Thursday 22 April 2021

The Cold Vanish

I first read about The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman HERE on Lark's blog. I always pay special attention to the books Lark reads because I know how similar our tastes seem to be and I was very glad I did this time.


So this is a book which I believe is fairly popular in the USA at the moment and which, needless to say, I had never heard of. (Quick pause for a shout out to my American blogging friends who frequently introduce me to books I would otherwise never come across. Thank you!)  But the moment I read Lark's review I knew it was a book I would find fascinating.

The book centres around the disappearance of Jacob Gray, a cyclist, young, very fit, who disappeared off the face of the Earth in April, 2017. He'd started a long-distance cycling trip across America  to Vermont in the Olympic National Park in Washington State but his bike was found by the side of the Sol Duc river, in said park, no sign of Jacob anywhere. The river was the first suspicion, that he'd gone for water, fallen in and drowned. Jacob was an excellent swimmer and experienced surfer but they searched the river anyway. No sign. The subsequent official search was not as stringent as it should've been, experts not called in, one set of officials not talking to another and so on. Jacob's father, Randy, ended up taking on the job of searching for his son and the author of this book, Jon Billman, joined him to help.

"People don't take trips, trips take people." -- Amelia Earhart 

What follows is an extraordinary account, not only of their search, which takes them all over the west coast and further, but of scores of other people who have also gone missing without trace. It turns out no one is keeping a database of the number people who go missing in the wild. Cities yes, but not wild places. And their number is legion. It seems cyclists don't go missing very often, possibly because they keep more to the trails. Runners, walkers, older people, small children are most likely to disappear and many of them are never found.

And this of course sparks all kinds of supernatural, X-Files type theories. Abducted by aliens, taken by Bigfoot, cults, Hell's Angels, sex traffickers, crossed via a portal to another dimension, you name it. I was fascinated by the Bigfoot people who have a huge presence in the area and whose story features quite a lot because they're welcoming and helpful to Randy and Jon. Lots of people apparently disappear on the 37th parallel, known as the USA's UFO hotspot. Mount Shasta is apparently well known for strange, mystical experiences and disappearances. Of course, having been a big X-Files fan I lapped all this up, with a pinch of salt of course, but it really is absolutely rivetting. 

As were the many stories included in the book of others who have gone missing. Some are found, or just simply turn up - often at almost the exact spot they were last seen, some are found perished in forests, on mountains, in rivers, years later, but many more are, tragically, never found at all. 

This was a compelling, 'can't put it down' book for me. The desperate search for Jacob by his father is heart-breaking, you want to weep for him. But it is also an absolutely fascinating and sobering read about the dangers of wandering off the path in America's National Parks, they are 'massive' and if you get caught out your chances are not high, even for experts in survival techniques. This one will definitely feature in my favourite non-fiction books at the end of the year, no contest.



DesLily said...

*sigh* I have not heard of this... Onto the wish list it goes... If I don't make myself get the surgery for my eyes they will never get read! *more sighs*

Lark said...

I'm so glad you loved this one as much as I did! I couldn't put it down either. And Jacob's father and his unrelenting search to find his son was so heartbreaking, especially at the end. I did cry then. This will definitely make my top ten nonfiction reads in 2021. :D

CLM said...

I hadn't heard of this until Lark mentioned it but it does sound interesting. Coincidentally, it is National Parks Week and President Biden asked people today to share what their favorite National Park is. I was surprised to realize I hadn't been to any! The closest I have come is working on Nevada Barr's books or on the Frommer's Travel Guides for the various national parks that are covered. It is true I would rather be inside reading a book than outside with lions and tigers and bears but I need to find one close to Boston, I think. The closest one is in Maine, which is 5 hours away. One of my coworkers named his baby Acadia after the Park, which I thought a bit odd.

My sister took her children to the Grand Canyon and some other park a couple years ago but most unfortunately it was a) freezing and b) coincided with a budget crisis so much of the park was closed or not accessible.

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

This sounds absolutely fantastic - needless to say I hadn't heard of it before! It's going on my wishlist.

Cath said...

Pat: The book is brilliant! You take care, I understand how you feel about the eye surgery as I'm terrified of anyone messing with my eyes. Doesn't help that last time I went to the optician he said I was 'pre-cataract'. Oh, great.

Lark: Thanks so much for posting about it, I loved it so much. Yes, the end. At least we found out, I was afraid we might not. Oh yes, it will be one of my favourite non-fictions definitely. In fact, I'm looking for more books like it and I found David Paulides on YouTube!

