The following is transcribed from a journal found by two hunters deep in the back country of Mt. Hood National Park.
So, so very excited. I’ve been planning this trip for months and tomorrow is finally the day. I’ve always wanted to hike the Pacific Crest trail and now I’m finally getting my chance, a small part of it anyway. Someday it would be cool to do the whole trail, all the way from Canada to Mexico down the west coast. The plan for this trip is to hike forty five miles from Barlow south to Elkton. It should take about four days. Mom has agreed to drop me off and pick me up at the end of the trail since it’s only about an hour drive. This is the perfect way to end summer vacation before I go back to school for fall semester, and since it’s after Labor Day the trails shouldn’t be too crowded. Good thing OSU starts later than most schools. Just me and the woods for four days. Mom is a little nervous but I know what I’m doing. I have more than enough food and water, sleeping bag, tent, map, compass; I’m all set. Hopefully I won’t have to use my new rain gear, the forecast looks fantastic.
Today was a great day, one of those perfect late summer days where the sun is starting to hang low in the sky but it’s still warm enough to wear just shorts and a T-shirt. Mom cried a little when she dropped me off, usually she isn’t this emotional but I get it. She’s been pretty protective of her only son since dad died a couple years ago. It’s weird she’s so worried since it was her idea I take the end of my summer break to hike the trail. She did the same section last year and said it was the best thing she’s ever done.
I set out on the trail and only saw two people for the rest of the day. They were a couple, probably in their late forties. They said they had just come from Elkton and the trail conditions were really good. It took them three days, but they said they were going at a pretty good pace and joked that a young guy like me could probably do it in two if I really wanted to. After hiking for what I think was about ten miles I found a good place to pitch my tent and now I’m in my sleeping bag alone in the middle of nowhere. I’m in heaven!
The weather has shifted a little. The forecast said that it would be sunny for the whole time that I’m out here, and it was in the morning but in the afternoon a heavy fog set in. I ran into a few hikers coming the other way. People are so friendly out here. It’s hard to determine how much ground I’ve covered but I still feel like I’m on a pretty good pace. I’m rewarding myself for a long day of hiking with one of the snickers bars I brought.
Fog still hasn’t lifted. I thought that it might burn off by the afternoon but it never did. I didn’t see another hiker all day. This is supposed to be one of the most popular hikes in America so it’s weird to go a whole day without encountering one person, but it is a Wednesday and most schools have started back up so it’s a pleasant surprise to have the whole trail to myself. I’m a little surprised that I haven’t passed highway 201 yet. Since I haven’t crossed it yet it means that I’m a little behind schedule; the intersection of highway 201 with the trail signifies that I’m about twenty miles from Elkton. Mom is picking me up tomorrow and if I’m not there then she’ll be really worried. I’m going to have to really pick up the pace if I’m going to make it to Elkton by nightfall tomorrow.
This isn’t good. I still haven’t passed over highway 201. That means I’m still over twenty miles from Elkton. Mom is there waiting for me. She must be worried sick, I feel like the worst son in the world. Another day without seeing anyone. Yes, it is after the busy season, and yes, it is a weekday, but I figured I would have seen some other vacationers, some other college students who haven’t started up again yet, but there was no one. If I ran into someone at least I could ask them how far to the highway, or if they had a GPS I could figure out exactly where I was. I feel like such an idiot for not bringing a GPS. I’ve always felt that knowing exactly where you are takes some of the adventure out of it. How stupid could I be? How could there be no one on this trail? The fog still hasn’t lifted. I need to ration my food a little better. I think I’m still two days out.
Oh man, what the hell?! I ran all day today, at least as fast as I could with a 65 pound backpack and still no sign of the highway. Are there no other hikers on this trail? How can I go three days without seeing another soul? Also, the woods are quiet. Completely quiet. The first few days I heard birds chirping and insects buzzing but today, nothing. I can hear every creak of every twig beneath my feet. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my own breath and pounding heart. The fog is even heavier than it’s been. I had to concentrate hard just to make sure I was still on the trail. And I still haven’t crossed highway 201! I took out my headlamp and kept going after nightfall, hoping that around each bend I would find the highway, but no. I set up camp at a little around eleven. I’m going to get up a dawn and keep moving.
