SUBMITTED JUNE 2017
Let me take you back to November of 2016. At that time I sent a story to Dal about finding a piece of truck tire, apparently encrusted with canine droppings. After studying my own video I came to the conclusion that this was a Chase marker left by Mr. Fenn at a specific location to which the poem directs you. Naturally, I came in for some considerable ridicule, but early in 2017 Forrest created an eBay listing about money that his own dog had chewed and partially excreted. Following on from the listing’s premature removal came the raffle of that same pile of indigestible moolah in aid of the Santa Fe Children’s Museum. For those who were observant, there were inconsistencies in the information Forrest presented that pointed toward the same place where the tire had been located. And after that came a story about the “waning of art.” Draw your own conclusions.
Fast forward to May of this year, and I was chomping at the bit to get back out there. In fact I’d been getting paranoid about the avalanche of information Forrest had been releasing, as well as the avalanche of snow that had been falling across the Rockies (up to 200% of normal in some areas). I already had a flight booked for the end of May, but mixed feelings of urgency and confidence, with just a hint of smugness thrown in, spurred me on to add an extra trip (number 12) at the beginning of May. I was convinced that the treasure would be located close to where I’d found the tire, and I had the specific coordinates to hand. I prayed that the snow would be gone by the time I got there.
So where was there? Let’s just say that I was north of Jackson, WY. It’s three flights and over twenty-four hours travel time for me, plus a seven-hour time difference; these days I find that exhausting. So by the time I was on-site, I was feeling a tad discombobulated. The second emotion was disappointment. I was confronted by snow cover that was over two feet deep in places – and a six-inch swamp elsewhere. Searching in that environment would be near to impossible. And what was I looking for? I wasn’t sure, although like most searchers I had ideas.
But the first little crumb of good news was that the segment of tire I’d left by the roadside was still there, and I popped it in the rental car’s trunk. I’d been hoping to recover the “poop” that would still be in its original location, if it was indeed artwork, but the snow and water made hunting for that impossible.
Two days of searching produced a big fat zero – except for some very large and very obvious freshly made paw prints: bears! I tried to stay alert.
My main spot was completely obliterated by the snow, and in any event I sensed that something wasn’t quite right about it, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on what that was. It was time to turn my attention to the secondary locations. Although I could see that they would more than likely be under water, there was a chance that some marker might be visible, if not the chest itself. Prior to making the trip, I’d made arrangements with another searcher to check these spots for me last year, but for reasons beyond anyone’s control that had not been possible – and as it turns out I’m glad that fate intervened.
There I was on day three, squelching in hastily purchased gumboots through the snowmelt, when I looked up and caught movement. I’d already disturbed what I later discovered was a sandhill crane – a gray jumbo of a bird that is as impressive to watch during take-off as any 747 or Airbus.
This time it was no bird, but an enormous grizzly apparently foraging for breakfast. Fortunately, I was still a hundred yards or so away and he hadn’t spotted me. Of course, as soon as I picked up my camera Murphy’s Law swung into action, causing me to knock the focus switch and so prevent me from getting the best shots. But I was able to grab something before deciding I might be better off getting out of there and returning after feeding time.
I have to admit I was nervous as, a couple of hours later, I traversed the area where the grizzly had been wading, keeping up a barrage of noisy yelps and other gibberish to warn of my approach. I kept search time to a minimum, and was turning to go when I looked up to find a wolf standing at the edge of the trees, watching me. It was a magnificent creature with predominantly snowy white fur. I wasn’t able to get a photographic record, but the sight of him is imprinted in my memory. Those unexpected glimpses of nature in the raw are the moments that stand out in the Chase for me. More to come on that later…
By now something was beginning to nag at me. It wasn’t just that I was searching in potentially dangerous bear country, but I had the feeling that there was yet more to this hunt than the couple of hundred miles that my trajectory had already covered over the last few years. I went back to the poem and looked for the thousandth time at the final verse. Then it dawned on me. I repacked my rucksack and hit the road.
Where I was headed was quite different in terrain and geology, and when I arrived I saw a myriad purple and yellow flowers as well as rocks encrusted with multi-colored lichens. Ring any bells?
