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Monday, July 13, 2020

The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman

I stumbled on this book late last week as I was working at the library and knew immediately it was something I had to read. Lucky for me, no one else was waiting for it, so I took it home and spent a large chunk of Saturday reading it, finally finishing it Sunday morning. 

Author Jon Billman is a writer for Outside magazine, and started the quest that makes up the bulk of this book while working on a story for the magazine. Jon has written about other people going missing in our national parks and vast wilderness areas, but had no idea just how high the number was until he stared looking deeper into it--and found out no one actually keeps track of this disturbing trend. In April, 2017, Jacob Gray takes off on his heavily packed bike to explore the Olympic National Park. He's got plenty of food, a tent, clothing, and survival gear. Yet his bike is found just one day after he takes off, on the side of the road, with no sign of Jacob. What follows is the heartbreaking frustration his family and friends go through as red tape keeps organizations from stepping in and helping in the search that begins with the assumption that Jacob decided to just walk away. He's an adult, after all, so he could have done what many people do--walk away from their life with no word to family or friends. Yet his father and family persist in searching for Jacob, through all sorts of weather, in really rough conditions. Randy Gray is willing to explore every possibility and theory that might lead to his son, no matter how outlandish it may seem.  This story is the framework for many more stories about men and women who vanished with no clue what happened to them. Some were runners going out for a short run; others were at national parks in full view of other people, yet never returned to their cars and simply vanished into thin air. For some families, there is closure, but usually not for quite some time. For others, there is never closure. As long as there is no body found, they remain hopeful. The disappearance of a loved one is something they never move past, and never "get over". The unanswered questions never go away. 

What I found so very interesting is the fact that this is something that happens a lot in national parks and wilderness areas. And depending on where you disappear, there may be a lot of resources to help look for you; or if it's in a county that has little money, it may simply be a few days of looking for you, then it's left to family and friends to continue the search. It's beyond ridiculous that we have no federal or state procedures in place to address these disappearances--and no budgets, either. It's a case of too many agencies, large egos, and not enough money. 

I found this book hard to put down. I did get a bit turned around in the many descriptions of up the mountains, down the mountains, ridges, sight lines, rivers. I would be a classic case of someone lost in the woods who couldn't find their way out. 

Rating: 4/5 for a look at an epidemic of missing people that most of us are unaware of: people lost in the wilds of America. Theories abound around vortex areas, Bigfoot, UFO's, and time slips--but most of the time it simply boils down to being unprepared or a fatal slip on rocks or a slippery slope. For those who never come home, their story has no ending. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.


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