Roman Dial hoped his son would be his outdoor partner for life. But that dream ended when his son disappeared in Costa Rica’s wilderness. Dial’s new book is The Adventurer’s Son.
In July 2014, Alaska Pacific University scientist and National Geographic Explorer Roman Dial experienced every parent’s nightmare when he learned that his son, Cody, then 27, simply disappeared in a remote Costa Rican rainforest.
After two years of his frantic search, the remains appeared and accidental death was determined. In his book ‘The Son of the Adventurer’, just published, Roman travels the thorny road traveled. What were the collateral damages?
Dial is known for his skills in mountaineering, rafting and backcountry endurance racing. He shared those passions with his son, Cody Roman. Over the years, father and son embarked on exotic adventures together, once packrafting in Australia, another time venturing into Arctic Alaska.
In an email to his parents shortly before entering Corcovado National Park, in Osa, Puntarenas, in mid-July 2014, Cody wrote “I am not sure how long it will take me, but I plan to do four days in the jungle and one day to leave. I will be limited by a path to the west and the coast on the other side of the road, where it should be difficult to get lost forever.”
“It should be hard to get lost forever.” The phrase would resonate hundreds of times for the elder Roman, as he said in an interview with the ABC network, already when the disappearance of Cody was in the months and decided to, beyond every reasonable effort, to know what had happened to his son.
What this whole … process has shown me is that for 40 years I was extremely selfish in that I would go out and do risky things because it was a thrill that made me feel good, and I never really realized that when we die we’re dead and we don’t feel anything. Roman Dial
Upon entering Corcovado, Cody intended to conduct training and then make an expedition to the Darién area, “one of the most dangerous places on earth,” the remote jungle between Colombia and Panama, “plagued by guerrillas, drug traffickers, and mortal wildlife”, as he had written to his friends via email.
Finally, in 2016, a Costa Rican miner found Cody’s body in the jungle. “It was in a shallow canyon that was only about half a mile from where I’d camped multiple times looking for him,” Dial says. There was no sign of foul play.
Dial’s new book, The Adventurer’s Son, is an account of his search for Cody, as well as a reflection on the risks of extreme wilderness adventures.
An excerpt from the bestseller published by The New York Times sheds light on the extreme passion of the dead son in his risky adventures: “It was this bold nature that led him to begin training for an expedition to the Darien Gap…Like many children, he minimized the dangers to his parents, consulted with his father on the best way to obtain fresh water while writing to his friends about traveling ‘through the North American cocaine center and the world capital of murder’. As a practice for the Darién Gap, he decided to sneak into the Corcovado National Park of Costa Rica … where he was lost forever.”
On his action plan when he began looking for Cody, “I called the (U.S.) embassy and I said, ‘My son is missing,’ but I wasn’t hoping they were going to do anything. I wanted to go down there and do everything that I could. I thought it was my responsibility, not theirs.
“When I got there, I discovered that they weren’t even looking where I said he planned to go. They were pursuing this lead where somebody had seen my son, they claimed with this local drug dealer [Pata de Lora] walking on a trail outside of the park, and that just didn’t add up to me.
“My son’s been sending these emails for months about these wild adventures he’s been going on, and he’d said explicitly that he eschewed guides, and here he was with a guide on a tourist trail outside of the park? It just didn’t add up. But everybody treated me as if I was just a typical parent who didn’t really know their child,” said Dial.
In an interview highlight with NPR on agreeing to work with a former DEA investigator and TV production company that wanted to solve the mystery and do a TV show about his son’s disappearance, Dial said “There were three cameramen and bright lights … [the investigator said] Look, this is really hard to tell you, but we found out that your son was abducted by miners and then he was murdered. And then he paused. He said, ‘This is the hardest part to tell you. He was dismembered and fed to the sharks in the ocean.’ And it was all predicated on the Pata de Lora [drug dealer] story.
“I was just shocked because here I had come down and I signed up for this TV show hoping that they would be able to help me, but instead, all they had done is sort of staged this really dramatic moment … with the cameras rolling, they had this expert investigator tell me that my son had been murdered and dismembered and fed to sharks. And all I could think of is, Oh, no. Another Pata de Lora story. This is not the guy that I want.” So it felt really exploitative right there.