And then I made the fatal error. After years of trying to let the poem lead me, I succumbed to force-fitting the solution. I ignored the spot where the poem told me to go, as it seemed too close to human habitation. The place I chose instead was logical, but I stopped thinking rationally and spent over two days literally digging in the snow. The area was flanked by a ridge that was largely snow-free, but running along the length of its base was a gulley that was still chock-full of the white stuff. I purchased shovels and set to. Now bear in mind that this area is over 7,000 feet in elevation, plus I’m overweight and over sixty years old. You get the picture! I not only got very tired, but I started to get strangely depressed and obsessively focused on this one spot. (Interestingly, I read a report a few weeks later that oxygen depletion at high altitude can lead to depression and even suicide.) I became convinced that Forrest had chosen this location since it would only become truly accessible for a limited period each year. What made matters worse was that when I returned to the hotel room and looked at the spot on my small phone screen, I was sure that there was a square or rectangular object located in the center of the gulley.
However, I didn’t just Google the place I was at now. During those idle hours, I retraced my virtual steps and, using the precision tools in the poem, found – for the very first time – Forrest’s asterisk. It was unmistakable and it was many miles distant. I had never been there physically, and now wondered if the spot would reveal any useful information. I lodged the info at the back of my mind, and prepared for more digging and searching.
Time ran out, along with the good weather. During the final afternoon, having spent hours searching a cliff and its rock cavities, the heavens opened and unleashed a torrent of rain and hail. Within minutes, the access road was a muddy sluice, throwing up clods of sticky brown goo that clung to the wheel arches and underside of the car, and would soon set like cement. I jet-washed the rental car and headed back to the airport, once again in relatively good spirits, knowing that my wife and I were still booked onto a flight three weeks later, and that I’d get another chance to solve this particular riddle.
At the end of May we flew into Salt Lake City in blazing sunshine, and drove to our motel. It was hot, and my wife was unused to the altitude. Searching in these conditions would prove to be an ordeal for her – not least because she didn’t share my confidence. The creek I needed to search was awash with snowmelt run-off. It really wasn’t possible to make an exhaustive search there, and it made me wonder if I’d messed up yet again. We spent the next couple of days expanding the search area considerably, but I kept coming back to the logic that sent me to the creek.
It was just as we were deciding to call it quits and leave the area that I made a discovery. The method I’d used to solve the last stanza had led me to the creek, but what if I reversed it through 180 degrees? I checked the coordinates, and then I checked Google Maps. What I saw there astonished me. I have viewed miles of sagebrush from the comfort of my armchair and I’ve never spotted anything that looked remotely like an omega. But that was exactly what I saw now. In fact, right next to the coordinate marker was what looked like a “T” or a “J” – possibly even a cursive capital “F.” Then came the omega – oriented perfectly for GE viewing – followed by something that might be an “o” or a square. The first and last symbols were ambiguous, but the omega was as clear as day – at least to me. My wife was, as usual, unimpressed. You can make your own judgment call from the screenshot.
Naturally, I was cock-a-hoop and itching to get out there to pick up the treasure! But nothing in this Chase is ever that straightforward. We searched high and low. We rearranged the coordinates. We gave ourselves blisters. But there was no darn treasure! As far as I was concerned I’d parsed every line of the poem, and reached the end point. There was an omega but no treasure. What else could I do? I looked at the other symbols and tried to work them into the solution, but the capital letter gave me no hints unless combined with the final symbol to perhaps read “Two” or “To,” and the square – if that’s what it was – suggested that I had to complete that on the ground to find the chest’s resting place. But were we talking yards or miles?
And then I considered the asterisk. What if the poem leads you all the way to the end – the omega – but the treasure is at a second omega. Could the asterisk be that place? It was time to visit the star of the show.
We drove for hours in blistering heat. We walked about a mile. We found a creek that was a raging torrent. I laughed as I stood on the bank and pointed at the place where the submerged asterisk – the stepping stones – ought to be. It was a ludicrous situation. A trillion gallons of snowmelt were cascading through that ravine. And yes, I’ve done some crazy things over the past four years, but there was no way I was going to venture into that maelstrom (as I described it in an email to Forrest). If he has secreted the chest there, it would have to be held in vault-like security so that it can’t move or spill its contents under those conditions. And yet…
We left there and drove to the desert to check out a possible corner of the square. There was nothing evident in that locale and I was beginning to lose hope. My wife was tired and fed-up, and just wanted to quit searching and visit family, so we made tracks for Eugene, Oregon.
