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Alopecia, an autoimmune disease, caused Sam to lose much of her hair; she shaved the rest daily. She had given up wigs in high school, when in typical dramatic fashion she ripped one off her head during a class presentation. The tattoos on her scalp, Kevin says, were armor. This was Sam Sayers in her element: fired up by the theatricality, by a tight-knit community. By life. Kevin was still at the Verlot station when Sergeant John Q.

Adams arrived around am. Kevin was keyed up, eager to replace his broken flashlight and get back on the trail. In his short tenure, Adams had already honed his instincts on missing hiker cases. In Snohomish, calls often come for underprepared or overdue teens; once SAR launches a response on the Mountain Loop Highway, he usually gets a call from sheepish parents saying the missing had just returned home. This one was different. He loaded Kevin down with a helmet, food, and a headlamp and watched him sprint back up the trail.

Looking for Life on a Flat Earth | The New Yorker

August 1 had long since rolled into August 2, the first day of the search for Sam Sayers. They spotted a tree on fire, but no Sam.


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By the weekend, SAR teams—all volunteers—from King, Skagit, Kitsap, Kittitas, and Pierce counties had deployed, along with four other mountain rescue squads. Trained dogs sought scents and human trackers scoured for footprints; others examined the creek. On his foray into town that first night, Kevin had posted a plea on Facebook. Of that first week, Kevin mostly remembers climbing and crying. One day stands out: August 4, three days in. And then, a breakthrough. And it was in Seattle. In Belltown.

Missing people usually leave a signature, whethe r physical, electronic, or even a smudge of heat to be traced. Usually the ties that bind us to everyone else can be grasped and slowly reeled in. When Kevin talks about August 4 now, his voice catches with emotion, remembering the most excruciating day of the worst summer of his life. It made sense, in a way, this impossible news—if Sam wandered out on her own, she could have hitchhiked back home. Seattle PD was dispatched to the coordinates. That was what had pinged. Friends created a group page called Find Sam Sayers— findsamsayers, to be specific—that would grow to more than 30, followers.

Imagining Sam bushwhacking her way through the forest around Vesper, family members filled Ziploc bags with snacks and instructions for Sam. They gave the bags to Snohomish County Search and Rescue, asking them to place them around the mountain. On forums like NWHikers. Many took issue with the supply bags full of energy bars, not a common SAR technique. It felt true; he and Sam had lived together for more than a year, had talked about marriage. The title change was born out of a family discussion, he says. Everyone agreed that the public would take it all more seriously if people understood their solid commitment.

The official search for Sam went on for 22 days. News organizations picked up the story. Flyers wrapped trees and signposts on the Mountain Loop and telephone poles in Seattle. Spreadsheets tracked every time a viewer thought they saw something. Nothing panned out. He took to Vesper and pioneered his own way off trail; from the brush he counted more than people on the day the reward was posted. Prospectors found gold and silver in the area in the late s, and the Sunrise Mine popped up around Wirtz Basin. Adams got hundreds of phone calls, including one from the general in charge of the Washington National Guard, who offered his own helicopters.

It had never happened before. Tips came pouring in, from the useful—YMCA campers at Lake Elan just below the peak saw Sam ascend but never come down—to the questionable, like psychic visions of her near rocks, trees, and water. Each was dutifully logged.

His policy is to be as honest as he can. That was the last time they spoke. On August 16, Adams emailed a doctor at Snohomish County EMS to ask how long a young, healthy person like Sam could survive on the berries that blanket the western Cascades in late summer. Below the steep north face of Vesper Peak, the edge of a glacier formed a moat at the base of the cliff, its bottom impossible to reach beneath the ice.

On August 23, Deputy Teske was sitting with Kevin when word came that the county was officially suspending its search. They both cried. Three weeks later, Kevin stood in the Sunrise Mine Trail parking lot, shoving food into an army-style tan backpack. He took off up the trail toward Vesper, leading Cheryl Phillips, a dog handler from South Carolina, and her search dog Raven. They were among the outside experts Kevin hired using money from the GoFundMe. He tackled the elevation gain like it was a stroll down Second Avenue; his weeks of searching Vesper had whittled his already slim frame down whippet-thin.

It was around day 50 of the search; Kevin would ultimately spend over on this mountain. It even had an iron box stove inside. This unofficial search began as soon as SAR pulled out. His advice? Follow mountain man Bud Carr.

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Being proficient in anything is militant. With his dark pointed goatee and survivalist rhetoric, Carr rubbed many the wrong way. Online, critics pulled up evidence of past felonies—he helped burgle a gun store before Y2K, he admits, but found Buddhism in his four years in Missouri prison. In videos posted to his own YouTube channel, he is combative and confident about his mountain experience.

To Kevin, Carr was a generous stranger turned close friend, willing to take the Louisiana tenderfoot through the rugged terrain around Vesper Peak. They called it Operation Relentless Pursuit. In the Belltown apartment, they hung maps and scrawled Sharpie notes directly on the wall. They wrote operating plans, considered moon phases and water sources. Kevin asked his father, the command chief warrant officer in the Louisiana National Guard, to run the mountain camp. Online criticism reached a fever pitch.

