As an avid hiker, I often find myself alone in the woods. I find it peaceful among the trees where I am soothed by the smell of pine and fir. I find this isolation to be a stress reliever, but after human remains were found near a popular trail on Cascade Lake in Moran State Park, I started to think about what it really means to be alone.
What was most eerie about the story wasn’t the fact that the body of Mehmet Tokgozoglu was terribly decomposed or the fact that it was found on our island, but rather the fact that no one knew he was missing for three months. Even more chilling is that Tokgozoglu’s whereabouts for the past year are also unknown. His family had no idea where he had been. Should we be sad or concerned that this man lived his life in a solitary fashion? With so many missing pieces it’s hard to know what to make of the details. When I imagine a world where no one knew if I was alive for months, it brings on goose bumps.
Hours after writing up the story, which is on page one of this edition, I headed out for my usual hike in the park. I had no plans for the evening, so I had time to hike the long trek up the Mt. Constitution. I was a little late out of the office and, as happens often this time of year, I mistimed when the sun was coming down. At 7:15 p.m. I found myself halfway down the mountain, deep in the dark woods without a head lamp. I am used to walking on trails at night, but on this particular evening I could not stop thinking about the man who died near the lake.
The Sheriff’s Department and county coroner have both been clear that nothing points to suspicious activity, yet I could not help letting my brain wander over all the possibilities. What if Tokgozoglu had been murdered or had a heart attack? What if something happened to me? Would anyone know and how long would it take for me to be found? Needless to say I made it out of the park, a little freaked out, but otherwise alive and well. I felt a little frustrated that I had lost that sense of peace from solo hikes in the forest. What I gained was a greater respect for going into the woods, even when it’s 15 minutes from town. It also reminded me that you should take a few seconds to call or text someone where you are going and when you are planning to return.
Of course, this is advice given to people who want to return. We may never know what that man was thinking the day his feet hit the trail, but for those who sometimes let friends and family drift out of their lives, it may be a time to reconnect and to know that people out there are waiting to hear you are okay.