Bear Henry was lost in the woods of Vancouver Island for 74 days, but it only felt like a week for the missing person.
“Your mind just shuts down, it just goes into complete survival mode,” Henry told reporters in Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park on Friday.
Henry set out for camps at Fairy Creek in a 1980 Dodge camper van on Nov. 27, but unknowingly blew past the Caycuse area in the dark, with a rainstorm pouring down. Thus began an almost three-month ordeal in the thick forest.
The flooded and tumultuous landscape made it so Henry couldn’t turn back and had to keep moving forward. Eventually, they (Henry uses they/them pronouns) were lost and their van got stuck after crashing around the “relentless” and “unforgiving” back country.
“I could hear the gas tank scraping on the rocks,” Henry said. “I was like ‘Oh my God am I going to die, like is this it?’”
After a while, they saw RCMP helicopters far off in the distance and yelled for them, to no avail. Henry then remembered asking themself why they didn’t tell anyone where they were going.
“Every day I was so scared to get out of my van, every day I was wondering what if someone came and attacked me, no one could hear me scream, no one knew where I was.”
Seeing bear dung nearby added to that worry, but also made for some lighter moments. “Bear gets killed by a bear in the woods,” they said with a laugh.
They rationed food and ate anything – canned beans and tomatoes, rice soaked in water for days, cat food – that was in the van. When food got scarce, Bear started tricking their body by eating snow, while resting and conserving energy as much as possible. Henry lost about 60 pounds over the 74 days.
With the weather turning cold, Henry thankfully had a large supply of blankets in the van. Though Henry estimates they were 60 to 70 kilometres outside Caycuse, they eventually became determined to start walking and try to find a way back.
“I wanted my life back, I missed the people in (my life),” they said. “I am too loved, I have people that I love, I will make it out of this.”
“I walked out of there with moldy clothing.”
After a grueling hike through the woods, Henry heard the sound of an engine and, after reaching a roadway, frantically tried to flag down a vehicle. Two loggers – dumbfounded after recognizing the missing person – picked Bear up before taking them to Tim Hortons, and even lending them some cash for food.
“That’s humanity right there,” Henry said.
“I couldn’t even eat a doughnut because it was so sweet,” they said. “I forgot what bread tasted like, I forgot what hot food tasted like.”
When the loggers told Henry it was February, it was mind-blowing. While looking out the window en route with the two workers – Henry recalled thinking about how much they had missed.
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