SUBMITTED SEPTEMBER 2016
The captain invited us in. We all squeezed into the cramped cockpit and gazed admiringly, but (in my case) uncomprehendingly at the jet’s array of dials and controls, and then out into the infinite space beyond. They served us afternoon tea, and from the elegant menu card I selected a fine fruitcake, which you could slice with a dainty silvered knife. Then we landed in New York, and I learned, expensively, not to get hustled into street card games.
That was my first trip to the States (coach!), back in the early ‘80s, when air travel was civilized, relaxed, and still a tiny bit glamorous. Fast forward almost 35 years and it’s something to be avoided if at all possible, and endured if not. The Airbus is aptly named.
I have crossed the Atlantic scores of times since that first trip, not least on a quest to find the treasure who is now my beloved wife, but this time was my last ditch attempt to finally finish the Fenn Chase. It has been a number of years in the making for me, but I want to concentrate on the last two in this article.
This is a difficult piece for me to write. I want to try to help searchers be aware that there is a nugget of information out there that will be of enormous help to them in their hunt, without handing it to them on a plate.
Hiking up from Hebgen
Where to begin? Maybe at the conclusion of my first BOTG trip in 2013. Firehole, Hebgen, Upper Coffin Lake, sore feet. I thought, like most noobs, that I had it all figured out, at least enough to find blazes and hidey holes as we walked up the trail. Prior to that, I’d pored over the map of NM and Colorado looking for suitable Browns near to hot springs – the usual – but now I knew that FF was intimately connected with the Yellowstone area, it had to be down the canyon and close to Hebgen. Boy, was I wrong.
One of the Coffin Lakes
So, in my post-trip analyzing, I started to think more deeply. Everyone was picking their favorite WWWH, based mainly on whether they could find some Brown connection a few miles down the river, and perhaps even a blaze-like object nearby. How could that work? How would you know – and I mean, KNOW – that you’d got the right starting spot? Surely the poem should tell you.
Well, I looked and I looked, and I looked some more, and then I got bored and distracted and started to invent my own again, falling into the “let’s overload the Google servers with our endless Rocky Mountain scanning” trap for months more.
Meanwhile, there was The Anomaly. You read the poem and there are specific instructions. OK, but what do they actually mean? “Begin it…” I was back to square one. But hold on… maybe not completely. There was one instruction that you could perform without knowledge of geography, or history (as some suggest).
It seemed glaringly obvious to me, so I originally dismissed it. But I kept coming back and back to it. At the time I didn’t know much about Forrest, but since then and through Dal’s site, in particular, I learned that Forrest has highlighted this aberration on more than one occasion. Nobody seemed to be talking about it, though, and maybe it still isn’t being discussed today. I can’t be sure. But I was chatting about it recently with my wife, and despite our cultural differences (she’s American, I’m British) we were both taught about this in school.
So what is The Anomaly?
Seek and ye shall find.
Anyway, I put this little morsel into use, alongside the “oooh, if I mix that vaguely watery-halty thing with this brownish smudge I get right alongside that off-white mark that has to be the blaze,” it narrowed the field considerably. I placed a mark on the map.
I convinced myself. It was there! Definitely! Well maybe… or there! Yes, there! No, wait.
There’s no 4-way stop with these guys
Well, I couldn’t wait. One cold February morning I got in the car and headed east – I had been watching the weather, and maybe it would be OK when I got there. I had to be there before anyone else beat me to it. It was fun, sort of, if you count driving down slippery cattle trails, getting stuck in snow drifts, and performing a heart stress-test as you drag yourself through the white stuff. At least I knew the terrain now, and could come again as the conquering hero. And return I did, this time with my wife and without the snow, and along with the unshakable belief that Indulgence would be waiting for me at the spot – because it was associated with The Anomaly (or at least close). Oh, and there was the “Y” that I was certain that I’d seen from GE. My wife thought it was an animal trail, Guess who was right?
Getting to know the badlands
We returned home, with a new appreciation for the wide-open spaces, the rock formations and the rainbow of colours (I use the “u” now I’m back in Britain – get u-sed to it). My wife started to unpack and I started back out on the highway, convinced I knew where we’d gone wrong. The lovely lady was not best pleased. But this became something of a pattern of mine. I kept having to return to places in order to convince myself to finally put to rest erroneous ideas. It sounds like expensive folly, and, yes, it was an expensive way of searching, but it was frequently in those repeated moments of letdown and acceptance that new and more focused realizations would well up.
