CFS sufferer dies alone in the woods


Senior Member
This news is nearly a year old, but it looks like the M.E./CFS community never picked up on it.

Richard Code needs to be added to the CFS memorial. Did anybody know him? He had CFS 10 years, I'd be surprised if he never got involved in a patient community.

The article can no longer be found at the original newsource without paying for a subscription, but Wayne has kindly posted it below.


Senior Member
Ashland, Oregon
Here's the Story

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, its a possibility Im 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 didnt 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 didnt 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. Codes 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 doesnt 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.

The arthritis went into remission, but Richard hit another bump in 2000, when, according to his father, he started suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, a poorly understood condition that defies diagnosis but leaves those affected floored by prolonged exhaustion.

Barbara Ellis remembers Mr. Code retreating to his bed for a period of two or three days nearly every month over the two years he lived with her.

He would never say what was wrong, just that he wasnt well, says Mrs. Ellis. The 86-year-old retired nurse said Mr. Code was exceedingly obliging, asking her daily what he could do to help out and insisting on shovelling the driveway, even though there was no car at the house.

Absenteeism left Mr. Code unemployed and on disability for the last eight years. With a life of relative poverty looming he sold his car and, in his fathers view, looked for ways to retain some independence, self-sufficiency and adventure in a life that would no longer offer much material comfort. He sought a noble asceticism. Studying survival skills dovetailed nicely with his expectations of pain and privation.

He had decided that life would be hard and he wanted to be ready for it, says Mel Code. He was committed to hardening himself against discomfort.

Richard Codes approach to survivalism was more scholarly than social. Instead of joining a loosely organized club or taking a course from the handful of instructors in Southern Ontario, he read books.

He spent hours poring over those books, says Mrs. Ellis. The book that suffered the most at the tip of his highlighter was Survive! Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere Alive. It was written by Les Stroud, the host of Survivorman, a reality television show Mr. Code rarely missed.

Mr. Code studied how to build shelters from wood or snow, forage or hunt for food, make beds from foliage, start friction fires and find drinking water. Mrs. Ellis remembers him taking his knife to a tree that fell in her backyard, cutting four-foot strips of bark from a limb and braiding them into a rope.

During the summer of 2008, Mr. Code began putting theory into action, embarking on the first of more than half-a-dozen solo survival trips to test his skills.

He kept detailed journals, noting successes and things to work on. A glaring failure from his second-to-last trip in early December last year was his inability to gather firewood from under what was still a thin snowpack. Mr. Code decided his winter survival equipment should include an axe and he aborted his trip after one night.

His small new axe was the centrepiece of a discussion in Mrs. Elliss kitchen the night before his last trip.

He was so excited to have that axe, remembers Mrs. Ellis. It would help him collect wood for a shelter and fire.

Mr. Code showed her a map of the area and pointed out some wetlands he intended to avoid for fear of falling through the ice.

I told him I was worried, but he said I have my compass, Barb, I know I just head straight north to get out.

Mr. Code may have just been trying to reassure a friend, but if he was as confident in his escape route as he indicated, it would betray an ignorance about both the difficulty of winter travel and the snowballing dangers of hypothermia, in which heat and energy are sapped and become harder and harder to replace. Painful lessons about both were about to be etched deeply in the snow.

The first 1.6 kms of Mr. Codes route followed a packed snowmobile trail. He could have covered that distance in about 25 minutes, meaning it was nearing 3 p.m. when he made a decisive southeast turn and plunged into the bush. Ten days later, the deep holes made by his boots in the two-to-four-foot snowpack remained to reveal his route as it weaved southward for 1.3 kms.

Walking without snowshoes in deep snow is called post-holing. The snow gives way unevenly until enough resistance builds up to support the boot. But it is a precarious platform on which to stand while wrestling the other foot from its own deep hole. Each step requires balance and brute strength. Then you have to take another one.

And with each step, Mr. Code would have gotten wetter. He would have been sweating from the extreme exertion and his cotton cargo pants would have absorbed moisture from the sometimes thigh-deep snow.

Considering he was travelling at what must have been a glacial rate, he would have arrived at his campsite less than an hour before sunset.

The sun was similarly low as I snowshoed beside his track onto Horn Lake. With a tall white pine crowning the thin shoreline spur, the point where he camped was serene, but if Mr. Code took a minute to enjoy the scenery it would have been one too many. Building a proper shelter can take up to half a day.

When Mel Code received his sons clothes from the coroner he was dismayed to see the jacket and pants werent windproof. Up top, Richard was only wearing thin thermal underwear and three fleece layers under a space-blanket poncho. Thursday night, as the temperature dropped to -9 degrees, the 17-km-per-hour wind would have not only blown right through the exposed point he had unwisely camped on, but also through his wet clothing.

With no time to build a shelter, Mr. Code would have had to rely on a warming fire. Wood chips on the snow showed he had put his axe to work in fading light, collecting kindling and felling larger pieces.

Evidence suggests he did not choose his firewood well. Beside his fire clearing lay a felled maple tree that was obviously too green to burn and a charred birch log that appeared too rotten to have ignited properly. The soil was only charred to a depth of four centimetres beneath a meagre ash pile. Whatever fire had burned could not have been large enough to keep him from shivering on his bed of balsam boughs.

With no shelter, and judging by the lack of boot trails around the campsite, its likely Mr. Code left at first light Friday morning. He didnt retrace his slightly circuitous route in, but instead headed straight north, as he told Mrs. Ellis he would. Trudging through more challenging terrain, he would have generated body heat to warm himself, but would have been depleting his energy reserves at an alarming rate.

After two kilometres, Mr. Code presumably rested for a time where a thin layer of pine boughs seemed to have been compressed by body weight. There was no evidence he tried to light any of the tinder available within an arms reach. His hands had likely become frozen past the point of usefulness.

From here he would have been able to look through a few trees into a clearing to the place where he would die. The trail of footprints leading away from the spot shortly emerged from the trees, headed 40 metres into the clearing to a body-sized depression in the snow. It then took off on a perpendicular angle and stopped, finally, amid twig and bark debris below a dead black spruce. An autopsy would confirm hypothermia as the cause of death.

Staring at a map of the route, Mel Code wonders aloud why his son was so uncompromising that he refused to take emergency backup gear.

We had long talks about hypothermia in the fall. I suggested he take more gear, but Richard believed if things got difficult he could head back out.

Whether a tent would have saved Mr. Code is a question no one would be asking had he only made it another 800 metres over open ground to the trailer park at the south end of Bear Lake. The resort, which was visible from where Mr. Code started his trip, was empty and cold, but the pay phone was working.


Senior Member
Just bumping this up for those who haven't read it yet. Wayne has posted the story above so it's easier to read.