Back home from my first BF expedition, courtesy of Ridgewalkers Unlimited and it's owners
Derek Randles and James Million. The fast version for those who are in a hurry is that it was
about 10% new knowledge, 70% fun and good networking and about 20% fluff. The thing that I'm left with after thinking about it for a few days is that I had a good time, met neat people and I didn't learn a whole lot. Pretty much like any good vacation.
And in that vein, I learned that this is what Bigfoot Tourism really is in a nutshell.
For the neophyte who is interested in getting close to the flame of their own particular obsession, they must choose the people who are the best at it. Click for more.
For Bigfooters, in my humble opinion, there are no better individuals to cozy up to than Derek Randles and Jeff Meldrum. As the best known, serious students of Giant Hairy Forest People these two are unsurpassed.
Mystery Machine - loaded for BF
Beautiful Olympic Mountains from Hood Canal bridge
I paid my money and made the three hour drive. The route is quite scenic from Seattle to Port Angeles, or P.A. as we call it and you must cross Hood Canal at about the 2/3'rds point.
Mt. Muller, summit
The location of Ridgewalkers Unlimited is just beyond Lake Crescent.
Don't go too fast down the hill past the Sol Duc Hot Springs sign or you'll miss the driveway.
Ridgewalkers HQ and the Squatch Cave
I pulled in and I was soon into the fold of Ridgewalkers Unlimited. Randles came up to greet me and gave me an envelope containing the itinerary, including in-the-field inspection of game cameras, backpacking and wilderness preparedness, evidence gathering and handling and track casting, all in the course of basically two days.
Derek himself is the kingpin. He's a compact and energetic guy, has a loud voice when needed (and it's needed a lot) but has an amazing ability to zero in on individuals who are on the fence about anything and is there to fix them up. Hazy on hike departure time? Need batteries for your audio device? Forgot your dinner? (that's me) Derek handles it and you can focus on why you came in the first place. He's good at delegating too, and for our hikes into the forest trails around Mt. Muller, he appointed his partner Million and another confederate, Tom Baker and everyone with various desires and hiking ability was covered.
I chose the low impact hikes because I'm 57 and fat, but also because those are the hikes Dr. Meldrum chose and I had a lot of questions for Meldrum.
Me and Meldrum - I'm taller, but he's got bigger feet
Other members of the staff included James Million, Derek's partner and an outdoorsman with years of hunting and tracking experience, David Ellis, a researcher specializing in print casts and audio recording, and Derek's wife Torrie who is a horseperson and who supports the team as needed. She's friendly and had a great smile too.
Now I will post the remaining pictures I took, along with comments, in a photo essay style.
As always, click on the photos to enlarge them.
The camping grounds - That's the meeting hall on the right, plenty of room for tents or RVs.
Inside the meeting shop- Cozy, there is a woodstove, Coleman cookstove, couches and most importantly, a bar.
Inside the main building (not really called the Squatch Cave)
This guy is pretty cool. Knows his stuff, is an intrepid outdoorsman and is actually taller than he looks because I'm standing on the porch. Sorry Derek.
Out in the field, our second hike was led by Tom Baker and his wife Carol.
We saw a couple of bent over trees, but all agreed that this stuff is inconclusive.
Still....it's possible, right?
This is Jason Burke. He's a good guy, thoughtful and funny, plus, he brought a nice game camera.
Jason sets up his camera near a water course.
He set out some bait.
But when we went back to retrieve the camera, he'd forgotten his key.
I teased him as he did a 'yard sale' on his backpack.
Here's Meldrum ducking past Bog Creek.
At Fouts Rock...that's Doc M, Ben Freed next to Bear the Dog
That's Mike from Pemberton, Canada
Back at HQ, Cliff Barackman held a track casting class.
That's Derek, Cliff, Cliff's squeeze, a neat guy named Keith from Dallas/Fort Worth and James Million.
Not cocaine, Barackman shows his precise method of measuring out the Hydrocal, which he admits is not precise at all.
Barackman measuring his own bare footprint. Note: Size 8 narrow.
This dude's dog was not invited. He drank the casting water, was still cute.
Barackman does the 'splatter' method. Why not wear gloves, Cliff?
Randles and Ellis, with Cindy Dosen in back. Prepping the print for hydrocal.
Meldrum explains something. To his left, a lady named Mallory from Kamloops, BC.