Cath said...

Constance: I actually don't know whether I've been in an American NP or not. 'Not' I suspect as it's probably quite obvious with signs and so forth. It's just that we've been all over The Blue Ridge Mountains and The Great Smokies, Northern New York state and plenty more, you might have thought we would have come across one! I must find and look at a map of where they all are, I'll check out your link too. I find the Nevada Barr books give a good taste of what they're like, it's just that they make me long to take another US road-trip and obviously it's not possible at the moment.

Margaret: So many American books we don't hear about over here. Mind you, it's 'heaps' better than it was when we were younger, so I'm not complaining.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds fascinating, and I hadn't noticed when Lark had blogged about it. Thanks for bringing this one to our attention.

Susan said...

I hadn't heard of this book before I saw it on Lark's blog either, so I don't know how much press it's getting here in the U.S. It should be getting more! I also just found it totally fascinating. The Bigfoot/UFO parts made me laugh - I don't believe in all that, but some of the disappearances Billman described are so puzzling it does make you wonder. The whole book is so heartbreaking. I hope it convinces people not to venture out hiking and camping alone and to take proper safety precautions when they do. As this book points out, you just never know what can happen - a fall, getting lost, getting caught in weather, etc. It's frightening.

I've been in a number of our national parks, but only for day trips. I've never stayed in them overnight (at least outside of a hotel) or ventured out in them alone. My husband does know a family whose child died when he slipped and fell in the Grand Canyon! So sad.

TracyK said...

This does sound very good. With the basic story of the disappearance of Jacob Gray, and the search for him, and then the other disappearances.

I have been to Yosemite many years ago, camping. And the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, about the same time, camping. I liked the Great Smoky Mountains better, not so touristy. And this would have been around the early 1970s.

Cath said...

Diane: My pleasure. I think it's a subject worth reading about.

Susan: It was so fascinating wasn't it. I like to keep an open mind about these supernatural suggestions, mostly I take them with a pinch of salt but like you said, some of the disappearances are distinctky 'odd'.

I too hope it convinces people not to go out alone or without telling people where they plan to go. One of the things we quickly realised when we were in the US is how much difference there is between our wilderness in the UK and yours in the US. We were staggered at how your forests go on and on and on and could see immediately how easy it would be to be lost very quickly.

How terrible that that family lost a child in the Grand Canyon. That is so sad.

Tracy: Yes, it really was very good and read a little bit like a fictional mystery story.

I loved The Great Smoky Mountains, so that probably means I have been to an American NP. I wasn't sure.

Sam said...

It's not nearly the same kind of thing, but this one reminded me of two sad incidents that occurred in or near Houston in the past.

One involved a British tourist who was apparently riding busses across the US and arrived in Houston late at night. Let's just say that the Houston bus station, at least in those days, was not a place you wanted to be after dark. The young tourist apparently decided to walk around the block, and was knifed to death by a homeless person whom he wandered into.

And then there was the case of a bicyclist who was riding across the country one summer who made it through the Houston area only to be hit by a car not 50 miles outside of town on a rural, but still busy, highway.

That kind of tragedy strikes me as being particularly tragic...and this books sounds fascinating. If both you and Lark endorse it, that's enough for me.

Cath said...

Sam: I completely agree that those incidents you speak of are tragic, sadly they happen all the time, people in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you thought about it too much you'd never leave the house.

DesLily said...

First off... cataract surgery is super simple. And if "I" say that you can believe it! And second I already got The Cold Vanish I have no idea how long before I get to read it !! lol

Peggy Ann said...

Sounds riveting! This does happen more than you would think. A Utah gal went missing 5 months ago and was found living in a tent in a canyon recently. She was suffering from mental illness. Picked up a book recently about missing people and murders in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Haven't read it yet though. Wish you were close enough to loan it to you! Yes you've been in an American National Park if you've been to the Smokies!

Cath said...

Pat: Thanks for the reassurance about cataract surgery. I need it! LOL

Peggy: These stories about missing people are so interesting. I'd love to know what your book about the Great Smoky Mountains is. I too wish I was close enough to borrow it! So pleased to hear that I have actually been to an American NP. LOL

Peggy Ann said...

The book about the Smokies is Into the Mist by David Brill, Cath!

Cath said...

Thanks, Peggy!