When stories of lost children make it into the media, they often end in tragedy. Not so with Cody Sheehy. When the now 39-year-old went missing in the spring of 1986, his family and friends feared the worst–but he emerged from the Oregon woods 18 hours later, cold and wet, but unscathed.
A Typical Day Out
6-year-old Cody started out that fateful day doing what he often did–playing with his older sister in a meadow near their house. The family lived in remote Wallowa County, Oregon–a community that even today only has about 7,000 residents. It is the northeasternmost county in the state, surrounded by mountains and forests.
Still, Cody and his family were used to the rugged terrain. The Sheehys were cattle ranchers and spent a lot of time outdoors. Unlike many children now, constantly glued to a screen, Cody spent a lot of time exploring, hiking the nearby hills and climbing trees.
On that particular afternoon, he was playing a game of ‘explorers’ with his 9-year-old sister. The idea was that they’d each walk off in a different direction, looking for interesting things. Later, they were supposed to meet at a designated spot and share their treasures.
Only, Cody didn’t come back.
Somewhere along the way, he lost track of where he was. Heading back to the designated meeting place, he crisscrossed the same meadow, again and again, never ending up where he was supposed to be. Eventually, he decided to try to head home on his own.
Within a few hours, dozens of people began looking for him, but by that point, he was long gone.
After wandering away from the meadow, Cody walked until he found a road. Figuring that it had to lead somewhere, he picked a direction and went. Over 18 hours, he walked an estimated 14 to 20 miles, stopping only sporadically to rest.
By the time it was getting dark, Cody came to a fork in the road and decided to go right. Soon, he regretted his decision, wishing he had instead turned left–but at that point, he was too tired to turn around. Instead, he chose to cross a creek to get to the left-hand road, and he got soaked in the process.
Clad in only a light coat and discount sneakers, the boy must have been freezing. Yet he plowed on, driven by determination. Rather than being terrified by the situation at hand (including a pursuit by coyotes), Cody recalls being afraid that his parents were going to punish him for getting lost.
At about 5:40 the next morning, Cody came to a plateau and saw houses below. At about 7:30, he arrived on the doorstep of local resident Beverly Hansen.
What To Do If You Get Lost
In the event that you ever end up lost in the wilderness, do not do what Cody did. Despite the fact that he turned out ok, he actually did everything experts say you should avoid.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, unless you are very, very confident of the route out, you should stay put. Rescuers are far more likely to find you quickly if you’re close to where you started. In addition, make sure to always pack adequate supplies (like food, water, and flashlight, and matches) in case of an emergency.