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Missing 411

Missing persons cases fascinate me. Not all, but the ones that occur in wild spaces really do because despite all our technology, like FLIR, and all the trained tracker dogs and tens of thousands of man hours over weeks of searching, so many people leave not a trace behind them. The wilderness swallows them up entirely. This happens even when the person isn't alone but is around lots of other people on popular routes, as in the cases of Terrence Woods Jr and Trenny Gibson.

I feed my obsession by watching endless YouTube videos about these disappearances. Rusty West and Steve Stockton have good channels, and David Paulides and the CanAm Missing Project are the leaders of the obsessed. Through hours of viewing and gut feeling - and no scientific or data-based evidence whatsoever - I have decided on the following relative causes of these disappearances:

  • Getting lost 55%
  • Getting injured in a way that prevents the person from calling for help or getting him or herself back to a trail (generally means falling off rocks and cliffs, but can also include events like a tree falling on a person) 35%
  • Attack by wild animal (not related to incapacitation from a fall) (most likely with small children who go missing) 5%
  • Suicide or other intentional vanishing 3%
  • Human criminal activity 1.5%
  • Alien or other supernatural activity .5%

I spend a lot of time in the wilderness alone and mostly believe that if I disappear, it will be because a mountain lion got me. I've also had moments collecting firewood only 30 feet from my campsite - where plenty of other people were - and had a feeling like I was completely alone and something nefarious was about to happen, either criminal or supernatural. In Oregon, which has the third highest rate of public lands disappearances in the country, the "tree falling on your head and killing you" thing felt very real. Downed trees were everywhere.

woman in front of bridge with felled trees everywhere

For the most part though, I don't worry about disappearing. I can't. Living in fear and staying at home would take away the whole point of being alive. The relative rate of deaths from car accidents is far higher than that for wilderness disappearances, and I drive every day. But my dad genuinely worries about me. I realized this at some point last month. Friends and I always tell each other to be careful, and we mean it, but in that general kind of sentiment that expresses how you, of course, don't want anything bad to happen to people who care about, but you're certain they'll be just fine. Something in my dad's voice and words, though, indicated more than general concern, especially now that I don't even have my dog with me. It's sweet and I get it. It's a normal part of my life, but for him, it would be unthinkable to spend so much time outside civilization. 

I do take some precautions. I've recently gotten into exploring caves but I declined to explore one not far outside Bend when, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, there were no other cars in the parking lot and I hadn't passed a single other car on the road for at least five miles. I usually leave a note in my windshield with the date and time that I left, and the activity that I was doing. My personal arsenal has grown. I started running with a knife in Boulder two years ago after some encounters with assholes on mountain roads. I also have a safety alarm which sometimes I'll randomly set off when I'm way out alone in the wilderness, with the idea that the noise will scare off any creature that might be stalking me. And sometimes I carry pepper spray, also more against humans than animals, but why not both?

If there was anywhere in Oregon I was going to disappear, it was Crater Lake, where mysteries abound. But with the lake obscured by fog and wet weather in the mid-forties deterring me from hiking, the only danger I was in was getting in a car accident with the almost total lack of visibility on the rim road. I was spared from vanishing from this hot spot of unexplained activity, at least for now.

fog and snow