JEFF BARNARD,Associated Press
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — High winds on Thursday grounded an air search for a young Oklahoma man inspired by the movie "Into The Wild" to test himself against the wilderness in southeastern Oregon.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Glerup said the winds on Steen Mountain were too strong to fly safely, and they hoped for a break in the weather that would let them fly Saturday.
Dustin 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 is in Ashland, and the other in Portland.
"I'm just so worried about him," said his mother, Tammy Self.
The Harney County Sheriff's Office and others searched for him on Tuesday on the northeast 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, with no sign of him before heavy snow and high winds curtailed their efforts, said Deputy Missy Ousley.
"We did everything we could to try to talk him out of it," said his mother. "He was leaving, no matter what."
The teen was well-prepared with gear he bought just before leaving, but had little experience of life 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 where he was spending the night in the cab of his pickup. The next day, Dustin 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 southeastern Oregon.
Ousley said a storekeeper in Fields recalled him asking for directions to Lakeview, which would have taken him a different direction than where his truck was found.
A religious young man raised in a non-denominational 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 really 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."
Tom Downs, the owner of Fields station, a gas station, cafe and motel at the south end of Steens Mountain, recalls seeing Self sleeping in his truck one morning last March when he and his wife came to open up for the day. 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. He also filed a missing person report with his local police. Then on Monday, Dustin's truck was found. His backpack and camping gear were gone, but the keys, his computer, his GPS and some of his supply of protein bars and other food had been left behind.
"We're worried sick," said his father. "I just hope he's alive."