This memoir tells of a father’s search for his missing son, and I can acutely identify with it in a number of ways. First of all, I am also a father. The author of this book has one son; I have five, and it rends my heart whenever anything adverse happens to any of them. Additionally, just as the author of this book and his son, I have traveled to remote places of the world in search of adventure, exotic experiences, and personal fulfillment.
The term “adventurer” in the title is a bit garish; it was probably tacked on by the publisher. It means that the author engages in and enjoys outdoor activities such as mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, hiking, and exploring wilderness areas. He imparted this love of adventure and exploration to his son Cody Roman Dial, who disappeared while on a solo jungle trek in Costa Rica. After two years of searching, Dial found his son’s remains and belongings beside a remote stream; he had apparently died of snakebite or from a fallen tree. I’m not giving anything away by telling you this; it is clear from the blurbs and reviewer’s comments on the book’s cover.
The story is told in three parts. In the first part, Dial writes of meeting his wife Peggy while attending university in Alaska, getting married, having children, and taking his son and daughter on excursions and scientific expeditions to mountains, glacial fields, the Aleutian Islands, Borneo, and other locations. This instilled in his son Cody a love of travel and outdoor activities.
The second section, which Dial culled from Cody’s diaries and journals, tells of Cody’s journey through Central America. He reveals Cody’s penchant for traveling alone, without guides, relying only on his compass, maps, and instincts. I could empathize with the desire to travel alone and without a specific itinerary, letting the locations and circumstances influence decision-making. I did the same when I took off on the road back in the 1970s, hitchhiking and taking local transport across the United States, around Europe, across the Middle East, and around the Indian Subcontinent. When I hiked into the Himalayas in Nepal, I had no map, no guide, and no clear idea where I was going other than upward into the mountains. However, other side-trips I contemplated but abandoned as too dangerous. In Afghanistan I wanted to hike alone through the Hindu Kush mountains, but that would have been suicidal. In Pakistan, another traveler and I conceived the idea of taking a boat down the Indus River to see the sights; fortunately, when we arrived in Multan, the town where we planned to commence our river journey, the unfriendliness of the locals caused us to reconsider our plans. In a way, though, Cody seemed to have all but invited tragedy by his clear disregard for danger, going alone into areas where drug smuggling was common and deadly poisonous snakes were rampant. Eventually he vanished after he emailed his intention to head into dense jungle in a Costa Rican national park which strictly forbad entry without a qualified guide. He had to circumvent authorities and sneak into the park; this, I felt, was taking the urge for independent adventuring too far.
The third part of the memoir recounts Dial’s search for his son. As soon as he realized his son was overdue, he flew to Costa Rica with the intention of following him into the jungle and finding him. However, he encountered a lot of resistance from authorities. The area was, after all, restricted, and the Costa Ricans wanted to conduct the search on their own terms. Over a two-year span, Dial and his wife involved friends, scientists, explorers, mercenaries, state and federal politicians, the FBI, the State Department, and even a reality TV show that came down and concocted a sensational mini-series that attempted to prove that Cody was a victim of foul play.
Overall, this is an absorbing and compelling story, although sometimes in the long third section it gets into descriptions of going to one place and nothing happens, and then going to another place and nothing happens, and so on. It effectively emphasizes the frustration of the search but sometimes becomes a bit repetitive. All in all, though, this is an absorbing, heartfelt story with which any parent can identify.