The U. Approvals quickly followed. Up at camp, just below the stone summit pyramid, the buzz of Facebook was distant. Leave no trace? Life had narrowed to a singular purpose, to comb a few square miles of earth for a trace. Off the mountain, Kevin had become the tragic fiance who refused to give up…or maybe the subject of wild speculation. At least, he says, the man was looking. The elder Dares prepared hot meals of rice and meat and anything else on hand, calling it all jambalaya.

Kevin, who used to wear jeans day hiking with Sam, learned how to use an ice ax. Carr belayed him down ropes into steep ravines. One day Kevin watched Clay Olsen, one of the core searchers, trip holding an ice ax, missing his own forehead by inches. Raven the search dog and her handler spent 39 days on the mountain, 17 of them in a row. They were rarely alone. Volunteers brought up snacks, so many grocery store fried chickens that the team joked about the tidal wave of drumsticks.

Though Snohomish County had officially suspended its operation, Sergeant Adams came back up to snorkel Lake Elan in a thick dry suit. Here are some reasons why you may think that Earth is actually a rotating sphere. Time zones were invented to address this dilemma. Lighthouses are deliberately built tall so that their beams can be seen from ships far away, over the intervening curve of sea. A long bridge appears flat because its span parallels Earth, but its supports betray the curvature; the towers of the Verrazano-Narrows, in New York, are more than an inch and a half farther apart at the top than at the bases.

And, of course, we have photographic evidence of a globular planet—millions of examples since the nineteen-fifties, taken by spacecraft and orbiting satellites. Flat-Earthers have lists of reasons why round-Earthers—globers, globetards—are wrong. Dubay has also gained attention for his Holocaust denialism. Of course, such arguments prompt further questions. If Earth is actually flat, why does the sun rise and set? Where does it go at night? The responses recede along a path from half-baked to evasive.

And those televised rocket launches? Notice how the camera angle quickly shifts from a ground-up shot to one supposedly on the rocket itself, looking back toward Earth. And all of those alleged images of a round Earth were Photoshopped. Gravity, too, is just another theory; flat-Earthers believe that objects simply fall. Campanella is in his late thirties, with a serious face and a close-shaved head. Have you been to Saturn?


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Have you been to Jupiter? To insiders, the message is empowering. Trust in your senses. Set aside the paradox of a man onstage imploring his large audience to ignore him. I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air. Flat-Earth logic is by turns mesmerizing and maddening.

There is no gravity, nothing to restrain it, but as a theory it explains fewer phenomena than the theory it seeks to supplant. In the corridor, I met a documentary filmmaker—there were several milling around at the conference—who had been following the flat-Earth community for months. His face bore a look of despair. Bush, and Stephen Hawking.

One attractive aspect of the flat-Earth theory, it seemed, was that it served nicely as an umbrella for all the other coverups. Many things, the flat-Earthers understand, are being hidden. God, of course. The astronauts are Freemasons, sworn to secrecy. That word came up a lot. At five-thirty, the conference broke for the day and the crowd spilled out into the hotel atrium for happy hour. I needed a drink, and, to my surprise, Evangelical flat-Earthers sometimes do, too; many had gravitated, or perhaps simply fallen, toward the bar, where they talked excitedly among themselves and ate pretzel snacks.

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Several of the speakers, including Sargent and Campanella, were surrounded by admirers who were seeing them for the first time in person. The atmosphere was convivial, like a class reunion. There are flat-Earth meetups in cities around the country; the one in Denver, where the next Flat Earth Conference will be held, is particularly active. The Vegas chapter draws about three dozen people and the number has been growing, Campbell said; for many, it was the one place where they felt comfortable expressing their ideas.

Believing in a flat Earth is hard work; there is so much to relearn. The price of open-mindedness is isolation. She asked what my conference was about; when I told her, she doubled over with laughter.

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I cringed a little, protectively, and glanced around to see if anyone had heard her. The reward is existential solace. This, I came to understand, was the real draw, the thing that could make, say, an unemployed clerical worker drive twelve hours, alone, from Michigan to Raleigh. To believe in a flat Earth is to belong not only to a human community but to sit, once again, at the center of the cosmos.

The standard facts of astronomy are emotionally untenable—a planet spinning at a thousand miles per hour, a mote in a galaxy of unimaginable scale, itself a mote in the vast and expanding universe. This is a created place. You, we, are special.

Searching for Truth with a Broken Flashlight

He was a trucker, the son of a former newscaster, and an occasional musician. As we were talking, an older man in a wheelchair approached and, in a drawl, introduced himself and asked if we were Christians. He brought up the notion of infinite space and the lack of a creator. The footing on this flat Earth is unstable. This brought a rebuke from a woman in the audience. Even Samuel Rowbotham, the founding father of the modern flat Earth, was suspected of not actually believing the theory he popularized. Samuel Birley. This Dr. The flat Earth was perhaps a scam, an emotional salve with no basis in physical reality.

Now it has become both real and surreal, like a performance-art piece in which nobody can tell the actors, stagehands, and audience apart.

Do you think he knows that space is fake? Solipsism is the new empiricism.