Jarod Houskeeper is lucky that local hiker Frank Szczepanski doesn't always stick to the trail.
Houskeeper decided to take a walk and left his Payson-area home on Wednesday, April 14. Eight days later, he was found by Szczepanski, battered and beaten by the elements.
"My parents are used to me wandering off, but eight days is a little much," said Houskeeper, 18.
His parents heartily agreed. They were relieved to have him home last Thursday and in basically good health. His parents thought he had hitchhiked to a friend's home in Utah. They had no idea he was so close and yet so far from home.
"He just got up and walked out the door and he never came back," said Houskeeper's mother, Linda. "I don't think he had a plan when he walked out the door."
Houskeeper walked past Ox Bow Estates that Wednesday. When he turned for home he got lost, he said.
Not sure where the road was anymore, Houskeeper opted to stay near water.
During his eight days, Houskeeper said, he ate cattail stalks and drank stream water.
Szczepanski stumbled across Houskeeper near a stream under Table Mountain, about five miles west of Ox Bow Estates. Too weak to walk, Houskeeper was scratched and sunburnt and in need of food, but in surprisingly good condition.
Houskeeper was wearing only his boxer shorts. Gone were his jeans, socks and shoes. In his weakened condition, he weighed less than 100 pounds. Szczepanski carried the boy on his back for more than a mile before encountering a cowboy -- and this reporter -- in search of wayward cows.
"We are always looking for strays and by golly, we found one today," rancher Keith Sievert said. The riders packed Houskeeper on a horse and traveled another 2 1/2 miles toward Ox Bow Estates.
The cross country route became too steep to safely carry the weakened Houskeeper by horseback, so Szczepanski packed Houskeeper on his back another two miles to his truck.
Once in town, Szczepanski sought medical attention for Houskeeper and reunited him with his family.
"I'm just thankful someone was up there to find him," his mother said.