Deja vu all over again
I laid to rest all my old and dried up WWWH, and began to look at the poem afresh. Where do warm waters actually halt, and how will that help me? Back at my old school desk, hidden away at the rear of the classroom, I used to avoid the teacher’s gaze, stare out the window, watch the clock (which I swear moved a thousand times more slowly then than it does now) and impress railway lines into the wood. I never learned to concentrate, but I needed that skill now. What is FF talking about? Clouds? Deserts? What? Something was nagging at the back of my mind. Was it something I’d seen briefly on a Google search, or was it some crumb of general knowledge that had lodged like the bit of BA fruitcake that fell between the seats? I checked the answer, and bingo! I rechecked. Still bingo. Great! But how to apply it?
It took very little to establish the answer to that question. There, in the poem, without a shadow of doubt, was the counterpart to the WWWH intel. And if I’d bothered to check all the way through, I’d have found another pointer to it that also added a second useful snippet of info. I now knew where to look on the map. It could only be one possible place within the four states. Funnily enough, it was a place that had been in contention during my stick-the-tail-on-the-donkey phase of searching. And the HOB fell right into place after that. Whoo-hoo! We were off. No stopping me now!
Except that’s all I did do – stop – for weeks. Left, right, up, down, I couldn’t get any further. No place for the meek, no blaze, no nothing. Had I got it wrong? But then something occurred to me. I thought about Forrest and his life.
To this day, I have not read FF’s books. I am sure they are a great read and contain lots of useful pointers. But you have to be able to tell the wheat from the chaff. I didn’t want to become clogged with so much info that I wouldn’t know what was useful and what not. I have seen so many searchers use incredibly convoluted interpretations based on this page, that picture, these works that Forrest references. I wanted to keep it “simple.”
Nonetheless, there was a fundamental piece of information about Forrest and his life that could prove useful. In fact, every serious searcher knows the fundamentals concerning Forrest, and they are important in being able to offer a line of reasoning that can be applied in your search. And right here was a possible hint to that awkward clue: “no place for the meek.” The meek shall inherit the earth, so what do the others do? Yay, I was off again!
Bang, bang, bang, the answers fell into place. This was fun – and pretty easy! End is ever drawing nigh? Check! There’ll be no paddle up your creek, just heavy loads and water high? Check, check, check!
The next few lines were still open to interpretation, but they seemed to fit the area. Must be time for a trip. Let’s look at GE again.
Whoa! What’s that? I looked at the map. As clear as daylight was a blaze that shone like the full moon. And it seemed accessible. It had to be the spot. No question. Except there was one. What about The Anomaly? Well, maybe that’s just a serving suggestion. No, I say again, what about The Anomaly? Get lost, this is more exciting, this has to be it! And if it’s not, there’s another blaze over there. We’ll check them both, and another couple of spots for good measure.
How to find a “blaze” in one easy lesson
It was a fun trip. Lots of Native American references, a windy plateau, stunningly beautiful scenery, and a motorized adventure that put hairs on our chests (much to my wife’s dismay), but no chest in our hands, of course.
What about The Anomaly?
Okay, you win, I promise to factor it in.
Back to the checklist. All those still tallied. What would The Anomaly add? Well, it brought me close to this interesting place that featured a perfect blaze… Close? Close???!!! Didn’t Forrest say that you had to follow the clues precisely?
Jeez, what a taskmaster! The alter ego can be a pain in the derriere, but sometimes you need to pay attention. OK, so let’s backup to HOB. “Not far, but too far to walk. Put in below the home of Brown.” Something my wife had said a long time before about one of those words came back to me. Although she’s not really a searcher (i.e. she’s not a raving lunatic), she will drop these little suggestions every so often, and I have learned the hard way not to ignore them. Before Forrest made the comment about not going where an 80-year-old wouldn’t, she had already told me that he wouldn’t have hidden it in some of the places I’d identified. It didn’t stop me looking there, but it got me extra servings of humble pie every time.
So what if I applied the principle behind my wife’s suggestion to another word from the same group… and voila! Now we’re getting precise. Let’s go back to the map and see what that does. Oh, yes, we’re no longer close, we’re right on it. And look at that! The name of this place is absolutely perfect. And it is almost begging us to go search there.
