One very still October night, in 2015, just a few feet from the Appalachian Trail, my son Alexander and I lay sleeping peacefully in our respective tents. We had found a comfortable campsite near a small stream about four miles below Standing Indian Mountain. Having hiked all day, we had been fast sleep since 9 pm.
But at 2 am, a blood-curdling scream brought us shooting straight out of our sleeping bags. It was a horrendous shriek – a sound straight out of the movies. A top-of-the-lungs, high-pitched, nail-dragging sound, like that of a young woman in serious trouble. Had this scream formed words, they would have been, “For God’s sake heeeeeeeeeeelp meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! He’s going to kill me now!”
The death cry of the woman ended, only to be followed by a deep, baritone call – an ape-like hooting that scared out whatever bejesus we had left in us. These sounds were like nothing we had ever encountered. Well, we may be had heard something like those ape sounds in a Tarzan movie – was Cheetah the Ape hollering here in the North Georgia woods?
After a period of deep breathing to calm our nerves, Alexander glimpsed a huge great horned owl perched high in a tree above us, which solved the mystery. We had in fact heard sounds made by two different creatures – though they were not unconnected. The first, the blood-curdling scream, was not a young woman at all, but a small animal in its death throes. The second sound, the ape-like hooting, was the great owl gloating after dispatching the poor, pitiful, screaming creature.
We eventually got back to sleep, and the next morning over coffee, we enjoyed a good laugh, when we discovered that the first thought to enter each of our minds was that we were hearing Bigfoot calling!
A few days ago, I revisited the memory of our almost-Bigfoot encounter while reading the July 5th, 2016, article “The Man Who Created Bigfoot,” by Leah Sottile, in Outside Magazine (http://www.outsideonline.com/2095096/man-who-created-bigfoot).
According to Leah’s article, Bob Gimlin, an 84 year-old cowboy was one of two men responsible for the first video of a Bigfoot creature. (See the complete film https://youtu.be/OBTUQI60yqQ.) I realize the video is highly controversial, and the whole concept of a skunk-ape kind of creature actually existing is, well, at the very least, up for debate. And yet, I have to admit, I would love to meet the guy that started it all. Whether he really captured a skunk-ape or not (“skunk-ape” is Southern for Bigfoot, by the way), I am more than a bit intrigued by the outrageous nature of Gimlin’s story and the legend his film has created.
Single handedly, Bob Gimlin and his then-partner, Roger Patterson, created a global craze over the mysterious Bigfoot creature. The man, as it turns out, is a living legend among Bigfoot enthusiasts, and according to Leah’s article, has acquired near prophet status within those ranks.
Since I don’t recall the last time I met a PROPHET, meeting Bob would rank with chatting backstage with Paul McCartney or talking space trash with Neil Armstrong (first man on the moon, if you don’t remember). Anyway, you get my drift.
I mention the whole idea of a meet-and-greet with Bob because it just so happens that The After-Fifty Adventure Man will be pedaling himself right through Bigfoot country this October. Better still, he will be pedaling right through Bob Gimlin’s hometown, Yakima, Washington! And even better? AF Man has Bob’s phone number.
I will keep you posted.
Honestly, though, the whole Bigfoot thing does make me wonder. Does a furry, Yeti-type creature really exist? Most scientists say, NO! However, not long ago, I read that Jane Goodall believes these creatures do exist (read excerpt from NPR interview with Ira Flatow http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6469070).
But even leaving Goodall’s expert opinion aside, I have to wonder about the sheer number of Bigfoot sightings reported by regular folks, those who are not seeking fame or money from talking about their experiences, but have simply seen something inexplicable in any other way – and many of whom don’t discuss their siting until years later. (Read about Bigfoot experiences http://www.bfro.net/). What’s up with that?
For me, this is exactly where the whole Bigfoot business moves closer to home.
During the spring of 2009, having closed my St. Augustine art gallery and graphic design studio after the financial meltdown, I was spending my days as an unemployed print maker and web designer. Desperate to earn money, I turned to my old construction and carpentry skills to do fix up a beach home soon to go on the market. While on that job, I met a painting contractor I will call “Mike.”
