Downtime

Bigfoot, Yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster

Why I spend hours searching for creatures that might not exist.

A young girl in glasses with Bigfoot behind her.
Animation by Slate. Photos by Studio Grand Ouest/Getty Images, Jason Merritt/Getty Images.

Rabbit Holes is a recurring series in which writers pay homage to the diversity and ingenuity of the ways we procrastinate now. To pitch your personal rabbit hole, email humaninterest@slate.com.

I must have been 6 or 7 when I first learned about Bigfoot. I was curled up in my dad’s old reclining chair, watching the most underrated Disney film of all time, A Goofy Movie. In it, Goofy is demonstrating to his son, Max, how to cast a fishing line, when he accidentally lures the bumbling apelike being to their campsite instead of a fish. As Bigfoot stumbles over, Goofy grabs his camcorder, eager to document Bigfoot’s existence. Bigfoot towers over them, and Goofy perfectly captures a frustration of many Bigfoot believers who come away from their “encounters” with nothing but shadowy, fuzzy images of the beast. “Can you back up a bit, Mr. Foot?,” Goofy says. “You’re out of focus.”

Bigfoot is hardly a main character in the film, but its larger-than-life persona stayed with me long after the credits rolled. I was deeply transfixed by this mythical creature, for its intimidating yet weirdly approachable form but also for what it represented—the possibility of the unknown, of discovery. In fact, I blame A Goofy Movie for what launched my lifelong fixation with Bigfoot and all other cryptids—creatures whose existence has yet to be proved or disproved by science.

Still of the scene with Bigfoot from A Goofy Movie.
Disney

Cryptids expanded my childhood world. Researching them was a way to escape the daily humdrum of living in an insular Connecticut city. I was a child obsessed with imaginary worlds and the mysteries that unfolded in them. My inner Nancy Drew was drawn not necessarily to solving the mystery—aka proving the existence of cryptids—but to the quest itself. Unlike mythical beasts (think: Pegasus and dragons), most cryptids seemed just real enough, given their obvious counterparts in the natural animal kingdom. There was a chance my investigations would lead somewhere, but that wasn’t the goal.

Soon after A Goofy Movie, when I was in elementary school, I maxed out my library card with books about unusual beasts. Bigfoot led to Yeti, Yeti to the Loch Ness monster, the Loch Ness monster to the Mothman, and so on. I’d jot down interesting facts about them in my Lisa Frank notebooks. Like how the Wolpertinger, a rabbitlike creature, hangs out in the forests of Bavaria, or that the earliest report of Nessie’s existence dates back to the seventh century. My Bigfoot obsession grew so large that on one Girl Scout camping trip, I wandered off in search of the strange bipedal creature. I’m sorry to say I found no footprints.

Reading eyewitness accounts and collecting blurry photographs was a way to disassociate from reality, at least a little bit. But back then, the process was cumbersome. Stacks of books littered library tables. Chicken scratch filled my notebooks, as did photos I scanned for “research purposes.” Today, my cryptid fascination has taken on a slightly more tech-savvy form. It isn’t nearly as obsessive as it was then, but it’s definitely more efficient thanks to search engines, bookmarking apps like Pocket, and Google Docs.

Whenever I’m bored (or procrastinating), I “check in” with some of my favorite cryptids on sites like Cryptozoology News. One day, there might be a Jersey Devil spotting in South Jersey. On another, a Mothman sighting in the Chicago skyline. I binge-watch shows and documentaries like Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot. I troll Reddit threads and set Google Alerts for some of my favorites: Bigfoot/Sasquatch, Nessie, Mokèlé-mbèmbé, Chupacabra, Akkorokamui, and Wolpertinger.

Last year, I was suffering from anxiety attacks that frequently kept me up until the wee hours of the morning. During one episode, in an attempt to distract myself, I started a Google Doc tracking recent news coverage. I’m a journalist by day, so it seemed natural to chart the cryptids whereabouts based on “evidence” and eyewitness accounts compiled from multiple sources. I’ve dubbed both the Doc and what it contains my “#Cryptidbits” (which also happens to be a great name for a podcast—I already bought the domain).

Lately, I’ve been especially busy following Bigfoot. Towns proclaim Bigfoot as their  “official animal,” and festivals are held in its honor. The cryptid got the Hollywood treatment with not one but two adorable films in the past year: The Son of Bigfoot and Smallfoot. Bigfoot even broke into politics thanks to one weird and confusing congressional race in Virginia.

The act of tracking cryptids soothes me. My obsession can wane at moments, but when I need a distraction, it’s right there for me, with another piece of the unsolvable puzzle buried deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, where Bigfoot is said to lurk. Also, I spend so much of my day immersed in facts that it’s refreshing to step back and contemplate the unknown. Tracking Bigfoot is a form of escapism from the dumpster fire that’s become the news.

For me, cryptids also tap into the latent wonder of my youth, when I was comfortable, even excited, about the possibility of the unknown, not anxious. Plus, having a stockpile of #cryptidbits is great first date fodder. Well, depending on your definition of “great.” If someone is too weirded out by this hobby, then, in the words of Ariana Grande, I tell them “thank u, next.”

In some ways, I’m happy we don’t know enough to confirm or deny cryptids’ existence, so that I can keep falling down this rabbit hole. Maybe that’s where the Wolpertinger has been hiding this whole time.