On learning that his son’s body had been found: “The consul general at the embassy … said, Roman, a body has been found near Dos Brazos, and we think it may be your son. There was some camping gear there. … I fly down to Costa Rica immediately. I want to get to this site before they start bringing stuff up. And the next day … the embassy sends me some texts and it’s their photographs of the equipment that they’ve found at the site. And sure enough, it’s all my son’s stuff.
“I’d made a poster of equipment that he would have had, like a reward poster. There were the green shoes that I put on the poster. And there was the sleeping pad that was yellow on one side and silver on the other. There was that in one of these photographs. And there was the backpack that I’d found that he’d bought in a North Face store in San Jose. … There was a blue headlamp that I’d given him in Anchorage. And there was the compass that I’d given him in Anchorage. And there was his stuff. And it was him.”
On what he believes happened to Roman: “[The forensic anthropologist] said, We looked at the bones and there’s no sign of trauma. There were no machete hack marks on the bones. There were no bullet fractures. … It seemed like he hadn’t been murdered. I can’t see why somebody would have murdered him in the bottom of this canyon. It looked to me like maybe a tree had fallen on him or one of the rangers said they thought that a snake had bitten him because they found a fer-de-lance [snake] down there, and fer-de-lances, they live in the same area, small area their whole life. They don’t go very far.”
After activating the alerts in the different rescue bodies in these cases, such as the Costa Rican Red Cross and the Air Surveillance Service of the Ministry of Public Security and the local press already reporting on the stray young man in Corcovado, Roman Dial made his anguish public and concern: “He should have returned ten days ago, and he always informs us. But we have not heard anything and we are worried,” said the man to Costa Rican authorities shortly before making the first of 20 trips to the country to try to find his son.
Twenty trips in a period of almost two years in which the desperate dad became increasingly obsessed, kept track of different versions of locals who claimed to have seen a young man with the characteristics of Cory in a calamitous, wandering state. Others said they had seen him join a guide that others described as a supposed criminal.
Roman came and went, sometimes accompanied by a former DEA agent, because having not found a clue of the young man for months and months, Roman tried to mount his own search.
“In Costa Rica there is no crime without a body. I have spent a year and a half looking through the Osa Peninsula. I’m tired, exhausted (…) I don’t want to go there again, but I will. Because without our presence, it seems that nothing happens. I went there first to find him alive, lost or injured. Later, I find out what happened. Now I want justice,” wrote the Roman in his blog The Roaming Dials.
In the end, his search was reviewed by a documentary series by NatGeo, Missing Dial, which documented the lines of research that Roman and the ex-agent had followed with interviews of the locals. The documentary practically concluded that Cody’s disappearance had been at the hands of criminals.
But then, in an unusual grimace of fate, on May 20, 2016, just two days before the NatGeo documentary premiered, park rangers found what would be Cody’s human remains and personal objects 75 meters from the quebrada Doctor, in the near the cerro Negrito. The site is about three hours walk from the community of Dos Brazos del Río Tigre, in Puerto Jiménez de Golfito.
Roman and his wife Peggy, traveled to Costa Rica in the middle of a tremendous emotional maelstrom, finally relieved after being able to close their son’s story and publicly thanked the authorities and the people of Costa Rica for their help and support throughout the process “Losing a child can be the worst thing that can happen to one. I’d rather have died before losing my son. I thank all Costa Ricans,” said Dial.
With the fate of Cody now known, the airing of the NatGeo documentary – with the homicide hypothesis – generated great reaction in social networks by national viewers, who complained at the time of the great irresponsibility of National Geographic for the damages caused to the image of Costa Rica and the residents of Corcovado.
There were also those who understood the father’s despair, but stressed that the young man had entered the dense jungle on his own, without complying with the safety recommendations that all visitors to the park should follow.
The result is the bestseller, a book that contains 50 black and white photographs and a stark-and detailed-account of what happened during the almost two years of uncertainty, without knowing what had happened to “the one I have loved the most,” as he refers to his firstborn.
In his story, Dial travels between the joy of happy memories, pride in Cody’s fierce adventurous spirit and a kind of reflection / self-expiration for, perhaps, just perhaps, having let his son go too far in his eagerness adventurous.