I fucked up. I fucked up big time. I should have stopped last night when the sun went down. I’m so god damn stupid. I lost the trail. I woke up this morning on a flat patch of dirt and there is no trail in sight. After breaking camp I tried to find it, but I think I just went deeper into the woods. Shit. I was supposed to be in Elkton two days ago and now I’m lost. This is so basic I can’t believe I did it. You don’t keep going through heavy woods at night. I am so screwed. I need to stay calm, this is going to be fine. According to my map, if I keep heading south, I will eventually hit highway 201. It cuts across the whole state. From there I can get my bearings and find my way to somewhere with a pay phone, or someone whose cell phone I can borrow. Keep calm. It’s going to be fine.
Ran out of water. I filled up my bottles from a mud puddle. It’s been drizzling a little. I don’t have a filter or water purification tablets and the water is muddy and gross but better than nothing. Still no sign of the trail or the highway.
Walked south all day, no sign of highway 201. I have a lighter and tried to start a fire. That’s against the rules out here, you aren’t supposed to have a fire unless you’re in a campground in a designated fire pit, but these are extreme circumstances. It didn’t matter anyway, everything is too damp. I couldn’t find anything dry enough to use as kindling, and all the larger pieces of wood are soaked straight through.
The fog still hasn’t lifted. I can’t see more than a few feet in any direction. I can’t get a fix on any land feature and every tree looks the same. The moss is thick and covers everything. The air is heavy. It’s so quiet, I keep hoping I’ll hear the sound of cars driving in the distance, or at least a stream so I can get some clean water, but no such luck. I haven’t seen a single deer, a chipmunk, even a bird in days.
Food is running low. Down to a handful of granola and a few string cheese sticks. No sign of highway 201. Classes are starting today. I’m thinking of all my friends that are laughing and having fun back at school.
Moving south I came to a patch of mud with bootprints in them. I almost jumped for joy. They must belong to a hunter or something, someone who would come out to the backcountry. I screamed for help at the top of my lungs. There was no response. Then I realized that the bootprints were my bootprints. Or someone who has the exact same kind of boots as me. I have been keeping careful track with the compass, I have been moving south. I have only been moving south. There is no way I could be walking in circles. It has to be someone with the same kind of boots as me, there is no other explanation. But how did they get out here? Why haven’t I hit the highway yet? I’m scarred. Someone must be looking for me. I’ve been gone for so long and it’s so far past when I was supposed to meet my mom. There must be a search party. Either I’ll find the highway or they’ll find me. I feel very weak.
No highway. The fog still hasn’t lifted. Tried eating some berries from a bush but they made me throw up. Will have to start trying different kinds of leaves, must eat something.
I found a plant that hasn’t made me sick. It’s pretty disgusting but when I eat it I don’t throw up and I can kind of feel my strength coming back. I don’t know what it’s called but it’s everywhere and pretty distinctive. I might be lost but I don’t think I’ll starve.
I’ve been getting the sensation that I’m not alone. In the silence of the woods every so often I’ll hear something moving in the cloudy space around me. I’ll yell out but hear nothing back. I hope it’s just a deer but I feel like I’m being watched. I have to keep it together. It’s easy to get paranoid when you’re alone like this. Keep it together Kevin.
I’ve been having the same dream every night. I wake up at home in bed, relieved that this whole ordeal has just been a dream. I go downstairs and my parents are there. My dad is still alive. My mom has made breakfast. There’s a door that goes down to the basement of my house, but in real life, my house doesn’t have a basement. There are noises coming from down there, I ask my parents what they are and they tell me not to worry, there’s nothing down there. I open the door to investigate and all I see is darkness, a deep, endless darkness. I look down into it and become disoriented. Then I wake up, alone in my tent, still lost.
I found something today. I don’t even know how to write this. I came over a small hill, and something caught my eye, it seemed out of place but in the thickness of the fog I couldn’t tell what it was. I went to investigate and if I wasn’t holding it in my hands right now I wouldn’t believe it. It’s a stuffed dog, for a child, a little terrier. It’s in perfect condition, it isn’t dirty or waterlogged or anything. It was just sitting there under a tree. The thing is, I had this dog. Or at least a dog just like it when I was a kid. It is exactly the same as the one I carried with me everywhere when I was younger. How did it get out here? Everything in the woods is damp, how is it that this is bone dry? I yelled out into the fog but got no response. Holding this makes me feel like a little kid again, I feel so vulnerable and small. I’m so tired and hungry, I just want to be home in bed, lying under the covers with a big cup of hot chocolate. Still no sign of the highway.
I woke up last night in the pitch blackness to the sound of my name being called by a man’s voice in the darkness, Kevin, Kevin, Kevin.
At first I was frightened, I haven’t heard another person’s voice in so long, but I realized this must be the search party. I was so excited, I leaped out of my tent and cried out into the darkness, "Here I am!"