You may have read the report I sent Dal about that abortive and very expensive trip in the snow (again), that was followed up by two more to the same spot.
Red in the face at almost 10,000 ft
But there must have been something very compelling about that spot…? I’m glad you mention that, because, yes, there was – and still is.
Care to share? Well, OK, up to a point. It’s the blaze. It’s the 85/15. It’s where The Anomaly and the poem coincide. It’s where FF becomes terrain, so to speak. It’s a verifiable pivotal point. It also happens to be very beautiful.
And how do you verify it?
With The Anomaly.
Making use of The Anomaly
And what if you haven’t discovered this anomaly? The words in the poem help you identify where it is, but of course they’re not always precise as just words. For precision and verification, you need to unlock stanza 2, identify the (exact) places described in stanza 3… and find The Anomaly. And of course, I’m talking numbers here.
Alright, so I’ve discovered this anomaly or aberration, and identified the blaze, but you now say it won’t give me the chest…? No. Those three rugged trips taught me that stanza 4 is not some airy-fairy love and peace message, but some more, very clear, instructions (and to purchase proper studded tires in the winter). The blaze is only a waypoint. A marker that is then used to redirect you.
And how do I know where I’m to be redirected to? Word meanings need to be studied. If you look quickly down in the right way, you’ll find it, eventually. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Not when you’re as slow to comprehend as this old man.
Which brings me to this last week. After going back and back over the poem since those trips to the blaze, I had been edging toward the right place. I also noticed something else. Something was being described. Not just a poetic word picture, but something more tangible, something you could see on the page – on the map. Not something you found already there, but something you could draw for yourself. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was yet (I had a choice of two possibilities), but it was looming out of the fog.
Elk arrives as the morning mist clears
Actually, fog is a good way to describe the process. The poem is like a thick blanket of fog in the beginning, and as you make the discoveries, so pockets begin to thin and clear.
One place that had begun to clear was part of stanza 5. “So why is it…”, if recognized as something beyond a straightforward question about F’s state of mind, is readily interpreted as Wyoming or West Yellowstone, or another likely place. But does it contain more specific info? I believe it does. In fact, couple stanza 5 with The Anomaly, and you have a specific set of instructions. In fact, I was so sure of this, I booked a plane ticket – giving myself one week to wrap this show up (mistake number 1; mistake number 2 was to turn the air-jet on full above my plane seat and then go to sleep).
Making an early start
My instructions gave me two places to check, a few hundred yards apart. There were two due to minor variations possible in interpretation. I arrived on location feeling jaunty and up for anything. Even the car rental people had been really friendly and helpful – everything was right with the world. Within minutes, I was disabused. No sane 80-year old would try to get up to location 1 with a 40lb pack. The area was littered with fallen trees, dense undergrowth, and large boulders. I made it with great difficulty, sweating and panting, to the exact spot, and gave it only a cursory inspection. It was not going to be here.
Location 2 was the more compelling location for numerical reasons. You can interpret that as you will, but if you know enough about FF, you’ll probably be able to work out what I’m saying. Except it wasn’t at all compelling when I arrived. It was a veritable swamp. My GPS told me to go into the mire. Fen or no Fenn, I wasn’t going in there.
No place for the sane
I spent the rest of the search day, checking out a bunch of other less plausible coordinates, attracting a little unwanted attention, and going deaf.
Now, my hearing is shot from years of playing keyboards, but I can still make out what most people are telling me (even call centre [sic] operatives – sometimes). Just as I was going out to dinner, my last vestiges of auditory perception trailed away into a distant and muffled bunch of static. Well, thought I, that’ll make the motel room right by the highway more pleasant.
I should have known what was to come next. My throat got scratchy, my nose started running, and I knew that I’d have to go back to that infernal swamp. I bought some ear drops, aspirin and a pack of trashcan liners, and headed out to the location at first light.
Something wicked this way comes
This time I looked more carefully, and whereas, it had looked like the place was inaccessible the day before, now I could see where some animals had found a (mostly) dry path into the interior. My GPS told me I was getting closer and closer… and then I was at the water’s edge, seeing the reflections in the still water. Scanning the reedy marsh, I saw channels of muddy water, a few trees where the land got a touch drier out in the middle, and something staring at me. I peered into the still-very-dim light and made out a female moose. She was watching me impassively. What was considerably less passive was the enormous male splashing his way toward her, his magnificent antlers looking much more impressive on the move than on the wall of some rustic tavern.
