As a Patricia Gillespie-directed documentary living up to its title in every way conceivable, HBO Max’s ‘They Called Him Mostly Harmless’ can only be described as baffling and intriguing. That’s because it delves deep into the 2018 case wherein a hiker found dead in the Florida wilderness was not identified for over two years despite the best efforts of officials and sleuths alike. The truth is many fellow outdoor enthusiasts who’d traversed the Appalachian Trail shortly before did recall meeting this solo traveler, yet none could help since he went by just his trail name.
Vance Rodriguez Was Mostly Harmless
It was on July 23, 2018, when Vance John Rodriguez’s malnourished yet otherwise unharmed body was located in his tent in Big Cypress National Preserve, just a few miles from a highway. He had no identity card, phone, or wallet near him, which is why authorities initially thought he was a local who’d accidentally died during a relatively short trek and would be recognized shortly. Little did they know they were completely wrong; not only could his cause of death not be determined, but he was a Louisiana native who’d started his journey from New York around April 2017.
Vance had actually met several people along the way, with whom he clicked pictures, opened up regarding small details, and shared deep conversations, but he never gave his real name. According to these fellow hikers’ tip calls to the police, his pack was quite heavy, he preferred ketchup over his sticky buns, claimed to hail from Bat on Rouge with an abusive father, and was recently single. Moreover, plus more importantly, almost all of them asserted he always introduced himself as just Mostly Harmless, as if he was hesitant to reveal anything significant in an attempt to stay off grid.
However, no one thought twice about it because it isn’t unusual for hikers to go by a moniker, which is usually given to them by someone else in the community over a trail incident or a trait. In this case, it was assumed to be the former at first — many believed he got his after walking into a campsite one evening and getting invited to join a group near the fire “as long as he didn’t bite,” only for him to respond with he’s “mostly harmless.” Yet he chose it himself, along with some of his other aliases — from what we can tell, he was also known as Ben Bilemy, Denim, as well as Vaejor.
According to reports, Vance had allegedly handpicked Ben Bilemy for himself at random since hiker hotels near massive trails require individuals to sign in using full names, and he still wanted to remain utterly anonymous. Then there’s Denim, a title he’d allegedly earned for starting his expedition in jeans like a true novice — he’d made it clear to those he met in spring 2017 that he was new to hiking by wearing denim jeans, which are uncomfortable and impractical in such situations.
Last but not least, there’s this hiker’s username Vaejor on a programming video game called Screeps, which is honestly nothing but a combination of his full name — Vance John Rodriguez. This particular handle actually came to light after the former IT technician was already identified with the help of former co-workers in December 2020, following which it was surprisingly confirmed he’d picked Mostly Harmless for himself.
Vance had penned “I’m mostly harmless (for now)” on Screeps’ Slack in January 2017, months before he’d set out for the Appalachian Trail. Plus, there’s a book called ‘Mostly Harmless’ in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ novel series. So, as per the documentary, it’s possible he may have simply read the book, liked it, and recognized this title is a great phrase considering his situation — it’s alleged he was extremely abusive towards at least three women in his life before he chose to step away into nature.