Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Little Better News for the Barefoot Bandit. Plus: Big Discounts for You in the Freezer Section!

Colton Harris-Moore, retired airplane pirate and future serial entrepreneur, is continuing his quest to raise the cash necessary to cryogenically preserve his dying mother, Pam Kohler. Donations so far total only $2,115, but the good news is that Colton has managed to reduce the amount needed for the procedure from $308,000 to only $230,000 by recalculating fundraising costs and obtaining a membership for her in Alcor’s frequent freezer program.

Yes, of course, that last bit’s a joke. But it’s to make the point that this whole thing is not a joke.

Alcor is a real company that along with other cryonics organizations already have more than a thousand people (some just their heads, others full-body) held in industrial tanks “frozen” into a hopefully suspended animation (the animation and re-animation are the tricky parts). And Alcor does indeed have a membership program that offers a discounted rate for treatment, and Colton tells me that Pam is now a card-carrying member.

I just got off the phone with Colton and he said how hard it is to get people to take this idea seriously. He knows it’s out there on the edge of experimental science, but he has full faith in technology advances and thinks the rest of us should too.

Colton now has such confidence and belief in cryonics that he says he’s going to form his own company when he gets out of prison. So, like the bennies early investors get in other crowdfunding plans, Colton is offering the full freeze treatment at his future cryonics company to anyone who donates at least $25 at SAVEPAMK That’s a savings of at least… well, it’s basically free compared to what established companies are charging. I think Colton may have priced this perk a little low, but maybe he plans to make it up in volume. For anyone thinking of donating, it’s about the cheapest out-there immortality insurance around, and much better than that name-a-star BS.

Part of the problem with cryonics is the image it has of a mad scientist reaching into a Frigidaire to dig out a can of Red Bull from between the frozen heads of his patients. (And if it didn’t have that image, it does now). The process, though, is a lot more involved than just tossing someone in a bait freezer. As Colton has several media interviews lined up in the coming days, I suggested he might explain a bit more about cryonics and how the bodies are actually vitrified—turned into glass—using cryoprotectants to freeze them without turning them to ice, which damages cells. But that probably doesn’t sound any less sci-fi and instead probably invokes the freeze ray scene from Rocky Horror.

So Colton has a very tough hill to climb with this effort. He knows that, but he’s still giving it his all. And regardless if this is a case of unresolved issues between them or just simply a son’s love for his mother, I respect his extraordinary effort and I’m impressed with his focus and management abilities.

I recently released an updated ebook version of The Barefoot Bandit in which I talk about how Colton and I finally connected a couple of years ago and whether the outlaw Colt that I came to know from living through his crime spree here on Orcas Island, tracking him all the way from the Pacific Northwest to the Bahamas, and doing all the research on his childhood, was very different from the Colton Harris Moore I now know as a friend. Spoiler alert: they’re not very different, other than the outlaw part. And that’s a good thing. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Colton Harris-Moore has been in custody since July 11, 2010, when Bahamian police captured him after shooting out the engines on his getaway boat during a nighttime chase. In those 69 months, Colton has seen his mother, Pam Kohler, only twice, once in a courtroom and once for a short prison visit.

It’s no secret that mother and son have had an often turbulent relationship. The dingy trailer they shared on Camano Island was the center of many wild storms while Colton was growing up. But both Pam and Colton have told me that there were also good times at their little spot amid the tall cedar and fir trees. They especially bonded over their shared love of animals and the outdoors. They raised chickens and pigs, and always had a dog for Colton to buddy around with. Pam cooked out for them on what she calls her “barbeque’r” every chance she got and took Colton camping as often as possible, teaching him the skills he’d need to survive on his own in the woods.

Despite their troubles and Pam’s personal struggles, Colton has always said he still loves his mom. His plans for as soon as he got out of prison included starting work so he could pay to level that old trailer and build Pam a little log cabin in its place.

