2017-08-09 / Front Page

Cyclist separates from group, gets lost in the wilderness

By Dee Menear Irregular Staff Writer

With limited service, Suzanne Petke tries calling her husband’s cell phone to try and locate him. Steve did not take his phone with him on the trip. (Brad Herder photo) With limited service, Suzanne Petke tries calling her husband’s cell phone to try and locate him. Steve did not take his phone with him on the trip. (Brad Herder photo) CARRYING PLACE TOWNSHIP — A bike ride in the wilderness turned into an unplanned adventure for a cyclist when he separated from the group he was traveling with and ended up lost. Brad Herder said he, his wife, his sister and brother-in-law set off on a 22-mile dirt road route that started near the east end of Flagstaff Lake and went past West Carry, Middle Carry and East Carry ponds before looping back to the start. “My wife and I had done part of this route several days before and saw a moose so I was hoping to see a few more,” said Brad.

The group set out from Flagstaff about 2 p.m. July 25. The pace was slow because Brad’s sister had not been biking much. The group enjoyed a leisurely peddle past the ponds and started the return trip via Carrying Place Road. “Steve (Petke) picked up the pace, leaving the rest of us well behind. I was the only one who knew the route and Steve had no idea where he was going and probably no clue of where he was at all,” explained Brad.

Steve Petke got lost in the wilderness after separating from a group of cyclists. (Brad Herder photo) Steve Petke got lost in the wilderness after separating from a group of cyclists. (Brad Herder photo) The rest of the party re-grouped at intersections but saw no signs of Steve. “My wife, sister and I regrouped at every intersection, but we never saw Steve again. We waited for a while but he never came back. Of course, he hadn’t taken his cell phone but my sister left a message for him anyway,” Brad said.

The group flagged down one of the few trucks they saw on their route and asked if the driver had seen a biker. “The driver said yes and that he was way ahead and still riding away from us. My sister was tired. If we continued on to Carrying Place Road, the ride was going to be way too long for her so we decided to follow the planned route,” Brad continued. They fashioned an arrow out of sticks in the center of the road pointing in the direction they were traveling.

Brad said, “We were hoping Steve would come back, notice the arrow and follow our tracks back to the car. We also thought it was possible Steve would just take Carrying Place Road out to Long Falls Damn Road and go directly back to the car. Needless to say, Steve did neither of those things.”

Just before 6 p.m. the three cyclists made it to the starting point. It wasn’t long before they decided to go looking for him, driving Long Falls Dam Road and Carrying Place Road. “The arrow was still out there but no bike tracks,” said Brad.

The group thought perhaps Steve was backtracking the entire route so they went back to the starting point to see if they could pick up his tracks anywhere. At the intersection of Carrying Place and Cobbs Camp Road they found his track, but because truck traffic erased most of the tracks, the group could not tell which direction he had gone in.

Brad explained what happened with Steve while the group was searching, “We didn’t know it but Steve had followed Carrying Place Road towards Long Pond Dam Road and knew he had to head towards the sun but the road bent around to the south and he felt like he was going in the wrong direction so he turned around. He came all the way back past Cyr Road but didn’t notice our arrow. When he couldn’t find us, he turned back around. This time, when he got back to the point where the road bent around to the south, he decided to take a right and ended up heading north, way north, into more remote territory.”

The group had very limited cell service but managed to call 911 around 7 p.m. The dispatcher said she would notify Maine Warden Service. “About an hour later, the game warden called and we relayed information on our route, where we last saw Steve and the direction he was heading in,” explained Brad. Warden Jared Herrick told the group he would start his search from the far side of the route, coming in from Route 201 near Caratunk.

“Bicycle clothes aren’t very warm — on purpose,” Brad noted. The group was getting cold and hungry so Brad’s wife, Beth, went to the couple’s home in Carrabassett Valley to get food and clothes but when Maine State Trooper Eric Bronson arrived on the scene at 8:30 p.m., he wanted her to stay at home in case Steve showed up there. Brad and his sister sat in a vehicle and waited. “It was now dark, chilly and quite buggy outside. I pictured Steve hunkering down under a pile of leaves trying to stay warm and keep the bugs at bay. My sister was holding back the tears thinking he was going to die. I didn’t think he’d die as long as we found him the next day but I fully expected he’d be covered in mosquito bites and was kind of looking forward to seeing him like that,” Brad joked.

Meanwhile, Steve was looking for a place to spend the night. “He didn’t want to stay in the woods. He went by a scary looking trailer and knocked on the door, but nobody answered, so he continued riding,” Brad said. Eventually Steve came across a Jeep parked on the side of the road. Thinking the owner was camping at the nearby pond, he yelled but no one answered. The Jeep was unlocked so Steve left his bike leaning against the back and climbed inside.” There was a lighter, paper towel and a mountain bike multi-tool among other things. He thought about starting a fire but didn’t. He did take the car mat and put it on his lower legs. He was warm and bug free. The only discomfort he had was he didn’t want to fall asleep because he was paranoid someone was going to find him in their car and shoot him,” Brad continued.

It was well after 11 p.m. when Warden Herrick picked up Steve’s bike tracks in the dirt and followed them to the Jeep. Steve was found near the upper campsites on Pierce Pond, about 15 miles north of where their ride finished. “That’s so far from where he should have been, I am still amazed they found him,” said Brad.

As for moose sightings, the core group didn’t even catch a glimpse. Steve saw three.

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