Kayaking trips down the Nile and the Congo. Hikes, adventures, and races through back country Alaska. Mountainside rescues in the mountains of Colorado and in the rugged expanse of Iceland. Month-long search efforts in the Costa Rican jungle... these are stories of lives saved and lives lost in some of the most unforgiving terrain around...
So, why take the time to compile articles about risk and rescue? My candid, first thought is because of the excitement, the adventure, the danger. Is this not partly why these stories are so widely told? In reading them don't we get a chance to see a world that most of us will never experience firsthand?
Yes, but we mustn't let our examination of these lives stop there. These are stories of people who have died. These are stories of the toll these deaths have on loved ones and of the toll on those who take it upon themselves to try and prevent these deaths. Beyond the glam of exotic location and the hyped personalities and feats, these are harrowing experiences. Instead of knee-jerk admiration or dismissal here, I want to reach for an acknowledgement of life in all its complexity and uncertainty...
Why do we sometimes idolize people and then repeat their mistakes?
Why do some choose to repeatedly put themselves in to danger?
Why do we choose to read stories / buy books / see movies / compile lists of articles about certain people in extreme situations while perhaps ignoring other, seemingly less 'glamorous' or less 'relate-able,' peoples' stories?
(I say this because, of the four articles that deal with individual's stories, all of these individuals can be considered white and male and likely of European ancestry... This bears examination. Again, such exclusion is perhaps on me as much as anyone else; my search for articles was admittedly rushed.)
We can learn here. We can do better on the trail, on the river, and on the page; but, only if we ask the right questions of ourselves and others.
Whose stories are we (am I) missing?
Lost in the Jungle: The Search for Cody Roman Dial
>>By: Damon Tabor; Men's Journal.
A family that thrives on adventures, and on pushing the limits of what their bodies can achieve, loses one of their own in the jungle. Cody Roman Dial, son of famous adventurer Roman Dial, disappeared in 2014 while on a trip through one of the most rugged jungles in Central America--Costa Rica's Corcovado National Park. Recently, remains thought to be Dial's have been found in the park.
"Through May and June, Cody ticked off an enviable list of adventures: diving with whale sharks in Honduras, riding a dugout canoe into the remote Mosquito Coast. In Nicaragua, he spent two weeks surfing and began researching a trip through the Darién Gap, a notoriously lawless patch of jungle between Panama and Columbia."
Hendrik Coetzee spends much of his life either guiding or on solo whitewater expeditions on some of the most dangerous rivers in Africa. Running such powerful rivers is risky in itself, but, the areas that Coetzee was moving through were also part of decades-long civil wars and home to large populations of hippopotamus and crocodiles. This article offers a look into Coetzee's life and quotes some of the paddler's own journals as it ultimately leads us through his final, fatal river journey.
"The Nile high season ran from May to August, and when it was over Coetzee would pick up and head to the next swelling river or just go on walkabout. During one break, around 2001, he stole away to Mombasa, Kenya, and began a solo trek south along the empty coast, carrying a small backpack, intending to walk 1,500 miles home to South Africa."
A celebrated wilderness and emergency first responder, Michael Ferrara, affectionately known as Mongo in his Aspen, CO home, opens up about his struggles with PTSD. Here we get a look into Ferrara's experiences--the adventurous, the horrific, and the mental consequences that come from being the one that constantly tries to save others from the teeth of tragedy.
"In all his years of training, no one had ever impressed upon him the notion that rescuers themselves might need rescuing from the cumulative stress of their job. Like those in many ski towns, Aspen's subculture of mountain athletes and first responders is a rarefied and often hypercompetitive world that places a high premium on toughness and takes note of every stumble."
Known for its rugged beauty, Iceland is also home to a network of citizen-first-responders who have a penchant for rescue and large vehicles. The article follows one team during a posting in Iceland's Landmannalauger region and gives some perspective on the necessity of such a citizen-powered rescue service.
"The news among the rescuers I met my first day was of two ill-equiped Czech climbers who'd got stuck on a cliff the previous night while descending Mt. Esja, near the capital. To spend time in the company of a rescue crew is to see the country as a grid of horrible accidents and comical false alarms. Life is rescues."
Perhaps the most (in)famous contemporary story of risk and the wilderness is that of Chris McCandless. Here, Saverin pays a visit to the Alaskan region where McCandless lost his life in 1992. The trail and the stranded Fairbanks City Transit bus where McCandless' body was discovered have become a destination for a large number of hikers.
"The troopers told me that 75 percent of all of the rescues they perform in the area happen on the Stampede Trail. “Obviously, there’s something that draws these people out here,” one of the troopers, who asked not to be named, told me. “It’s some kind of internal thing within them that makes them go out to that bus. I don’t know what it is. I don’t understand. What would possess a person to follow in the tracks of someone who died because he was unprepared?” "