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Survivalist Richard Code's final hours Add to ...

The note was characteristically polite and to the point.

Wednesday, February 24

Re. Survival trip


I should be back from my trip on Sunday February 28, sometime later in the day. If you do not see or hear from me by Monday morning, it's a possibility I'm in trouble. So please call police and give them the following information

Name: Richard Code

Location: Horn Lake, north side, middle. South of Bear Lake. West of Huntsville.

Special considerations: Does not have any camping equipment. This is a survival trip.

Thanks for your help,


Barbara Ellis left her bedroom door open all night Sunday, but never heard her 41-year-old boarder return home. She reported him missing the next morning.

When Toronto police came to search the room Mr. Code rented in north Scarborough, they found he had prepared carefully, arranging on his desk a map of his route, trip plans and a list of equipment: knife, compass, map, fishing gear, axe, lighter, space blanket. The short list didn't include a tent, sleeping bag, snowshoes or any food.

A helicopter search Monday afternoon turned up nothing. As a spokesperson for the Ontario Provincial Police explained, at that point they didn't even know if Mr. Code had made it out of Toronto. Police knew the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Code walked out of the quiet horseshoe crescent at 4 a.m. Thursday morning. He was dressed in black and carrying only an axe, hoping to hitchhike north. Skepticism about him getting a ride might have been warranted.

A press release on Tuesday garnered tips that allowed police to piece together Mr. Code's progress.

He had gotten a series of rides to take him to Bradford, Bracebridge, Huntsville, and finally down a dirt road to the start of a snowmobile trail 2.5 kilometres north of his marked campsite.

Now confident that Mr. Code got to the area, the police took to the air again Wednesday afternoon. Six days after Mr. Code had thanked his last driver and walked south toward Horn Lake, police spotted his body huddled against some stunted black spruce near the edge of a frozen wetland, less than a kilometre from where he had started.

As a survivalist, Mr. Code was part of an exceedingly diverse group. They are hobbyists who study and practise ways to keep from biodegrading in the wild with next to no equipment or supplies. On one fringe is the bowie-knife-wearing, weekend-militia warrior - the libertarian type who prays for society to collapse so the measure of a man will be his snare line. At the other end are the primitive-skills keeners who know which tree bark is best for weaving baskets, and the naturalists on a quest to steep the most sustaining wildflower tea.

As varied as survivalists are, they were nearly unanimous in distancing themselves from Mr. Code after his death. He was irresponsible, they said. His clothing was inadequate and he should never have walked into an actual winter-survival situation without having taken courses, practised in a safe setting and packed along emergency backup gear and food.

Setting rules for arguably anarchistic survivalists is best left to online forums, but the bare details of the story - man walks into winter woods to test wits and freezes to death - received wide media coverage. Apparently it doesn't take much scraping to unearth a sympathy for expressions of rugged self-sufficiency among even the most civilized of us.

In Richard Code, that sympathy grew into a passion about three years ago. Mel Code believes his son threw himself into survivalism to return purpose to a life that had taken some unexpected turns.

A 20-year-old Richard Code moved to Toronto from Kitchener in 1988 to help set up a Christian outreach program in the Jane-Finch area. The deeply religious man worked for 12 years helping adults in assisted living situations. Gradually he began to suffer from psoriatic arthritis. The painful condition affected his joints, gnarling gifted guitar-fretting fingers.

"He was in pain, but there was no pity party for Richard," says Mel Code. "He never, but never, complained."

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