Published April 18, 2013
GRANTS PASS, Ore. – A short break in windy weather on Thursday allowed a rancher with a helicopter to search a rugged mountainside in southeastern Oregon for a young Oklahoma man who set out to test himself against the wilderness.
However, rancher Patty Jenkins saw no trace of Dustin Self, who was last heard from a month ago after being inspired by the movie "Into The Wild." Self's lime green tent was not visible, either.
Self's pickup truck was found Monday on the northeast flank of Steens Mountain. Jenkins flew over the area and five nearby cabins used by hunters and cowboys.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Glerup said rescuers hope to mount another air search on Saturday, when high winds are forecast to subside.
Self, 19, left his family home in the Oklahoma City suburb of Piedmont to see if he could live in the wild and to investigate some churches that practice a South American religion that uses a hallucinogenic tea as a sacrament, his parents said.
One of the churches is in Ashland, and the other in Portland.
"I'm just so worried about him," said Tammy Self, his mother.
Members of the sheriff's office and others searched for Self on the side of Steens Mountain after a rancher found his pickup truck had slid off a backcountry track and gotten stuck.
Searchers on ATVs saw no tracks but checked out remote cabins and worked their way up the mountain. They discovered no sign of Self before bad weather curtailed their efforts, Deputy Missy Ousley said.
The teen was well-prepared with gear he bought just before leaving, but he has little experience in the wild beyond family camping trips, his parents said.
"He is not a survivalist," said his father, Victor Self, a manager at a box plant in Oklahoma City. "He is a very urban child."
His parents last heard from him March 15, when he called from the parking lot of a motel in northern Nevada as he spent the night in the cab of his pickup.
The next day, Self called his girlfriend in Austin, Texas, to say he was lost after his GPS had sent him onto a road along the east side of Steens Mountain in the high desert of Oregon.
Ousley said a storekeeper in Fields recalled him asking for directions to Lakeview, which would have taken him a different direction than the spot where his truck was found.
A religious young man raised in a Protestant church, Dustin had been searching for meaning in his life, his mother said. He read books like "Human Race: Get Off Your Knees," by David Icke, a former British sports reporter whose books about what he believes is controlling life on Earth are admired by conspiracy theorists.
The last movie Dustin watched was "Into The Wild" about a young man, Christopher McCandless, who gives up his worldly goods to live in the Alaska wilderness, only to die there, perhaps from eating wild potatoes.
A clean-cut bodybuilder in high school, Self had lately grown his hair long and wore a bandanna around his head.
"I think he got a lot off the Internet," his mother said.
Tammy Self said her son is a vegetarian with no desire to kill animals to eat.
"He thought he was going to eat berries," she said. "We tried to tell him, berries don't grow in wintertime."
His parents said he was inspired by "Into The Wild."
Tom Downs, the owner of a gas station, cafe and motel recalled seeing Self last month sleeping in his truck. Self said he was low on gas after getting turned around with his GPS and asked for directions to Lakeview.
Self's father called the Harney County Sheriff's Office on March 17, but a search along the route from Fields to Lakeview turned up nothing.
The pickup truck was found a few days ago. Self's backpack and camping gear were gone, but his keys, computer, GPS, protein bars and other food had been left behind.
"We're worried sick," said his father. "I just hope he's alive."