Joe Gisondi. Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot. University of Nebraska Press, 2016.

Joe Gisondi, a journalist and professor of journalism at Eastern Illinois University, had a childhood interest in Bigfoot, and now has set out to explore not so much the beast itself, as the people who investigate it. He went on expeditions and treks in eight locations in Oklahoma, North Carolina, Illinois, Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Ohio and Wyoming. You can see from this list that the traditional hunting ground for Bigfoot, northern California, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia are absent, and now Bigfoot had been reported, at the time that these treks took place, in every mainland US state except for Rhode Island (and that, he reports, has since been rectified).

It is clear that this makes it unlikely that Bigfoot really is a flesh and blood animal, and the attitudes of many of the people he meets seem to confirm that to them it is something rather more than a mere addition to the local fauna. Bigfoot experiences have a quasi-religious quality, and Giscondi himself seeks to connect his trek for Bigfoot for a search for his childhood Catholic faith.

The visions of Bigfoot that the people Giscondi encountered on his quest have an ambiguity about them. For some Bigfoot is almost human, one might say almost cute; for others they are the epitome of savagery, tearing up cattle and dogs. They are glimpsed through ambiguous marks on the ground, faces and bodies that might or might not be seen in photographs; spied turning corners at night, peeping in through bedroom windows; heard as unaccountable sounds, or just felt as presences in the wilderness.

The various Bigfoot stalkers, as with many of these subcultures have an uneasy relationship with each other, at times reaching the level of mutual loathing. S will tell you that B is in for the money, C will tell you D is in it for the glory. Organisations come and go, the latter often when the real world of work and family intrude. It is perhaps not a coincidence that a significant proportion of the trekkers are retirees with time on their hands.

In forgotten parts of the American wilderness Bigfoot and UFOs are pushing out the traditional supernatural fauna of headless horsemen, wailing ghosts and crossroads night-boggarts

Reading these accounts it seems clear that one of the attractions of these treks is an attempt to recapture youth; sat around a campfire, passing the beers around, telling spooky stories and getting pleasantly scared: an attempt to recapture the wonder of childhood in which Santa Clause still existed and the wilderness began under the bed. It is not surprising then that stories Bigfoot merge into stories of UFOs, lights in the night and traditional ghost stories.

Reading through these treks in forgotten parts of the American wilderness, one gets the feeling that Bigfoot and UFOs are pushing out the traditional supernatural fauna of headless horsemen, wailing ghosts and crossroads night-boggarts. Both have a superficial air of quasi-scientific plausibility that the old traditions lack.

The fact that people have the sense that “if Bigfoot could exist then so might God” shows how that Bigfoot is never really envisioned at the deepest level as just another wild creature. Imagine how silly the statement “if okapi exists then so does God” sounds. Bigfoot and lake monsters are no more paws and pelts animals than UFOs are metallic spaceships or ghosts are lumps of ectoplasm. Rather they are signs of transcendence, gaps between perceptions, holes in the given world.

Perhaps this is why I found, that though this book presents us with a wide range of piquant, sometimes amusing, sometimes downright scary people and some pretty hairy situations, I came away from it slightly disappointed, not in the subject matter but in the prose. It just didn’t, at a personal level, evoke the power and wonder of these landscapes, there was some poetry missing. As I said that is a purely personal and subjective response. -- Peter Rogerson

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