Mike from Cincinnati

There’s nothing here. I came all this way and have worked so hard to get here, only to find nothing. It was all supposed to be here, but its not. So what do I now? I’ve come too far to just turn around and go back from where I came with nothing.

The trip log of Mike from Cincinnati.

Mike was in his mid-30’s, was on career choice number three, and didn’t have a lick going for him. He bounced around from job to job not being able to keep one for more than a year. Thing is, this wasn’t because he was a slacker. Mike tried incredibly hard at each one of his jobs. In spite of those efforts he still managed to screw up one way or another.

No matter how bad things got though, he always had the Salmon Run Wilderness. A patch of undeveloped land with preserved forests, and streams. Streams that occasionally run with thousands of salmon prime for the catchin’. A few years back he’d heard about Willow Gultch. A place that may or may not exist that is supposedly the best spot to fish in the world. Perfect camping spot with willows that umbrella over a moss so soft it makes the floor of your tent feel like a pillow top mattress. The river at this spot mixes with a natural hot stream that provides perfect spawning temperatures. Mike found out it does exist and he knew how to get there.

This place is what he would look to when he was trying to get over yet another failed relationship, or another lay off. Bit by bit he saved up until one day while he was counting all the change and bills out of a watercooler jug…

Holy shit. I have enough to go.

The bush plane pilot was vocal about thinking Mike’s trip was kind of dumb. Mike’s used to people doubting him so it went in one ear and out the other. Yes, he’s going to find a spot that may or may not exist in a wilderness that may or may not be charted. Yes, very aware that it’s comparable to hunting for buried treasure.

Like I don’t know what I’m doing is stupid? But the thought of it consumes me so fucking much that it’d be more stupid to just sit around and do nothing about it.

They landed along a dry riverbed. Backpack on, he watched the plane drift up into a cloudless blue until it was out of sight and sound. He was alone now. So he went forward following the directions to Willow Gultch he’d slowly accumulated over the years.

I’m making good time. Already to the 3rd landmark in the directions. I could probably get another 600 rods in before setting up camp. Ready to be in Willow Gultch!

He covered 34 miles in a little more than a day and a half. Mike found himself at the last checkpoint in his of directions, “The Gateway”. A natural tunnel made from dense bushes and trees that would lead you from the world you know to a place that feels like you’ve moved on to heaven. Through this tunnel lies Willow Gultch.

Only there wasn’t a deep green tunnel. Instead there was a dried passage that looked more like the skeletal ribcage of a long extinct wood creature. But through that passage was the worst part.

This is the exact spot. Only, it looks nothing like what I imagined. This isn’t what they said it would be at all. I can tell it used to be but it’s definitely not like that at all anymore. It has become something completely different.

The willows of “Willow Gultch” had dried and died. The riverbed had run dry except for a couple of puddles. All the life was gone from the area. No water means no plants, which means no animals, which means no life. More importantly, no fish. Mike was crushed.

This was it? For the past 15 years this is what I’ve been working toward? What happened to this place? You know, since I became an “adult”, whatever that means, I’ve seen everyone else excel. Friends move on and start families, get jobs, get raises, buy a friggin houseboat. I got none of that. This was supposed to be mine. I’ve sucked at everything else I’ve done and this was supposed to be my redemption. I put in the work, I saved and saved and I get here to find out, “No fuck you Mike, you can’t have this either.”

Sam Wilton, the Head Ranger of the Salmon Run Wilderness read this passage and instantly put this in perspective.

Mike was born about 50 years too late. The weather in this area has changed. The snowcaps on the mountains have been getting less and less every year. Without those caps melting the areas below don’t get as much water and they’re used to and the terrain becomes more arid.

Wilton admits that he too had heard of Willow Gultch. He said that his predecessor had been there personally and told him the exact same things described in the journal of Mike from Cincinnati.

Confused, frustrated, and stubborn, Mike stayed at Willow Gultch. Perhaps first it was out of stupidity. Hoping for rain and maybe it’ll all grow back overnight. There are 52 logs in his journal after his arrival at Willow Gultch. Each talks about what he has to do to survive out there. Though he could reach his car in 2 days, he not once mentioned going home. Not until log #53.

I saw something a week ago that confused me so much I haven’t been able to process what’s going on until now. The puddles in the old riverbed have fish, which is crazy because the puddles are hardly big enough to have fish in them. At night, it gets weird. The fish crawl out of the puddle. They walk on land. These fish flop up to the dry bank, eat bugs and then crawl right back to their puddle. It freaked me out and then I realized something. Those fish got stranded here. The stream dried up and they got trapped in that puddle. They should have died there but there he is, finding a way to walk out of his puddle and survive. He’s evolving himself to get the best out of his situation. I get it now.

I’m not ready to go back. I came all this way. I have to find my redemption.

This was the last entry in the journal of Mike from Cincinnati. It was found in a sealed bag down river of the wilderness and turned in to Wilton a year and 3 months after Mike was reported missing. 15 years prior to the writing of this article. The search has since been called off and no one has been to Wilton to claim the journal.

Perhaps this is because no one really noticed Mike was missing. In reading earlier entries in Mike’s journal we know that plenty of people were quick to offer skepticism that Mike would ever even make it to Idaho. But once he went, no one even noticed he was gone. So the lack of his return went unnoticed.

Is Mike gone? Did something happen to him? Or is he still out there? Evolving into a new Mike. Personally, I’d like to stick with what Sam Wilton thinks…

You know I spend a lot of time out there. Re-marking trails and doing maintenance with the other guys. Every now and then, especially in the winter, they’ll be a morning where I’ll have to get up to take a wiz just before the sun comes up. On a couple of those occasions, I’ve seen smoke from a campfire on the horizon out in the uncharted area. Logically, Mike is dead. He starved, froze, or was eaten by something. But when I see that smoke my heart tells me, hey, there’s Mike. Did you find Willow Gultch? Did you find your redemption?



This story was fiction. I made it all up.

Anyway, here’s this video…


These kids were hoping to go to a jar factory for their birthday. Instead, these parents end up with a total kid fail. Parents tell their kids they’re going to Disneyland, but how they react will make you shit thumb tacks.

  • Share post