Sunday, April 23, 2017

Monster Trek by Joe Gisondi - An Excerpt

It was well past midnight in the middle of the north Georgia woods. My bladder was full. But I was afraid to leave my tent. Something was watching. Something was waiting. Many times during the past three days, even at night, I had walked the fifty yards to the outhouse here atop Black Rock Mountain — without so much as a tingle.

The following excerpt is from the book "Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot" by Joe Gisondi

It's crazy how one can suddenly freeze in terror for no apparent reason, even when one's spouse and young daughters are a few feet away dozing in their sleeping bags. I'm not one to imagine monsters—or even bears—lurking in the woods. Lurking for prey. Lurking for me! In fact, I often dismiss such notions.

However, I've been known to fall for other people's stories of such fantasies. For example, there was the time a friend claimed a giant snake had slithered toward him from a canal inside Florida's Cape Canaveral National Seashore, a remote area filled with exceptionally large boar, rattlesnakes, and alligators.

From my friend's description, the snake sounded like an anaconda, something we both knew did not inhabit Florida marshes. This intrigued me, so I agreed to go back to the cape with him to see if we could track down the snake and get a good look. We ended up at a canal that opened into a marsh, where, sure enough, we saw a large creature shaped like the tail of an otter, moving along the ground. As we watched, a Lontra canadensis dove into the green marsh, doing a headstand as it searched for food in crevices in the lagoon's bottom. When the otter returned to the surface, it floated on its back while holding a mullet in its webbed paws. Oh, but the mind plays tricks.

I listen to as many stories as I tell, but as a journalist, I do not always believe the ones I hear, even when I want to believe them. I'm usually looking for a rational explanation. Years ago, in grad school, I had heard about another strange encounter in the cape, not far from Titusville, where residents are more inclined to believe in life on Mars thirty-six million miles away than in hairy beasts padding around along the Indian River. My friend Darlene reported spotting something big and scary during a camping trip she'd taken with her boyfriend. During the night, while her boyfriend slept, she heard what sounded like a chimpanzee screaming as it rushed through the thick royal palms and tall grasses. Darlene wondered if she had actually heard a wild boar or, perhaps, a hungry black bear. She was an experienced camper, and she had never heard anything like that high-pitched screech. When the screeching stopped, she stayed under her covers, eyes wide open, wondering whether the animal were now standing over the tent, sizing her up, as if she were a rolled-up human burrito. She never used the term "bigfoot" to describe the creature, but I knew—and she knew—that bigfoot was exactly what she believed she had encountered.

I wanted to believe Darlene's story, but she told it to me with too much flourish at a party. Sure, I enjoyed it. Stories like that are exhilarating. The heart pumps, the mind races, and the imagination runs wild. Reality, however, is another matter. I was studying to be a journalist when Darlene told me her story. I was on my way to becoming a trained skeptic.

A true bigfoot believer? No way. Yet, over the years, I became less sure that bigfoot were a fantasy. I read enough about the sasquatch, as bigfoot are sometimes called, and spent enough time researching the ever-growing body of bigfoot sightings in the United States to become capable of imagining, in lurid detail, their alleged behaviors in the wild.

So there I was in north Georgia, atop Black Rock Mountain, camping with my family—paralyzed with fear. My bladder was about to burst, yet I was totally afraid of leaving the tent to use the outhouse not far away. Instead, hands trembling, I unzipped the door flap and took a quick look around, hoping I would not see a creature looking back at me. And I didn't. But I felt something watching me.

Suddenly fearful, I fell to my knees, half in and half out of the tent, allowing my eyes to adjust to the darkness. It was close to 3:00 a.m. The stars were barely visible through the trees. The narrow path to the outhouse was impossible to discern. I peered into the woods, expecting to see glowing red eyes or smell musky odors or hear a high-pitched screech—anything to justify my fears, to make me feel as if I were not a scared little child. But the confounding part was that I heard nothing—not a snapped twig, not an owl's late-night hoot, nor a curious raccoon or squirrel rustling in the leaves. It was eerily silent. So I quietly stood to urinate, shooting a stream off to the side of the tent's entrance, far enough away to avoid creating a puddle someone might step in the next morning. I was now especially glad we were departing the next day, before the stench (and questions) would hit me.

Wife: "Honey, did you see one of the girls pee near the tent today?"

Me (waving a dismissive hand): "No, that was me. I was scared that a monster was going to eat me last night so I peed out the entrance rather than risking my life with a trek to the outhouse."

In the morning I walked around the campground but found nothing, save for a few broken branches on the path that had probably been lying there for months and an impression in the earth that was too large for a footprint. But the impression was explained away by another camper who casually mentioned hearing a bear during the night, a common sight in these north Georgia hills. I chalked up my nervousness to an overactive imagination and put the incident behind me.

A few years later, however, I had another experience while hiking through mountains in western Virginia —a moment alone on a trail, less than a mile from my campsite, when my spine tingled and I suddenly (and inexplicably) felt as if someone (or something) were tracking me. Less than a mile from camp. I stopped, paused, and looked deeper into the woods ahead, thinking I must have heard a bear. A few acorns fell from a tree.

Why, I wondered, did I feel the need to turn my head to look behind me every few yards? And why, after turning at a bend in the trail, did I take off running until I reached the edge of the campsite, my heart beating much faster than normal?

Psychologists say fear is a primal emotional impulse, something that causes a flight response. Sometimes, though, imagination gets the better of us—or so I thought. It wasn't until after I had spoken to bigfoot trackers that I started connecting the dots among these two personal experiences and my friend Darlene's story. For the first time, I seriously asked myself: is bigfoot a hoax or a reality?

You can read more by purchasing the book "Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot" by Joe Gisondi here.

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