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Wed, Oct. 16

Johnson: Solo encounter with escaped convict on Mt. Graham (conclusion)
Hiking Arizona

After a fitful night’s sleep, we discussed our options. No longer a spring chicken, I explained to Mike that there was no way I could walk 18 miles in one day with full gear, especially with an elevation gain of 4,000 feet. He understood. We opted to hike down to Thatcher, less than 10 miles. From there, we would catch a ride back to my truck.

What would happen at my truck? I would cross that bridge when I got to it. I hoped his orange pants would attract attention or that I would be able to tip someone off to the situation when we made contact with civilization. I prayed for two things. First, that he would not care about his pants. I had other clothes at my truck. Second, that God would send in the cavalry, so to speak.

On the way down the hill, we noticed fresh quad tracks on the old logging road. I hoped the off-road enthusiasts might still be around and be willing to give us a lift. As we approached Frye Mesa Reservoir, we saw two people on quads near the dam. As soon as they saw us, they started their engines and hurried our way.

When some 50 feet away, they drew their rifles and started giving orders. Mike was told to hit the dirt. I was told to back off. It seems that the orange pants had attracted their attention.

A DPS helicopter landed within 15 minutes. Two divine appointments on one hike. I was breaking all sorts of odds on this trip! A squad of ATVs soon arrived and the ugly reality of prison life became immediately apparent.

There was no dignity to be had and no independent thinking. Mike was told when to get up, when to move, when to be still. He was taken to Florence and got five years added to his sentence. He was also ordered to pay $55,000 in restitution for the cost of the search. My contribution to his capture was not part of this calculation.

I was field interrogated to make sure I wasn’t an accomplice. The news reported that the escapee was found wandering in the desert. No mention was made of a clueless librarian who happened to be in the neighborhood, who basically handed over their escapee. I was given a ride back to my truck by a Department of Corrections (DOC) officer who explained how things worked at Ft. Grant and why he quit mining to become a DOC officer.

He said that 25 teams of trackers, dogs and helicopters were leaving no stone unturned. He added, “We take our prisoners seriously. When one goes missing, we pull out all the stops.”

Now that I have gotten to know Mike over the years, I am confident that if we had made it to my truck and were able to leave the area, we would have returned to Phoenix without incident. As time went on, I testified at a hearing before the Governor’s Board of Executive Clemency advocating for Mike’s early release.

Though approved by the Board, the Governor denied the request. Apparently, any escapee has given the Department a black eye and that’s the end of the story.

While circumstances vary, this experience taught me that kindness is powerful, prayer makes a difference and God’s ways are often difficult to understand.

Next: Hiking Resolutions for the New Year.

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