When DeWitt Finley got stuck in the snow last fall trying to drive the back roads over the Klamath Mountains, he put his faith in God and waited with the patience of Job for someone to rescue him.
For nine weeks, he sat in the cab of the pickup, checked the days off the calendar in his salesman's day planner and wrote a stack of letters in a neat hand on a legal pad to his two sons, his fiancee and his boss.If only he had stepped out of the truck and followed the road back around a corner, he soon would have found clear pavement leading him down the mountain to safety.
Last month, after some teenagers who got stuck themselves discovered Finley starved to death in his pickup, the people who live in this rugged country couldn't believe he had just sat there for so long.
The snow "never stays on that road but right there," said Glenn Carpenter of Gold Beach, who dug Finley's pickup out of 5 feet of snow with a front-end loader May 22 before going on to open the road for the season.
Depending on the weather, Finley could have had a few hundred yards or a few miles of snow to walk through before reaching pavement, Carpenter said.
But there was no sign he had ever left his truck.
"I have no control over my life, its all in His hands. `His will be done,' " Finley wrote his boss in one of the letters found with his body. "Death here in another month or so, or he sends someone to save me. Yet knowing His will I'm at peace and His grace will prevail. If I'm save to finish my life here, please know I'll alway be thankful to you and remain your servant. If not - I'll see you in Glory."
Sheriff's detective Allen Boice figures that Finley, having spent most of his life in Southern California, was in unfamiliar circum-stances.
Finley, 56, had been a fund-raiser in the San Diego area for the Christian charity World Vision before moving last summer to Montana, where he loved fishing on Flathead Lake.
In Kalispell, Mont., he got a job as a salesman for S & S Campers, began building a house on a golf course and made plans to get married.
He was on a sales trip through Oregon, hauling a brand new demo camper on the back of a four-wheel-drive diesel pickup, when he decided Nov. 14 to leave the main highway along the coast to take the back roads through the Siskiyou National Forest to Grants Pass.
"People always ask about that road," said Frank Sandlin, owner of the Cougar Lane Store in this backcountry community. "I tell them it's closed, but they go up there anyway. Two or three times a winter somebody goes up there and thinks they can do it. At the summit you hit (the snow) like a wall."
The Bear Camp Road has lots of traffic in the summer, when whitewater rafters on the Rogue River use it to shuttle their rigs from Galice to Agness.
But when the snow comes, the U.S. Forest Service doesn't plow it. One north-facing stretch at the 4,800-foot summit is generally blocked by snow all winter.
The day after Finley drove up, rangers posted a sign at the bottom reading: "Road may be blocked by snowdrifts six miles ahead."
Tow truck driver Everett Amos gets calls to haul people out three or four times each winter. Sometimes they call on a cellular phone or CB radio. Finley had neither.
Otherwise they walk out, like the teenagers who found Finley on May 20. It's 16 miles down the mountain, and one more mile to the Cougar Lane Store.
Jim Kelley and his Forest Service road crew worked on the Bear Camp Road throughout the winter.
"Once we turned around and was working around the corner from where he was found - probably a couple different times when he was still alive," Kelley said.
After Finley vanished, his boss, Mic Sieler, owner of S & S Campers, sent out another man to search for him. Deputies in Coos Bay, his last stop, sent up a helicopter.
Meanwhile, Finley accepted his fate, writing calmly to Sieler.
"Typical Oregon weather clear for a few days and storms for the next few days has left me in tomb for the (past) thirty-days," Finley wrote.
"The most wonderfull thing out of this ordeal has been the never ending fellowship with the Lord. I've not eaten since noon of Nov. 14th yet I feel great and I'm in good spirits. I've never known such fellowship nor how His plan for man can be a love for us beyond all things."
Finley kept crossing off the days on his calendar until Jan. 19.
"It was a senseless death," Kelley said. "That's what's so sad about it. The Good Lord didn't take care of him."