What appeared to be a harrowing story of survival emerged from Suisun Bay on Monday - that of a wayward rafter who spent five days stranded on a deserted island nibbling on vitamins and native plants and fashioning a crude "SOS" sign until the U.S. Coast Guard rescued him.A Schwarzeneggar mannequin?
But after returning to shore, Brian "Goat Man" Hopper added a twist to the tale. He admitted that he failed to make use of a key piece of equipment during his stay on Roe Island north of Concord: a cellular telephone.
"I was embarrassed to be stranded on an island," Hopper, a 54-year-old artist from Encino (Los Angeles County), told The Chronicle. "I thought I could fix my boat and make it to land. ... I didn't want to spend the taxpayers' money to have the Coast Guard come rescue some stupid guy."
But on Monday morning, the Coast Guard did collect Hopper on a 25-foot boat after receiving a call from one of his friends - a man Hopper had telephoned directly.
Rescuers pieced together clues from Hopper - that he could see Naval vessels and could hear reveille, a military bugle call, every morning - and determined he must be near the Concord Naval Weapons Station. The Coast Guard also worked with Hopper's cell phone provider to triangulate his signal.
After finding him waving a red flag, the Coast Guard learned that the victim had gotten stranded after an unusual adventure.
Hopper, nicknamed Goat Man for his ability to scale mountainsides, said he started out Wednesday morning on the Sacramento River, where he loaded a $300 inflatable raft with camping supplies, two burritos, a bag of vitamins, a Bible and a mannequin of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"This trip was a campaign," Hopper explained. "I wanted to bring more attention to social diseases."
On Monday morning, Hopper finally used his cell phone - to call a cousin in Northridge.
Shawn Reeves, 51, said in an interview that Hopper didn't ask him to call authorities but described his worsening situation. Reeves got a sinking feeling that his relative was in real trouble.
"I could hear it in his voice," Reeves said. "This was a guy I grew up with: If he said he was hungry and needed help, he really needed it."
Reeves said Hopper once lived in a cave in Nevada for three months, had walked through Death Valley and had made a Northern California forest his home for an entire year. "When we found him," Reeves said, "he was naked and fishing in a stream ... He's been living off the land for at least 20 years."