Over the course of several weeks, Mike and I struck up a friendly acquaintance as we had lunch together at the jobsite, beers on the tailgate of Mike’s pickup truck after work, and engaged in the bullshitting guys seem to like to do with a new friend.
On the last day of the job, since we were almost finished with our respective punch lists, we had the opportunity to take a longer than normal lunch. It was a pleasant day, with a nice breeze blowing in from the ocean. Mike and I settled on the front porch to watch the waves and eat our Publix grocery store sub-sandwiches – and swap stories.
When we were about halfway through our sandwiches, though, Mike suddenly got serious and scooched his chair close to mine. Now, men don’t usually sit close together, given plenty of room to park themselves, so a guy notices a scooch like that. The directed slide of Mike’s chair placed him just inside my comfort zone, raising the hair on the back of my neck a little. But I went along with it, because I could tell, from the mere inches that separated us, Mike had something on his mind.
He prefaced his remarks by saying, “I haven’t told anyone this story, besides my father, and he’s been dead for ten years.”
Needless to say, I was primed and wanting him to go ahead and deliver this big baby of a story. But Mike was just settling into his windup. He bent forward in his chair slowly and brought his face right into mine. Instinct told me to pull back, but Mike had made a decision to trust me with something precious, and I wasn’t about to lose the moment – so I stayed put, and so did Mike.
He locked his gaze on mine, all the while squeezing his half a turkey sub so tightly the mayonnaise and pickled juice leaked a milky white trail down the inside of his hand. Finally, he started to speak, then thought better of it and retracted the sound that had emerged as if it were a yo-yo on a string.
Then he leaned way back in his chair and took a big bite from his juicy sandwich, and closed his eyes. Eyes scrunched into thin slits, mouth full, and jaws chomping so deliberately, he seemed was almost Buddha-like, a dharma flower in full bloom. Behind his lids, his eyes flitted left, then right, while he chewed – and the wind blowing off the ocean wafted his dark hair behind him in such a way that I felt he might be traveling back in time behind those closed eyes.
But I also thought he might be getting cold feet.
Soon however, his eyelids calmed and his paint-splattered face became tranquil. Mike was back from wherever he had traveled. His eyes were still closed when that first sentence trailed out.
“It was the spring of my junior year in high school,” he began slowly. “There were four of us. Good friends, and we all hung out together just about every weekend. Early spring is nice in central Florida, and I remember how perfect the weather was that particular weekend. Cool at night, and not sticky hot during the day. Really good camping weather,” Mike said with a smile. But although his eyes were now open, I could sense we no longer shared the same panorama. Mike was looking through a distant portal and reporting from far in his past.
“We had this place southeast of Kissimmee,” he continued. “You know it was all ranch land, lakes, and swamp down there. Now it’s probably some damn condo development, but back in ‘78 it was a damn wild spot, and we went out there as often as we could get away.
“We would load our dirt bikes in the back of my pick up and haul ass to the woods for Friday and Saturday night. Cook out, shoot the shit, drink a few beers. Smoke a joint or two. It was great until that weekend.”
Suddenly, Mike drew back. I could tell he harbored a frightening memory. Then he connected with my gaze for the first time since he had started his tale. And then he withdrew again. Back to the spring of 1978.
“It was Saturday, our second night out, and three of us went riding down this dirt road, probably six or so miles from camp. It was late, around midnight, and we had had a few beers, but none of us were fucked up. I mean we all knew what was going on. I’m telling you were in good shape,” Mike said, clearly establishing that they had been competent witnesses to something that night. And although I didn’t know what was coming at me, I could feel its potent energy was rising out of him.
“All of us headed out on our dirt bikes, except for Charmer. He had hit the beer hard on the way out of town, so we left his ass snoozing back at camp. So it was just the three of us. I was in the lead, but Spritzer and Bryan were right on my ass as we flew through that swamp. The road wasn’t bumpy, just a slick, sugar-sand one-lane track through the dark. We came ’round this bend, lights shining about a quarter of a mile ahead of us.