Photo by Tom Baker - Meldrum, Ben Freed, Me, J-dog Burke, Mallory, Kyle from Phoenix, Carol and I don't know who the last two are..
So this is the expedition in a single blogpost. I will update this post as I remember stuff and find mistakes.
Notes following the Expedition:
Tom Baker asked everyone in his group: 'What do you think Bigfoot is?'
The first couple of people responded in the 'a flesh and blood creature, a throwback of modern humans' vein. Then it was my turn. I said, "Ok..I think Bigfoot is a creature that exists and has capabilities that defy our understanding of physics." I expected a long pause, but Dr. Meldrum spoke next, "I think we're dealing with a bipedal, relic hominid..." etc..etc..
His usual Professor-speak, siding with the flesh and blooders, which is appropriate coming from a tenured teaching professional who wishes to keep his job. Then a guy next to him named Kyle from Phoenix spoke up, "I think it's a combination of all the things they said.." which pretty much covers the demographic of modern Bigfoot wonderers: We don't have any idea, but some think it's a forest ape that is very good at remaining scarce, some think it's a ghostly UFO-connected robot and some think it's a combination of those parameters. In other words, square one.
I sauntered up to the Bigfoot bar where David Ellis and John Pickering were listening to Bigfoot sounds on a laptop being run by a young lady named Sara Brown. She gave me the headphones and clicked on a .wav file.
I heard white noise, typical of an outdoor recording (I'm a musician with hours of recording experience if that helps) and then some faint screeching noises and howls. The small group there was excited by the sounds, and I smiled and said, 'wow', but I must be truthful and admit that I was not overwhelmed. I asked them if the Sasquatch Ontario recordings on youtube were bunk or not and the young lady just said, "I don't know..", dismissively. This is understandable as these bits of 'evidence' belong to The Browns and thier habituation work, and as far as anyone in the world knows, it COULD be real audio of giant forest people. The Browns are also the people who created the Grays Harbor Thermal footage, which Derek Randles pitched as big news at the Sept. Sasquatch Summit in Ocean Shores. If anyone reading this has heard the Sasquatch Ontario audio on Youtube, you will note that it is basically a man teaching a Bigfoot how to speak english.
It's oddly compelling, with a sweetness about the way the site owner, Mike, treats his charge, calling him 'brother' and in maintaining a light attitude. Is it bullshit? Maybe...just like any of this is bullshit. We may NEVER know for sure, even if a Bigfoot body lands on a coroner's table at Johns Hopkins. Still...the stories are great!
BTW, Mike Paterson ( I think that's his last name) apparently has never seen a bigfoot either, but it's because he feels they are able to flit in and out of dimensions at will.
My post-expedition observations on the more high caliber individuals present and whether or not they've actually SEEN a bigfoot:
Derek Randles - He's a cool guy, energetic and focused. He's a serious guy by my estimation as I never saw him laugh. His bigfoot cred is that he saw one, but further research (which is always necessary) reveals that he never actually got a good description, but only saw a 'sillouette' of a swaying bigfoot after he stopped during a chase down a mountain. Another encounter, where Derek was in a remote, off-trail location in the Olympics with an audio recording of one of his infant sons resulted in a 'huge' creature thrashing up the mountain nearly to his tent site, but which still remained unseen. Do we believe him? Why not? Why would he lie?
Dr. Meldrum - He's got lots of footprint casts. He's a world authority on primate locomotion.
That's cool shit, man. And, he's totally mellow and willing to chat with anyone. This is impressive given the large amount of crazy, boring and repetitive stuff Doc Meldrum must have to deal with.
I bugged him a lot, asking him about guard hairs and hollow hair shafts, possible skin thickness,
BUT, there is a tendency toward 'baffling with bullshit' in his answers and lectures, and by this I mean not that he's wrong or lying, but that he will cite studies and deep facts that don't really add to the answers we seek. Here at the expedition and at my first meeting with him at the Sasquatch Summit, I felt my eyes glaze over a number of times while Doc M regurgitated stuff about the Denisovan period and the reconstructed length of australopithecine toe.
I wanted him to break stride, come down to earth and say something like 'Fuck....I have no idea what this thing is..'
Has Doc Meldrum seen a bigfoot? Nope...but he says one brushed by his tent early in the ayem in the Sierra Nevadas. Also, he said, " I think....I MIGHT have seen one on another trip...but it was too far away." something like that. Not good enough, dammit.