But the voice kept yelling out Kevin, Kevin, I’m sorry Kevin, it’s the only way. I got scared and started throwing rocks into the darkness. The voice again said, "I’m sorry Kevin, it’s the only way. It will all be over soon."
I cried out, "What will be over soon?"
The voice just said, "I’m sorry."
I know I must have imagined this. The spookiest thing is, the voice sounded just like my father. I’m worried I’m starting to lose my mind.
I threw the compass away. It must be broken. I’ve been going south for so long, I should have crossed a half dozen highways by now and be nearly to California. The compass disappeared into the fog and I heard it smack against a tree. Good riddance.
It has been raining and I walked past some mud puddles. I filled my water bottles with the murky water and got a glimpse of my reflection. I look gaunt and pale, like a ghost. It almost felt like I was looking at someone else. My eyes have sunk deep into my face. In my reflection I saw something moving behind me. I jerked around and there was nothing there. The feeling that I’m being watched is getting stronger. Every so often I’ll yell out into the fog, "Here I am, if you’re out there show yourself." But all I get back is silence. Not even an echo of my own voice.
The batteries in my headlamp are about to die. I haven’t been using it much, but I’m kicking myself for not putting in fresh batteries before I left. The fog is so thick I can’t see the stars or the moon at night. It’s the darkest black I’ve ever seen and now I don’t even have my headlamp. I’m so scarred.
I woke up this morning and again, I’m not sure if I can trust my eyes anymore. Folded into the flap of my tent was a piece of construction paper. On it was a crude painting, obviously done by a small child. It took me a few moments to realize where I knew it from. I drew this. It’s three stick figures, my dad, my mom, and me. There’s a yellow sun in the corner, I painted this in kindergarten. I don’t remember painting it, but I do remember that it hung on the fridge until I was about fifteen. I was embarrassed that my parents still had it up when my friends came over, but they would laugh and say it was cute. What was it doing here? Who put it there? I was so terrified I tried to cry but I am so tired and weak and dehydrated I just couldn’t. I tried to use the paper to start a fire, but the wood was too wet.
For the first time in weeks the fog cleared a little and what I saw was the most unsettling experience of my life. I came to an area of stones and boulders and I could see a few hundred yards ahead of me. At first it was disorienting, I haven’t been able to see beyond a few feet in so long. In the distance I could barely make out a woman’s figure. I yelled for her but she made no response. I scrambled to get closer, yelling frantically, and still no response. I was about fifty yards away when she turned around, slowly. She had on a tattered black robe. Her hair was dark brown, long and wild with streaks of grey. She looked neither young nor old. The first thing I noticed was her smile. The corners of her mouth seemed to extend beyond the edges of her face and her grin was full of sharp, jagged teeth. Her skin was grey and hung from her bones. She held up a hand, as if to say stop, you’re close enough. I froze. My dreams of being rescued were over, clearly this woman would not be my salvation. Her eyes were black and sunk deep into her skull as she stared at me. She spoke, if you can call it that. I saw her mouth move, but the words echoed in my mind like they were my own thoughts in a shrill and menacing timber.
She said, "I’ve been expecting you, you’ll do nicely."
I didn’t know what she was talking about but I was too terrified to ask.
"You’ve had a long journey," she said, "but no need to worry, it will all be over soon, yes, you will soon be at rest."
I was ready to give up. I was tired and weak and over the last few weeks what little hope I had drained from my body. I asked her who she was, what she wanted from me.
She threw her head back and laughed, a deep, mannish laugh that seemed to make the earth shake. It caused me to lose my balance and fall backward.
She was right about you, she said, you are strong willed. I like that. It will serve my purposes well.
"Who was right?" I asked.
"Why, your mother of course," she said. "She and I have made a deal. You, my dear boy, have been offered as a sacrifice for his return. Your flesh will serve as payment, and come nightfall, payment shall be made."
"For whose return?" I asked.
"Your father of course."
She turned and descended the rock she was perched on, disappearing behind it. I dropped my pack to chase after her. When I got there she was gone.
The sun is setting and I’m sitting in my tent and it must have been my imagination. I’m tired and dehydrated and I haven’t eaten in days and none of that could have been real. I’m going to go to sleep and when I wake up I will keep looking for the highway and when I find it I’ll go home. I’ll go back to eating hot meals and sleeping in a bed. I’ll go back to school next semester and hang out with my friends and go to parties and talk to girls. Someday, this whole ordeal will fade from my memory and feel like it was just a bad dream. Tomorrow I’ll find the highway. And when I find the highway, I can go home.