Whoop -- There it Goes: Rick Reles and the Search for Bigfoot

written by Bill Kopp

Does Bigfoot exist?

For countless generations, tales of a shaggy and ape-like character who lives in the wilderness have been a part of popular folklore. While there is not yet widely accepted proof of the existence of the subspecies known as Sasquatch, neither has every account been conclusively disproved. And a local personality (who also happens to be a recording and performing musician) has a consuming interest in the arm of cryptozoology known as Bigfoot research.

But unlike many researchers and enthusiasts, Rick Reles can tell you first-hand stories of his encounters with Bigfoot. "In 2010 I was driving across the northern part of Wisconsin with a business associate," he recalls. "Right around dusk, I saw this thing come out of the woods. It crossed in front of us and then hurdled over a fence." Reles was certain that the creature wasn't an elk or moose, as neither were common to that particular area. Moreover, "it was bipedal: on two legs," he emphasizes.

Intrigued by what he had witnessed, Reles soon returned to the scene, measuring instrument in hand. "That fence was four or five feet high," he says. That would rule out nearly all humans; the world record for a standing high jump is 5 feet 5 inches; the average human can jump a mere 16 to 20 inches. Though he hadn't given the subject much if any thought prior to this encounter, Reles was convinced he had seen the legendary Sasquatch.

"When something like that happens to you in your life, you can take a couple of paths," Reles explains. His associate dismissed it. "He said, 'Ah, it was nothing. Forget about it,'" Reles says. "I did not. I went the other way."

Fast forward 13 years. Today Rick Reles is an investigator with the BFRO (Bigfoot Field Research Organization). In fact he's one of as many as 300 investigators scattered across the nation. He and his colleagues process and investigate reports of Bigfoot sightings. Reles handles cases for Western North Carolina and its environs. The state is home to more than 111,000 acres of Federally-protected wilderness; that gives Bigfoot plenty of space to roam, largely undisturbed.

Still, reported encounters aren't exactly rare. "I pick up a couple of reports every week," Reles says. "I follow up and vet the legit ones." Locally, BFRO.net documents three sightings each in Buncombe and Henderson Counties, one each in Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania Counties. More than a dozen sightings have been documented in rural Montgomery County. Reles says that an accredited anthropologist whom he knows estimates the population of Bigfoot-type creatures in North America at around two million.

The study of Bigfoot is popular across the country, especially in the Pacific Northwest (home to many of the most celebrated encounters, including the so-called Patterson-Gilmin film from 1967). And with so much alleged Sasquatch activity in the Appalachians, Reles has found widespread and enthusiastic local interest in his own Bigfoot excursions. "We take people out in the woods, into an area that's [previously] been scouted," he says. Reles describes the demographic for these three- or four-day trips as "engineers, teachers, retired police and military. They're not thrill seekers." He says that many attendees have had encounters of their own, events that they can't explain.

Author of the Field Guide to Bigfoot Stick Structures, now in its fourth edition, Reles is an in-demand speaker/lecturer on the subject. He appears regularly as a guest on podcasts, radio shows and at Sasquatch-related events like the annual WNC Bigfoot Festival in Marion, N.C. But even though he's an acknowledged authority on Bigfoot, he doesn't claim to know too much about the mysterious biped. "Some researchers say Bigfoot is a relic hominid or an undiscovered primate," he says. "But we don't know."

In his years as an investigator, Rick Reles says that he has seen the mysterious creature(s) on many occasions. "Not a fleeting glimpse, either," he emphasizes. "I've tracked them. I've had rocks thrown at me by them. I've smelled them." He believes the creatures have their own language; a vocalization he describes as "Whoop!" is among Bigfoot's most common utterances. Recalling an encounter in Colorado, he says "it was from a distance of 90 feet; I could look it right in the eye."

A singer and guitarist as well, Reles can't help but have his interest in Bigfoot inform his original songwriting. Billing himself as Just Rick, he has released a string of singles, each exploring various sides of the Sasquatch phenomenon. The lyrics to his "Woodbooger Walk" describe Bigfoot's physical characteristics and behaviors. And -- like interest in Bigfoot -- the song's popularity keeps growing; it has become a TikTok sensation, with more than 40,000 streams.

"In this country, we dismiss [the Bigfoot phenomenon] a bit like 'little green men' and UFOs, making fun of it all," Reles says. "But people aren't satisfied with that. The curiosity for this is growing and growing."

And when you get right down to it, who's to say what's out there?

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