GRAFTON, Mass. — Timothy R. Rick had planned to take only a short hike in the woods to "clear his head." That walk stretched into 10 days, prompting a wide-scale search and rescue effort at Upton State Forest.
Rick, 25, was found Sunday afternoon. He was not in the woods but at a coffee shop in Upton, safe, sound and a few pounds lighter.
"I needed time to think,” he said in a telephone interview Monday morning. “I went for a short walk, which turned into a few days.”
Actually, it was 10 days. He spent his time hiking, sleeping in a rock shelter and eating sparsely during his time in the 2,660-acre Upton State Forest. In the first three days, he ate one meal at the local Dunkin' Donuts before returning to seclusion.
This, however, was not the first time Rick has disappeared without a trace. In 2008, after three days missing, he was found camping at nearby Dean Pond.
Both episodes were driven by similar motivations — he simply needed to "clear his head," Rick said.
He started his sojourn Aug. 30 at 11 p.m. after a friend dropped him off at his Grafton home, which he and his father rent on the Ridge Valley Stables property off Upton Street.
On Sept. 6, Grafton Police issued a bulletin asking residents for help in finding Rick. The Environmental Police and the State Police Air Wing had already begun a hunt with ATVs and helicopters.
But he was nowhere to be found. For a majority of his hike he had perfect weather, predominantly warm and dry. When it did rain, the rock shelter was his home. “I stayed pretty dry,” he said. “And I wasn’t too cold.”
For the first three days, he didn’t eat. He said he wasn’t hungry. On Tuesday Sept. 4, he hiked to the local Dunkin' Donuts, then returned back to the woods.
Although Rick doesn’t have any formal survivalist training, he said he has a natural aptitude for it. And the forest, he said, has very few dangers. “There aren’t too many bears ... and coyotes don’t attack humans," he said. "Other than mosquitoes, it wasn't too bad at all.”
Rick said he has been in the forest dozens of times and knows the area “like the back of my hand.”
But he admitted he left for an extended period of time because he needed a break from family matters and to reflect on his life and career. In 2006 and 2007, Rick was enrolled at UMass Boston, majoring in biology. He dropped out after three semesters but never told his family.
Last week, while in the woods, he heard the ATVs and helicopters and wondered whether there was a hunt for him. After he had been missing for more than a week, some were worried whether he was still alive. Today, Rick is grateful to those who were searching for him.
“I’d like to thank them for their concern,” he said. “I’m sorry if I caused any worries.”
On Sunday afternoon, Rick emerged from the forest for the last time, recognized by an eyewitness at Dunkin' Donuts, then met with Upton police as he entered the Honey Farms convenience store. “They were amazed I was able to live in the woods for over a week,” he said.
Rick said he learned a lot about himself in that period of time, an unintended echo of Henry David Thoreau‘s stay at Walden Pond. He plans on starting fresh, returning to UMass and finally earning his biology degree.