It wasn't a trail of bread crumbs but the trail of dirt biking items Chad Cook left behind that led searchers to his rescue Wednesday afternoon in Marion County.
Authorities said the 38-year-old Signal Mountain man missing since Monday was found unharmed several miles and three days from the spot where his motorcycle broke down on Sunday.
"He was following a stream bed, which was the longest route he could've taken," Marion County Sheriff's Office Det. Gene Hargis said in a phone interview from the staging area in the Big Fork area of Signal Mountain.
"He left a trail of items all the way down the creek," Hargis said. "Every mile or so he would leave a glove, a helmet, a piece of a helmet. I don't know if he did that intentionally, but that's how we tracked him."
Searchers — who had formed seven teams Wednesday morning — tracked the items to a spot miles from his motorcycle.
"It was probably 5-7 miles through rough terrain from where the bikes were located," Hargis said. The bikes were found Monday.
Hargis said he didn't think Cook had any food with him, but he was able to get water from the stream he was following.relatedarticlethumb
When he was found, Cook was in "pretty good shape," though he was checked out at a hospital to make sure, Hargis said.
Hargis said Cook's mother, Debby Watkins, was "very happy" at the scene Wednesday waiting for her son to emerge from the woods.
Later on Wednesday, Cook's grandmother said family members were elated that their prayers had been answered.
"We're just thrilled, we're just ecstatic," Elizabeth Perrilloux said around 4 p.m. Wednesday. "We prayed for a miracle.
"He's still in the woods with the searchers getting him out. We're just waiting now," a giddy-sounding Perrilloux said.
Cook was last heard from at 2 a.m. Monday after his dirt bike broke down in a remote area on the west side of Signal Mountain, authorities said. He had been riding Sunday afternoon with a woman, a good friend, and a man who was a new dirt biking acquaintance, Watkins said.
Watkins spoke to her son around 2 a.m. Monday on his cell phone, and he told her his bike broke down sometime around 6 or 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, his cellphone battery was going dead and he was waiting for somebody to come back to find him. But nobody ever returned.
Watkins and her son have lived on Signal Mountain a little more than a year, she said Wednesday.
She said her son was unfamiliar with the area where he was riding Sunday, but he had ridden before at nearby Prentice Cooper State Forest, where roads and trails are maintained and more organized.
Cook told his mother Sunday that he didn't like the area where he broke down.
"'It's bad. There are no trails. It's just rocks and trees. I've got to get out of here,'" Watkins said her son told her as he sat alone in the dark woods on Signal Mountain.
Authorities said the trio became separated and the other man got a ride home from someone else to prepare a rescue while the woman sat down and fell asleep for a while and called Watkins when she woke up.
Watkins believes confusion and a lack of communication among officials in the three counties might have delayed the search, she said.
"They're doing a wonderful job, Marion County is, and all the searchers," Watkins said while they looked for her son, "but they need to do something about when there's an emergency on this mountain — there's three counties on it — they need a procedure for those counties to cross over to communicate."
She hopes this incident leads to improvements, she said.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.
This story was updated March 29 at 11:32 p.m. with a complete version of the story that ran in the March 30 edition of the Times Free Press.