When Donn Fendler speaks, people come to listen. As was the case Tuesday night at the Gray Public Library, when author and adventurer Donn Fendler of “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” fame, spoke to multiple generations of fans about his story. When Donn was 12 he got separated from his family while hiking on Katahdin and spent nine days in the wild on his own.
“It’s affected so many people in the State of Maine,” Donn told the crowd of 75 on Tuesday. “I was just a dumb kid who got lost and got lucky and came out alive.”
Now at the age of 89, next month, Donn travels to schools, libraries and other venues to talk about his experience, hoping to help hikers of today not make the same mistakes he made.
The book “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” became a book read in most fourth grade classes throughout Maine. Recently Donn with Lynn Plourde released “Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness” a graphic novel about the events and what happened before and after he was lost.
“I’ve never seen so many multi-generational people at a library event,” said Gray Public Library director Josh Tiffany, MLIS said. Both books were sold at the event by Letterpress Books.
He doesn’t get tired of his fame “not for one single second,” he said. In the winter, he answers letters with handwritten letter to anyone who writes to him. When people ask him how he survived he tells them three things. 1. “I’m not overly religious, but faith and God and prayers worked because I’m standing here.” 2. Boy Scout training. “It taught me to calm down as best you could and try to find your way out of the mess you got yourself in.” 3. “How tough you ladies and guys are. I had the will to live. I never thought about dying.”
“You’ve got to know Maine people. Stubborn, self-reliant and outdoor lovers,” he said.
During the presentation he spoke about the clothing he wore to climb the mountain. Sneakers, no socks, jeans, underwear, sweatshirt and jackets, his sneakers were the first to go and he spent eight days barefoot on an old tote road. When he was found, his feet were cut to the bone in places and he only had his jacket, a shirt and a gunny sack he had found in the woods, which he used to sleep in to keep the mosquitoes from biting him.
He described himself as “never much of an eater of food.” He ate one cup of strawberries while out there and lost 16 to 18 pounds over the nine days.
He had some injuries after the journey, but nothing life threatening and he figured that that was because he was in the water so much.
Donn chose to follow the river to civilization, a tip he learned in the Boy Scouts. The only wildlife he encountered was deer and two black bears. “That was the scariest part of my life,” said the military veteran. “I said a few prayers of thanks there.”
He doesn’t remember the exact route he took or the days when things happened because he was passing out quite frequently.
On the last day, he was following what he found out after was the East Branch of the Penobscot River, he saw two cabins and was rescued.
“I’m crying because I’m so darn happy,” said Donn during a 1939 video that was taken of his rescue and of when he was reunited with his mother. He estimated that he covered between 40 and 50 miles over the nine days.
He said he has never had flashbacks or dreams about that time.
He has been back to Katahdin and back to the cabin he was taken to once he was found, however he got a bit lost getting there. When he stopped for directions the man asked, “Are you the little boy who got lost on the mountain?”
When Donn answered “yes”, the man said, “You’re still lost.”