“It was kind of funny, ‘cause it looked like there was a tree planted right there in the middle of the road. It was way down in front of us, and our headlights couldn’t quite bring it into focus. It just looked like a damn tree with limbs swaying above the road, like it was full of moss. We were doing about fifty, and so the distance between us and that damn tree shortened up pretty quick.
“I remember seeing that fucking monster, but my brain simply couldn’t comprehend what I was looking at. I wasn’t ready for it, I tell you.” Right here, his voice trailed off as if he was still trying to come to terms with what he had seen all those years ago.
“Have you ever had something like that happen to you? Seen something that doesn’t fit into what you know?” he asked me. But not like he was really expecting an answer. “It just freezes your damn mind,” he said. “Makes circuits burn up and sparks fly.
“Anyway,” he said, shaking his head, “we all hit our brakes and started yelling to get the fuck out of there! It weren’t no fucking tree! It was this giant fucking ape-looking creature standing right in the middle of the road! He was like eight or nine feet tall. He was gi-normous! What we thought were tree limbs were his huge arms sticking out on both sides – all furry and shit.”
Here, Mike stood up and assumed what looked like an Egyptian dancer pose, with his arms angled out, hands flat, and body swaying from side to side. “Like this,” he said, and then sat back down. “It was THE weirdest, strangest goddamn thing I have ever seen in my life, and I will never forget it for as long as I live. It was almost like this thing was doing some dance out there in the middle of fucking nowhere.
“Spritzer was on my right and he went down, his bike, I mean, it went out from under him as he tried to make the turn around. We were about a hundred feet from this huge ape, and we were all just scrambling trying to get our asses headed back the other way. I looked over my shoulder as I made the turn, and I saw the thing move off into the swamp. He took like two steps from the center of the road and was gone! We didn’t stop until we were back at camp. We kept the bikes running, headlamps on, and kept looking around like a whole tribe of these things was gonna leap out and abduct us or something. We just kept saying, ‘Did you see that fucking thing?’”
Mike was breathing as heavily as if he had just relived the whole experience, and his eyes were pleading for me to believe him.
“Holy shit, Mike,” I said. “What did you guys do?”
He was so relieved by my question he laughed and said, “Stayed up all night with our shotguns by our side! We jumped every time we heard a noise. But Charmer, he slept through the whole thing. And he never believed any of us, either. Thought we had smoked too much weed. Fact was, we hadn’t smoked a thing.”
He sat there for a while, looking down at the concrete porch, shaking his head. Then he added, “I don’t know why that thing didn’t run off when he saw us coming. Our bikes must have scared him, maybe even more than he scared us. I always wondered if he was out there just waiting for us.” He looked up at me with a smile and added, “Now that sounds fucking crazy, huh?”
As I listened to Mike’s story that afternoon, I had my B.S. meter powered up and ready to sound the alarm – but at every juncture where it should have gone off, blaring, it remained oddly quiet. The fact is, I believed him.
Before we left that day, Mike told me he and his buddies never returned to their camp near the swamp. In fact, he said, they all seemed to go their separate ways, after that. I asked why he thought that happened.
“That night took a toll on us,” he said. “It placed us face to face with something that we couldn’t put a name to. It left a stain of uncertainty inside each of us. For me, that is the most frightening thing I can conjure. And there was no coming back from it.”
Funny. It’s been seven years since that day on a job I did with a man I never saw again. Looking back, it seems like Mike was sort of a Bigfoot, himself. A man claiming to be an eyewitness to a real-life skunk-ape, like so many others have done before him.
Like Bob Gimlin.
This October, the After-Fifty Adventure Man will pedal over the Cascade mountains. Chances are, he will not see Bigfoot enter his camp – or even cross paths with him out on some long, lonesome highway. But should AF Man wrangle a meeting with Bob Gimlin, however, then maybe, just maybe, he can encounter Bigfoot. By proxy, that is, one more time.