories will never think of America’s wild places the same way because of him.
I hate cancer!