With Joe Gisondi’s Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot (2016), the subtitle says it all. Gisondi, an outsider, traveled with Bigfooters, those credulous folk motivated to search for the fabled creature despite zero scientific evidence for its existence. At times he sounds like a skeptic: “How could creatures presumed to be so large remain so elusive?” (77). At other times he seems a believer: “. . . I felt something watching me” (37). He is, in fact, a journalist trying to be objective and show both sides: “As always I straddle the world of what could be and what is” (42).
Gisondi accompanied searchers to eight alleged Bigfoot hot spots, including Florida swampland (where I too have trekked), and eastern Kentucky (where I grew up, spending an immense amount of time hiking, camping, and hunting, while totally unaware of the man-beast). Gisondi did not make it to Bluff Creek, California, where in 1967 Roger Patterson filmed the Holy Grail sighting of Bigfoot—or Bigsuit, a gorilla outfit purchased from costumer Phil Morris, modified by Patterson, and worn by his acquaintance Bob Heironimus.
On the trips, Gisondi learned that Bigfooters go in search of the creature for a variety of reasons: some are looking for adventure (9). Many hope to confirm their prior faith (62), and among other reasons, some Bigfooters simply enjoy the camaraderie or, lacking that, “the solitude of the woods” (265). For some, it’s an escape from personal troubles (114).
Although most are not scientists (13), Bigfooters sport lots of equipment. Ironically inspired by ghost hunters—who have likewise failed to find their quarry—they are increasingly hunting at night, using thermal cameras, night-vision goggles, and the like, as well as standard cameras and recorders. During his first expedition, Gisondi used a thermal imager to spot a Bigfoot kneeling on one leg, but he now wonders “whether I actually saw something that I wanted to see, as I do sometimes when I look up into the clouds” (xviii). One searcher even takes random snapshots of woods and scrutinizes them later. “Inevitably, concludes Gisondi (referring again to the pictures-in-clouds phenomenon), “he’ll see what others cannot” (214).
In addition to the hopefuls are those Gisondi feels are largely seeking notoriety and money. One is Matt Moneymaker, creator of Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) and host of Animal Planet’s long-running Finding Bigfoot. (Bigfoot is never found of course, despite constant hype and the urgent refrain, “Did you hear that?”) “Moneymaker” is not his real last name and “may have been chosen to flaunt his success” (39). He is suspected of creating “sounds and stories” to encourage more people to pay to join his expeditions (54). Another is Tom Biscardi—whom Moneymaker calls a “bullshit artist” and “sham” (40). (Having been on a search with Biscardi, a known hoaxer [see my Tracking the Man-Beasts, 2011, 79–82, 90], I can’t disagree.) Gisondi also passes on accusations of others’ dishonorable activity (e.g., 140, 219, 235, 262).
As well, Monster Trek provides much evidence for what I have named “the Bigfoot bear”—any bear standing or walking upright, North America’s greatest Bigfoot lookalike. For example, one woman using a thermal imager claimed she watched a Bigfoot for over three hours: “The creature stood up, hunched down, crouched, moved side to side. It got on all fours[!].” She added, “I saw its long arms and short legs” [!] (115). But another admits of many sightings, “Afterward, you think, ‘maybe it was a bear’” (35). Gisondi (perhaps unintentionally) adds frequent reminders that Bigfoot is typically found in bear country engaging in bearlike activity (e.g., 133, 139, 152, 207, 226–227).
Monster Trek is a reasonably balanced introduction to the “obsessive” search for the elusive creature. Believers will resent its considerable skepticism, and some skeptics will be annoyed by its sympathy toward believers. As for me—a skeptical cryptozoologist who would like to believe, but who knows too much to succumb—I enjoyed this inside look by an outsider.