So far, all it has yielded is dead ends.
Mike always had a big sense of adventure.
He was an athlete, drawn to soccer and then mountain biking, hiking, in-line skating and especially skiing.
"He called himself an adrenaline junkie," Margaret says. "He loved to hike up mountains and ski in remote places."
Mike once wrote of his love of "making tracks where no other man has ever made tracks before."
"He was always kind of pushing the envelope," says Shepard DeLong, who met Mike at Sunset High School.
But Mike got more than just a thrill in high places, Shepard says. "He felt like he gained meaning, breathing cold mountain
air and finding magic in the snow piling up, and the beauty of mountain settings."
After graduation in 1997 Mike and Shepard moved to Utah, where they worked at resorts and skied for the next
few years. Then Mike broke his leg and returned to Portland. After it healed, he lived in Ashland, then moved to
Bellingham, near Mount Baker.
But Mike had trouble settling any place for long. Maybe that's why he was drawn to books about wanderers. "I gave
him a copy of 'Desolation Angels,' by Jack Kerouac, about a year before he left," says Nathan Javens, another
friend since high school. "He totally got into the Kerouac phase."
Kerouac wrote about the romance of being on the road. But nobody expected Mike to just take off. In fact, he'd returned
to Portland in the spring of 2003 to learn to operate heavy construction machinery. Margaret and Mike's dad, David,
who'd just moved to Vancouver, took out a loan to pay Mike's tuition. Mike was living with his aunt, uncle and
grandfather in Portland.
"He was having some very bad problems," says Elaine Tanzer, Mike's aunt. "He was wound up to the point
he couldn't sleep. . . . We'd asked him to see a counselor, and he had."
Margaret also had grown concerned about Mike. "We started noticing some paranoia. He thought someone was vandalizing
his car at school. We'd look and look, and we couldn't see it."
Mike's friends think he was just sliding into isolation. "The longer he lived alone, he seemed to become more detached
from society," Nathan says.
But there was an edge to his isolation. The happy-go-lucky kid had turned into a young man becoming frustrated with
what he saw as society's hypocrisy.
"A kind of bitterness was creeping in," Shepard says. "Mike couldn't take what he saw as the cruelty of
the world," Elaine says.
When it finally hit Margaret that Mike was gone, she went to her computer.
Using materials Mike had left with her, Margaret tracked his bank account activity. He'd withdrawn his savings and cashed
in stock his grandfather had given him. After selling his car in Bellingham he'd taken a ferry to Alaska, flown to Cancun
and made his way to Belize.
And then Mike's grandfather received a package from Guatemala. In it were letters to all Mike's family members. Goodbye
"If I must depart this world so soon," he wrote David and Margaret, "I would like to leave something in its place.
Here is a collection of thoughts, feelings, adventure of the last month of my life."
Mike's dad immediately flew to Guatemala; he found no trail. In ensuing months there were more trips south. Then
David placed a large ad in a Guatemalan newspaper.
"There was a huge amount of response," Elaine says. "People said they'd seen Michael in Guatemala City in a marketplace,
begging and acting bizarre. A sighting had come in that very day."
Elaine, her husband and David flew to Guatemala City and began combing the market area. "We kept walking around,
looking, looking, looking," Elaine says. "There was this incredibly intense feeling of, 'I know he's here and I'm going
to find him.' "
At night they went to parks where homeless people slept, looking for Mike. By day they walked streets, enlisting
the aid of police and drug addicts.
And then one day Elaine saw a tall, red-haired American begging on the street. "It wasn't Mike," Margaret says. "It
was some other mother's son."
That was a year ago. Last December someone e-mailed saying he'd seen Mike in Costa Rica. It was another dead end.
Since then clues have become more scarce and less tangible. A few months ago someone left a message on Margaret's
Web site. "Mikey not dead," it said. "Mikey just disappeared." Did Mike leave the message?
Nathan has a hard time believing Mike would kill himself. "He had such a love of life," he says. "He enjoyed adventure
. . . and the spiritual journey he was on. I don't know if that means it had to end tragically."
Shepard is not as sure. "I don't worry about him because I know he is either dead -- and that doesn't worry
me, because I know it's a nice place on the other side -- and if he's not, then he's exactly where he wants to be."
But it's harder for Mike's family to live with uncertainty. "I want Michael to know how much we love him," Elaine
says. "He is, with his brother, the center of the family."
Margaret tries hard to hold on to hope. "Maybe it's denial, but I just have a sense he's still around." Still, she
says, "I don't want to be living this."
Margie Boule: 503-221-8450; email@example.com