Tom Baker - Another nice guy. A BIG guy too. Probably about 6'3. He had the look of a guy who was there at the request of someone he owed a favor to, but was pleasant and along with his wife he led us down a logging road and put up with a number of dumb questions from yours truly.
The walk was short. He snapped the photo you see below and then it was back to the camp before noon. A little disappointing. Has he seen a Bigfoot? Nope...but he claims to have found a footprint right there in the Olympic Project's expedition area. He did not tell us this during our walk, but I found that info online. Would've liked to have known this, and maybe have been led to the area he found it.
There were some less luminary individuals present too.
Sara Brown ( I think that's her name, I should've asked) was pretty, had a neat Native American drum she beat outside the Expedition shop a few times, which is as good an idea as any if you want to get Bigfoot to know you're around. She was pleasant if distant, excited about her audio clips.
I lent her my cellphone as hers had no service there and she was anxious to let us hear her SoundCloud files online. There were pretty much the same as the ones on her laptop.
Sara also made some really neat 'Olympic Project Expedition' notebooks by hand out of colorerd, lined book stock. Gave 'em away free.
Has she seen a bigfoot? I didn't ask her, but it would seem that she feels she has heard plenty of them and has co-ownership of the Grays Harbor Thermal footage which actually is reasonably compelling. It's ostensibly the best footage we have of a large cryptid animal at close range since Paul Freeman's 'Oh gawd, there's TWO of 'em' footage back in 93 or so.
David Ellis - Another nice enough guy. He was focused and willing. He poured the Bigfoot copy cast that Derek said I could have to take home. Seems to know his stuff with track casting. Word is that he does audio work too, but I did not get this from him.
Has he seen a bigfoot? Not that I can ascertain.
Guy Edwards -I never spoke to him, but only recognized him after online research. He sat near the woodstove chatting and I think he went out on a night op with Derek.
His Bigfoot credibility is hard to find, except that he created the blogsite 'Bigfoot Lunch Club' and he appears to like beer. A man after my own heart. Has he seen a Bigfoot? Doesn't look like it.
Cindy Dosen - I chatted with Cindy a couple of times. She offered me some of her Tillamook cheese. She's a pretty blonde with a nice jeep. Drove down from Vancouver Island, Canada. She owns a Christmas tree farm. She told me about how sulfites are unpleasant things present in nearly all foods and how she has a big garden, how her husband harvests venison for the table but not much about Bigfoot. She has schooling in Animal Sciences, has been on MANY expeditions for herself and for the BFRO.
She gave me some bigfoot evidence collection envelopes with 'chain of custody' instructions.
Has she seen a Bigfoot? 'Yes' is her answer. In 2007 she saw a 'dark shadow' that was following a frightened group of deer. It screeched, howled and bellowed and scared her back to her car.
It's not the P/G film, but at least she claims to have seen something.
Ben Freed- Ben came to the Oly Project in a neat Motorhome that made me jealous.
He was quiet at first, dressed all in high quality black, swat-style clothing complete with a pistol and arm bands with 'Bigfoot Ops' on them. Ben clearly has a military background and after talking with him I learned that he has a website called 'Bigfoot Ops' (imagine that!?) and that he operates around Mt. Rainier near the Ashford entrance to the park. The site claims to have a good number of print casts, photos and video of Bigfoot but efforts to view them on the site did not pan out.
Has Ben seen a Bigfoot? He told me that he has HEARD many of them, at night on the outskirts of his camps. That's about all I got.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience, learned that Bigfoot has hollow hair shafts, but no guard hair, that they tend to follow elk herds when they begin to enter calving season and are a likely food source. I learned that Fix-it-All is less expensive alternative to hydrocal for casting tracks, and that in a pinch, spray foam insulation covered with cardboard and a rock will work as well, and I learned the importance of extensive note and picture-taking if you encounter tracks or hair or scat.
As to the fluff part of this trip. It's endemic to the situation. Not much different from a sea cruise to the Galapagos Islands, organized bigfooting is a new form of eco-tourism. There's just not as much emphasis on the concept of protecting the poor animals we seek to view, since they're so damned scarce. If it was Monitor Lizards, they're nearly a dime a dozen for photo-ops, but Bigfoot will need to make an appearance at some point if we wish to enact widespread legislation to prevent people from shooting them, and I am skeptical that this will happen anytime soon.
Why do I say this?
Read a few of my previous blog posts.