Pam’s health hasn’t been great for a long time, and Colton became increasingly concerned about some breathing issues she had late last year. Knowing his mom isn’t the most cooperative of patients, Colton begged Pam to see a doctor, and finally resorted to bribing her with ice cream deliveries if she'd agree to the tests needed to get a diagnosis.

It wasn’t good. Colton’s mom has stage IV lung cancer—NSCLC for those who know about these things.

Those who’ve been reading Colton’s blog (Tidalsocata) know that he and I have been in frequent contact for the last 18 months. (I’ll write more about that in a later post) I’ve been very impressed by how Colton took charge of Pam’s care: arranging her transportation and new housing, and dealing with all the doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies as he sought the best treatments and therapies. He’s doing all of this while still holed up in Stafford Creek Correctional Center and limited to the exasperating prison phone and email systems. He has zero access to the internet and relies on friends to do any research he needs.

Colton’s prison term is over at the beginning of next year, but he’s eligible for a work-release program at the end of this July. On work-release, he’d overnight in a halfway house but be allowed to leave each day to go to work (he’s received multiple job offers). Colton says the best part of early release would be that he’d be better able to take care of his mom. Unfortunately, though, it looks like July will be too late.

Recently, the docs told Colton to give up, that Pam’s case is terminal. She missed her shot at a clinical trial, and now they say she and Colton should just get ready for her to pass within a couple of months.

So for those of you who know his story, what would you expect Colton to do next? Certainly not give up, even when it comes to death.

Colton is now raising money to get Pam treated at Alcor Life Extension Foundation (Alcor.org). And this is where truth meets science fiction, as Alcor specializes in cryonics: the process of vitrifying people at low temperature as soon as they die in the hopes that they can be reanimated sometime in the future.

Yes, insert Walt Disney frozen head joke here. By coincidence, though, I’ve been researching cryonics for a project I’m working on, and while definitely on the exploratory edge of medical science it’s nonetheless very intriguing. If you have faith in the continual leaps in technology we’ve seen in the last 30 years, and see how fast nanotech is advancing… then why not?

I can imagine 100 years from now an army of nanobots marching through my long-frozen skull repairing all the damage and stringing the synapses back up while my fresh new 20-year-old cloned body waits soaking in a saline bath on the other side of the lab. Or maybe it’ll take 200 years… how long won’t matter to those frozen inside the metal tubes.

So beyond the ethical questions of cryonics, beyond even the debate over its eventual viability, lies the reality of a son doing everything he can to help his mother in the hopes that at some point in the future they can revive their relationship.

Colton is raising money at this GoFundMe site: Save PamK


Monday, April 11, 2016


It occurred to me that I might want to explain the macabre change in my blog background. 

No, I haven’t gone Goth (again), and it wasn’t because we’ve just emerged from the rainiest, gloomiest Northwest winter in recorded history (a new puppy in the house tends to keep you too busy for the blues).

The original background image for Outlaws & Outcasts was simply the Wild Westiest stock wallpaper they had on blogger. I’ve always wanted to personalize it. But how? I decided, at least for the moment, to change it to an image that fits what I'm currently working on. I took the shot of the skull inside Actun Tunichil Muknal, a spectacular cave in Belize that I’ve explored multiple times over the last 16 years.

Same cave, different victim. Photo by Bob Friel
The skull belongs to a victim (or honoree, depending on your point of view) of human sacrifice. Maya priests led its owner into the cave, which they considered the entrance to Xilbalba, the “Place of Fear,” dwelling place of the Death Gods as well as the Rain God, Chac. More than a mile deep inside the cave, they carried out the ritual killing to appease the higher ups of the underworld.

Actun Tunichil Muknal was an active sacrificial site circa AD 250-900, the Maya Classic Period, with a lot of that activity in the latter years when a drought hit Central America and the Maya were desperately trying to persuade Chac to make it rain.

The skull, human sacrifice, and related Maya traditions (among many other cultures’ traditions) are related to a project I have in the works, so I felt it fitting to plaster my page with a momento mori. I hope to be able to announce something about the project here later this year.

As the skull might counsel: East, Drink, and Be Merry.