Behind the swamp
A little nervously, I watched them for a while before resuming my surveillance. I looked down, and if it had been a cartoon or a corny comedy, I would have done a double-take. Instead I just gawped. I was looking into the water where a large log was mostly submerged. Sitting on top of the log was a single, square-ish, marbled rock. I looked around. There were no other rocks anywhere near. Behind me was rotting vegetation, perched on a muddy bed. In front of me was the swamp. The last boulders I’d seen were about fifty yards back, before you got down to the fen itself.
I rechecked the GPS. The exact spot was about fifteen feet out into the swamp (although allowing for the device’s current margin of error, it could equally be right there at the log). The Anomaly had brought me straight to this festering spot. Surely it couldn’t be the treasure’s location? Could it be in the wood, under the water? I knew retrieving the chest was not going to be easy, but I hadn’t expected this.
So let’s just think this through. How could it have got there? Could a moose have brought it in to mark the choicest reeds? Well, they do have large jaws, but the rocks tend to crack their dentures. Could a fisherman have found this spot and placed it here for later reference? Why? It was the only place you could get to along the animal trail – you couldn’t miss it or mistake it for somewhere else, and it was a heck of a stretch to put it out on a submerged log. Besides, it didn’t look like a fish would be seen dead in that fetid fen. And there was no evidence of recent human ingress. Why would you go there?
Now you can see the log as well
But if it had been placed there deliberately a few years ago, why had it not been swept away? As I was to discover over the next couple of days, the water levels would rise and fall with the rainfall, but as it was on the side away from the mountain, there was practically no current to disturb it. There was no logical explanation.
I reached out and prodded at the stone with my cane as that was the only way to reach it without getting down and dirty in the mud. There didn’t seem to be anything underneath it (apart from the log). I poked around the log, but soon realized that if I was going to check it out properly I’d have to get into the water. I sneezed violently before extracting the plastic liners from my backpack, deftly transforming them into high-fashion waders.
I sank almost to my knees in the slime. The swamp attempted to steal my Gucci ripoffs, but I persevered, prodding around the base of the log, and sinking my hands into the rich silt. Nothing there – well nothing you’d want to take home with you. The stone just sat there making no comment.
Going for broke
Company for breakfast
Stepping out, I realized my mistake. The “waders” had perforated, making a mess of my seriously unfashionable trainers and jeans. If I was to search anymore, I’d need to take off my shoes and swap pants for shorts, and then use double-skinned liners. Back in the water, I slipped and almost fell.
Doing it in style
Not wishing to be turned away from the airport as some kind of undesirable stowaway bum, and having cleared out a half-gallon of goo from my sinuses, I knew I needed to stay warm and dry if I was to extend the survey. So I rented a drysuit. What I didn’t expect was the bright light and interrogation cell. Where are you going? Why are you going there? Actually, aside from that, they were really nice guys, and their recommendations probably saved me from hypothermia, or pneumonia.
Everyone turns out to admire my outfit
I looked really cool as I drove back to the location in my snazzy blue and yellow suit, attracting admiring glances from all and sundry. I sloshed back and forth to the trees at the bog’s centre and sat down in the water (not to read the paper or munch on my sandwich, but because I tripped and lost my balance). I was so glad of that suit. After a couple of hours of this, I called it a day and returned the outfit, feeling somewhat stupid for wasting the time on searching when it obviously wasn’t to be found in that depressing environment.
I confess to uttering a few oaths at Forrest Fenn then. All this work and just a slab of rock? Was he playing games? Had someone else substituted the rock for the chest? I had already written to the poem’s author to tell him what I found.
Maybe I was just plain wrong,
And yet, and yet…
The poem took me to the coordinates. The coordinates took me to the marbled rock. What was it telling me???
Coordinating the find
That evening and the next morning I felt rough – very rough – and thought I might have to quit, and time was running out before my return flight. Forrest had broken his few weeks of near-silence and published Scrapbook 158. It told me (and all searchers) in no uncertain terms that no one else had found the treasure and it was waiting patiently. That gave me enough of a lift to carry on. But how? Where?
