By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
A Lithuanian man who vanished in 2015 has been living in an English forest, Inside Edition reported. Police are investigating why he fled, though they suspect he was the victim of exploitation in his home country. Many people, however, are typically averse to the great outdoors.
According to Inside Edition, Ricardas Puisys disappeared after a shift at his job in September 2015. “Puisys was last seen leaving work at a fruit and vegetable supplier in the town of Chatteris,” the article said. “Police believe the 35-year-old gathered with other men from his native Lithuania after work that night, but was never seen again.
“Police searched for Puisys for years without success, until a recent tip led them to search a wooded area in the nearby town of Wisbech on July 1.”
The article goes on to state that local police are investigating the possibility that Puisys chose to live in the forest for so long because he was the victim of exploitation. This allegation is a severe and tragic situation, but under normal circumstances, many people have strong hesitations about “answering the call of the wild.”
Fit to Travel
Many people feel that experiencing the great outdoors “isn’t for them,” and there’s a good reason for that.
“If you pick up an outdoor magazine or catalog, you’ll probably see images of almost exclusively young, fit, able-bodied, relatively wealthy, white people—probably without kids and certainly without bad knees,” said Dr. Elizabeth K. Andre, Associate Professor of Nature and Culture in the Outdoor Education Department at Northland College.
“These images are elitist. The ‘outdoorsy’ ideal has become sexy, fashionable, and big business. In the ‘real’ outdoors, you’ll find people of all ages, sizes, abilities, and colors. The outdoors is for everybody.“
Dr. Andre added that this misconception of who’s “fit to travel” is reinforced by some outdoor retailers. Often, they only stock camping clothes in smaller sizes, thus alienating larger campers; they feature thin foam “mattresses,” which some older campers may find off-putting in terms of comfort; and there’s a popular idea that heading to the backwoods and having mobility issues are totally incompatible.
However, each of these problems can be overcome. First, Dr. Andre emphasized that buying your wilderness clothes from an outdoor retailer isn’t usually necessary. Second, there are outdoor groups created by people of color and groups for LGBTQ campers, seniors, veterans, cancer survivors, and more. Third, she said that national and state parks are making progress on “providing trails, and even campsites, that are accessible to wheelchairs, scooters, and strollers.”
What Was That Noise Outside?
Another common fear among people who hesitate to go hiking or camping is that of being attacked by a wild animal—or a crazy person. However, Dr. Andre said that most people drastically overestimate the odds of these incidents.
“According to the National Safety Council, a person’s odds of dying at home during the next year are one in roughly 8,000,” she said. “In contrast, a person’s odds of being killed by a venomous snake in that same period are roughly one in 96 million.
“And as for bears, even in a place like Yellowstone National Park, where millions of people each year tour through grizzly bear habitat, visitors are far more likely to die in a car accident than to be attacked by a bear.”
She said the odds of a bear attack in Yellowstone are roughly one for every 2.7 million visits. So why do we seem to hear about these attacks so often? Dr. Andre said that they’re so uncommon, that when they do happen, they make the news because of their scarcity—and we can’t help but want to know the gory details.
On the other hand, people dying at home is such a common occurrence that it isn’t usually covered in the news. If it were, we’d hear about it every day.
“Just as with wild animal attacks, the risk of assault or murder in the outdoors is vastly overblown. The frequency of violent crime in the National Parks is about one attack per million visitors. Of course, when violent crime does happen in the wilderness, it’s big news that will continue to circulate for years.
“And, just as with wild animals, we can take some basic precautions to even further reduce our risk of having a negative encounter with people in the backcountry.”
The circumstances seemingly surrounding the disappearance of Ricardas Puisys that drove him to the wilderness are extreme and unfortunate. However, in ordinary situations, those considering experiencing the great outdoors shouldn’t need such a desperate push. They should simply take normal safety precautions and overcome their fears when hiking or camping.
Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily
Dr. Elizabeth K. Andre contributed to this article. Dr. Andre is an Associate Professor of Nature and Culture in the Outdoor Education Department at Northland College, an environmental liberal arts college on the South Shore of Lake Superior. She earned her MA in Outdoor Education from Griffith University in Australia and her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction of Science and Environmental Education from the University of Minnesota.