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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Rescue Me!

On a snowy night in New Hampshire, Congressional candidate Gary Dodds crashed his car, wandered into the woods, and collapsed. Twenty-seven hours later, rescuers carried him out. And then the real drama began.

by: David Howard, photos by Julia Vandenoever

Gary Dodd's Portsmouth PD mugshot.
Gary Dodd's Portsmouth PD mugshot.
Gary Dodd's Portsmouth PD mugshot.
Gary Dodd's Portsmouth PD mugshot.
Sgt. Richard Mitchell investigated the Dodds campaign.
Sgt. Richard Mitchell investigated the Dodds campaign.
Search Cmdr. John Wimsatt.
Search Cmdr. John Wimsatt.
Condos near the Bellamy River.
Condos near the Bellamy River.
Dodds in court on July 8, 2008.
Dodds in court on July 8, 2008.
Eli, the search & rescue dog that found Dodds.
Eli, the search & rescue dog that found Dodds.
Stafford County Attorney Tom Vilardi.
Stafford County Attorney Tom Vilardi.

Gary Dodds was laughing.

We were standing at opposite ends of a cramped hallway outside the main courtroom in Strafford County, New Hampshire. Much of the cast of characters from Dodds's recent trial–state cops, Fish and Game officers, rescue personnel, reporters–were shoehorned in there, too, waiting for the doors to open. Many of these people had recently testified against Dodds, helped turn him into a convicted felon. Today, they'd returned to see him sentenced.

Dodds either didn't notice them or pretended not to. He and his wife, Cindy, worked their way to a small circle of friendly faces by the door, where he started hugging people, his face creasing into a big, rubbery grin. His brown hair had yielded to a pronounced bald spot on the crown of his head, but otherwise Dodds looked a youthful 43. He was dressed in a sports coat and slacks, and appeared poised and confident, almost festive, as if this were a good day to announce another run for Washington, as if someone might draw a curtain and unveil a "Dodds for Congress" sign.

Observing all this from a back corner, I surmised that Dodds had cut a deal. Somehow. Despite having rejected the state's plea-bargain offer and insisting on a trial, and despite the jury quickly finding him guilty on all counts–after which he'd gone on national television and called several witnesses liars and asked that God have mercy on their souls–somehow, despite all that, he must have cut a deal to avoid jail time. I'd covered trials before–murder and drug cases–and defendants facing prison terms always march in with faces tight, mouths set hard. Not Dodds.

But when his time came to defend himself once more, Dodds's confident aura evaporated, and, between sobs, he managed to choke out only a few sentences about how he'd tried to help people and hoped the court would consider that. And then Judge Peter Fauver lit into him, denouncing Dodds for inventing "a fairy tale."

One thing was eminently clear: No one believed Dodds's story. No one bought the tale of him swimming a frigid river, then hiking until he passed out in the snowy New Hampshire woods, one shoe missing, legs frozen, and enduring 27 hours in the early-April chill, huddled in a pile of leaves.

Gary Dodds, a resilient survivor? The people had spoken, and the unequivocal answer was no.

It's rare enough to be accused of inventing a survival hoax. But charged with faking one in order to revive a struggling Congressional campaign? Unheard of. Still, no one could fully explain what had happened to him that night. And after investigating Dodds's background, his quixotic Congressional campaign, and the dramatic arc of his life, I came to this conclusion: Gary Dodds was caught up in a survival epic after all. It just wasn't the one he set out to tell.



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READERS COMMENTS

Matt Buchko
Jan 27, 2009

Seriously?! Why are you people getting all anal about a flippin' magazine article. This is not JEMS, this is not FIRE/RESCUE, this is not some EMT or medical or SAR journal for the professionals in these fields ... dude this is a magazine. Settle down. So you didn't like the article ... what do you want? Don't read it if you don't like it. Why spend time bad mouthing a good publication? I've been a SAR volunteer for 8 years. I've read BP for probably as long. If I want professional advice and articles on SAR events I look to NASAR publications ... not a frickin' magazine from the new stand. Calm down boys and girls. This is a good magazine that I have seen constantly grow and change for years. I may not like everything I see but this magazine is fantastic for the most part.

Go get your sticks surgically removed from whatever cavity you shoved it up ... seriously.

... now if you wanna bad mouth the tool that staged is ordeal ... go nuts.

Roy
Dec 01, 2008

I haven't read every article in bp but have read a few stories of survival(or of people who didn't), and judging by that- I would agree with the author that this story is relevent. Anytime someone makes a hoax about being stranded or times where damn near millions are spent on rescueing hikers who were ill prepared, reflects on outdoor enthusiasts, like it or not it's unavoidable.

Tom Bourgoine
Nov 27, 2008

As a New Hampshire resident, Wilderness EMT and an active Volunteer SAR member. This story has no place in backpacker magazine. Gary Dodds is in the N.H.news(WMUR)every week for doing something stupid,the guy is a nutcase. Many resources and valuable man hours where spent looking for this nut because he needed free press, please stop giving it to him. If you want to include a story about lost hikers write one about the hundreds of volunteer SAR members across the country most of whom are volunteers who pay for their own equipment,training and even gas to help a fellow hiker, climbers or anyone who needs help.
Did backpacker magazine support Dodds campaign?
Stop wasting paper print stuff worth reading.

Joe Lustik
Nov 27, 2008

I dont' get it. I kept looking for more of the story. It seems like this article was a set up for a flashback to the actual survival events, but it never came. How disappointing. Very poor journalism.

ed
Nov 27, 2008

glad I didn't renew

Christopher Johnson
Nov 26, 2008

I have to agree with Steve Sacco. Continued inclusion of off-topic stories like this are one reason why I'm letting my subscription run out and I won't be renewing it.

Steve Sacco
Nov 26, 2008

OK. I read the whole article and I still don't understand what possible motivation you could have for including it in Backpacking. I give up.

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