I played with a few of the words: e.g. weak = week = 7 and adjusted my search area, but it just led me into almost impenetrable undergrowth. I slipped into an almost hidden rocky creek and cursed again. This was stupid. I wandered in a more tranquil and open area, but the numbers were all wrong. Something was awry – it was all slipping away. Think!
Does this fella know?
That night it hit me. Hard. The drawing. What is the drawing saying?
OMG! The realisation slammed into me like a charging moose. I had two possibilities for what this drawing represented. I thought it was the first, and I had ignored the second, because it simply didn’t look complete. Why hadn’t I thought to complete the second BEFORE flying out. In my mind’s eye I stared at it, watching as the shape finished itself, creating a twin. That was when I made the final, fatal error.
Next day, the day before I was to fly out, I started riding the backwards bike, doing the thing that Forrest had recommended. But I hadn’t thought to really concentrate on where I was going. This is the trouble trying to think on location. You need to do it in the calm of your own home, before committing time and resources. The place I ended up was ironic, but I couldn’t make it fit. I wasted the rest of the day scrabbling around in nebulous spots; and I wasn’t doing any better the following morning when I frittered away my final opportunity, trying to make a runway into a secondary blaze.
I sat in the airport, numb, and feeling sorry for my co-passengers who would have to endure my snotty sniffling. We boarded the plane. We deplaned. Bird strike and hydraulic leak. Now I was going to miss my flight home. I just wanted to be with my wife, and put myself to bed with a hot cup of tea and a couple of aspirin.
I slouched miserably, waiting to see if the airline would be able to reroute me. And then it dawned – a clear, opalescent blue. I almost ran out of the airport, but I knew I was risking serious illness if I carried on with this venture. Why, oh why does an insight occur at the wrong time, namely when it’s already hindsight?
Clarity at last – but too late
Looking at Google Maps on my phone and going through the reverse pedaling again, I this time chose the mirror instead of the twin. And lo and behold, there it was. THE spot.
By this time, you’ll be smiling slightly patronisingly (note the British “s” – and if you’re observant you’ll have spotted a few more) at this man having lost the plot completely. Just give me a chance to explain. Forget about my sloshing around in the quagmire, and exuding my incubated aircraft germs into the mountain air, and let me recap the whole process:
- The Anomaly is there, discoverable, and must be used at the appropriate juncture in the poem.
- The entry to the poem is via THE place where warm waters halt, which is found by using general geographic knowledge, by understanding the references in the poem itself, and/or by knowing who wrote the poem. Once found, it cannot be unfound: the correlations in the poem guarantee you have the correct place.
- Stanza 1 contains broad hints to the start place, the end place and the entire theme of the poem.
- Stanza 2 has both general and ultra-specific instructions. HOB will further confirm your starting point.
- Stanza 3 needs a little imagination and flair to get you started, but all the ducks fall into a row after that.
- Stanza 4 is both direct, and likely to mislead if you’re unwary. Look at all possibilities before wasting your time and money. Remember, Forrest has a great sense of humour.
- Stanza 5 contains more vital information, and again, play around with definitions and ideas until things start to gel.
- Stanza 6 demands that you pay attention. I strongly suggest you do. The last two lines are still slightly fluid for me, but definitely contain more than one hint.
- The Anomaly, plus other critical info that goes with it, will NOT lead you to the chest, but will lead you to where you start to ride the backwards bike. Oh, and you might see a nice reflection.
- Once you get to that point you’ll need to start all over again! Don’t throw away the poem or your clues, as you’ll need those again, plus a healthy dollop of imagination.
- The FINAL end point is in a beautiful, easily accessible location that is frequently visited.
Take this, as always, with a large pinch of salt. I failed – yet again – and I’m kicking myself for my asinine mind spasm as I write – ouch! But the wise ones may see here something that sparks their interest and enables them to verify what I’m saying. If I’d had this partial roadmap at the beginning of my chase, I could have got as far as I did – and further – in a tenth of the time, but then, in reality, I would have also probably dismissed it as some old geezer’s crazy ramblings. I would have been an idiot if I had, because when I eventually followed this map myself, I was able to see a picture emerging – a big one.
Oh, and for those who wanted to know (yes you, sir, the one in the far right corner there) I did get rerouted, and made it home in one piece. The captain was a disembodied voice, and there was no silverware or prettily printed menus, but my wife is beautiful, I’m still deaf and sniffling, and my treasure was here all along. Thank you and good night.