While in Oregon I kept turning over the evidence in my mind, but nothing new was forthcoming. But then, just as I was about to admit defeat, I saw a post on one of the blogs that intrigued me. Now, I don’t normally pay heed to others’ methodology because, like the so-called “hints,” you can all-too-often find yourself lost down a gigantic rabbit hole. But I was clutching at straws. I used what I found there to give me a new search place, a short distance from the asterisk.
As they say, hope springs eternal. Anyone who is an active searcher knows that is true, otherwise why bother? With only a few days left before our flight home, we set off on the thousand-mile journey back to the asterisk.
It was a beautiful morning and much cooler than on our previous foray as we left the car and hiked into the search area. This time we needed to cross a couple of wooded areas to reach the spot. As we approached the first one, it dawned on me why the woodland was there in the middle of scrub: water! And sure enough, as we scrambled down through the trees into a shallow valley, there was a stream that was serving as runoff from the overflowing main creek. We found a downed tree and edged across to dry land.
I was heading directly for the area we needed to reach – a clearing among the trees – but was unsure of how to access it. By climbing a steep hillside I thought I might be able see the best way in. I suggested to my wife that she stay by a rock while I went ahead to scout. That turned out to be a good move. As I reached the top of the crest, and peered down into the gloomy forest, I spotted movement. A bear was on the prowl.
Because I wasn’t sure if the creature was aware of our presence, I thought I’d better make noise. I began yelling and whooping. It stopped and turned toward me. Then it bounded up the hill in my direction. That wasn’t supposed to happen! As it reached the edge of the tree line and paused, I called to my wife to back away. The bear was young, maybe a year or two old, and was beautiful. When it stood on its hind legs and looked straight at me, perhaps a little over thirty feet away, its eyes were intelligent and calculating.
I ran a brief test, and half-turned away to see if it might lose interest. Mistake! It immediately began to move in my direction. Quickly, I swung back to face it full-on, and began backing up while fumbling for the bear spray in my left jeans pocket. I tried to dislodge the safety catch by feel, never losing eye contact with my new friend. As my fingers found purchase on the plastic clip, the canister released a tiny puff of spray, shooting a yellow jet about ten feet forward of me. That was enough. The bear immediately turned away and began lumbering back into the trees. Phew!
I returned to my wife who was in near-panic mode, and did my best to comfort her. From her vantage point lower down the hill, she’d only glimpsed the top of the bear’s head, and so was unsure exactly what was afoot. That may have made the situation even more difficult for her – not knowing exactly what was happening.
We waited a few minutes before I climbed up again to see if the bear was still around. I caught sight of it loping away through the clearing that was our intended destination. Reasoning that time was what was needed, and that the bear would want to get away from these troublesome humans, we took our time retreating downhill before making a cautious approach through the trees at a lower level.
By the time we reached the clearing, there was no sign of the bear, but I was unable to concentrate on the search, thinking about our previous encounter. A largish rock in the center of the clearing was my goal, but there was nothing obvious around it.
I began to widen the search area, but very soon I heard my wife call out that the bear was back. Looking up, I could see it moving among the trees on the hillside, roughly where I’d spotted it originally. It watched us, fortunately without making any further attempt to join the party. I ushered my wife out of the clearing and decided not to return.
Re-crossing the stream via a different tree, my wife slipped and fell half into the water, scraping and bruising her leg on the log. She fought back the tears. By the time we got out of there, we were both soaked. Briefly and half-heartedly we checked another spot before returning to the car. At that point, my wife released her pent-up emotions, we hugged, and then began the long, long trip home. I had forgotten the yellow pepper spray that had caught and stained my fingers during the stand-off. After touching my nose absentmindedly, I was given a hot and painful reminder. Don’t stand downwind of that stuff, but don’t leave home without it!
[SafetyOff] DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT !!!
So after all that, do I think I’ve reached the end? I really do – both ends, particularly now I’ve had a chance to correct a minor error. But it may also be the end of my hunt. Thirteen sorties are enough. We cannot afford yet another trip to prove me right or wrong. But just in case there’s some crazy, deep-pocketed speculator out there with money to burn on a shred of old tire, I’ve just put it on eBay at an eye-watering price to fund the final trip. Here’ are the UK and US eBay links:
There again, should a TV production company be prepared to fund a trip in late summer, then great, too. But otherwise, if the treasure is where I think it is, it can stay; it isn’t going anywhere fast! And if I ever do write the book of my four-year adventure, I will include my methodology in that. Meantime, good luck to you all.