August 7, 2012 |
My earliest fond memory of being trapped in our Idaho basement and constructing a ladder of chairs to escape through the clothes hamper was a rebirth to adventure. I read Bomba the Jungle Boy, Tarzan and graduated to the non-fiction Kon-Tiki and Endurance before taking a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine. This education of an adventurer and self-treatment for wounds in the jungles, mountains, deserts, skid roads and oceans of 100+ countries beneath a backpack full of dreams with a few nightmares led to multiple survivals.
The nearer to death is not always the better story, yet the survival techniques offer broadening principles for everyday life. Here are my Top 10 adventures with a death element and how I lived to tell them.
1. Lost in the Amazon
The jungle is the most inhospitable region on earth with the Amazon rainforest the largest and most remote. I had thought to make the jungle my friend by first interviewing at Aires Burger in Iquitos, Peru veteran guide Juan Maldenado who instructed not to eat before a rainstorm or you´ll get hypothermia, and if lost to follow the small tributaries to larger rivers that will flow to civilization. Then I hired Carlos Grande, a pot-bellied guide who on the eleventh day of a 21-day expedition from the headwaters of the Amazon abandoned me in the chlorophyll.
Everything is green when you´re lost in the Amazon. Carlos Grande left me in a Mayoruna Indian hut on stilts over the Rio Javari because of rumored cocaine narcoterrorist flanks on our overland trek. The Mayoruna, called Cat People for whisker tattoos sprouting from beneath the noses to ears, are a scattered population of about 2000 in the most inaccessible areas. The farther from civilization the quicker the tribesmen appear to drink blood, the naked children touch never having seen white skin, bare breasted women grin shyly, and pink dolphins with reputed ESP jump in the rivers.
As if in silent alarm the village suddenly empties to the river bank, and a fierce faced chief thrusts a paddle out one hand, an outstretched palm the other, and because of a dialect barrier nods at a 6´ child´s canoe down the muddy shore. The rest of the thirty adult villagers bob up and down behind him holding machetes overhead. Thrown into confusion I try the magic of biting off my thumb and swallowing it that draws giggles from children but the chief wiggles his whiskers shaking the oar in my face. So, I dance a jig in a circle like Richard Chamberlain in Shogan to convince him I am too silly to cast off, but he looks sternly past my ears.
Not crazy, I dig in a pocket and hand over the equivalent of $6 for the broken oar and canoe, step in and shove off… in a child´s canoe on an unknown river with no destination other than the courage of early explorer Percy Fawcett and Maldenado´s advice to follow the small rivers to larger ones to civilization.
Day one: No food, sunburnt, plate sized colorful butterflies, water sipped from the river induces fever, a green snake off the bow, more pink dolphins, mosquitoes at dusk, howler monkeys in the trees, and drifting under starlight. Day two: The canoe centerline is one foot and with the least teeter water pours over the lip. I must urinate where I sit, but defecation is out of the question from an empty bowel. Day three: Lost on an oxbow, I rudder into a stick dock and fall overboard into the helping arms of an old gent with fading tattoo whiskers who shares his yucca. Day four: A motorized pecapeca canoe sides mine and takes the child´s in trade for a half-day´s passage to the Brazil border. At the border two barefoot teen soldiers in tattered fatigues wade out bearing down with AK-47s and raised sights on my three-week beard, ripped clothes, sunburned skin hanging with leeches, and enormously swollen feet.
I don´t have the Spanish to tell them, ´My philosophy is when you think things can't get any worse, it will, so stop griping and deal with it.´ ´Venga!´ they order, ushering me up the bank to the commandant saying that only narcoterrorists look like Indiana Jones on a bad day.
´Welcome to Colonia Angamos on the Yavari River,´ greets the Colonel pumping my raw paddle palm. We hunker on wood crates in his thatch roof, dirt floor office and are joined by the non-military town chief. They politely ask me to prove that I am not hustling cocaine from Peru to Brazil, and satisfied after a ten minute explanation of the abandonment order me carted on the two barefoot soldier´s shoulders to the town hospital where a nurse injects tetracycline and morphine. I fall onto a clean sheet in a provided bed of a thatched hut with chickens and hogs rooting beneath, rats skittering the walls, cats on deck, and parrots flitting in the air. For two, three, I don't remember how many days I drift in and out this surrealism until jolted upright by a powerful thwak-thwak over the roof. A youth helps me stagger across a swinging bridge onto a grassy military airfield where a General is stepping out a chopper.
´Sir, I address him in Spanish. Do you speak English?.´
The kindly man who looks like Walter Cronkite replies, ´Yes, but Spanish is better.´
´I am sick.´
´I can see that.´
´Can you medevac me to Iquitos?´
´We shall see,´
In three hours after meetings with the commandant and officers, the General returns and helps me by the elbow into the copter. It rises into a checkerboard of sunshine and clouds and two hours later drops me at the Iquitos military airport.
´What do I owe, General?´ I ask hopping out and feeling better.
´Your good health!´ he laughs, and the chopper takes off into the sun.
2. Bear Attack!
My little encounter occurs five years ago at a New Mexico mountain streamside. Hiking along the river, suddenly a black blur bursts out the bushes and I know in an instant it can make two moves for every one of mine, that one throws everything out he has read unless he has mentally or physically rehearsed it, and that I had better hurry up and react. The 350lb black bear looks up at me as it has been tracking, sands on it hind legs eight feet away and peers into my eyes. The afternoon sun glistens beautifully on its fur like a lover. She is a foot shorter than me, so I raise my hands to the height of my earlobes. The bear raises its paws to the same. Then I raise my hands six inches higher with the elbows crooked, and the bear stretches its paws overhead as high as it can to equal mine. I shoot my hands straight up in the air to make myself appear taller or in surrender- let her decide- and the bear drops to the ground, dashes to a nearby pine, and leaps up scratching marks in the bark that I would have to stand on tiptoes to reach. Then she drops, gives me a bear grin, and scampers into the bush. A peak experience at 3500´.
The first freight I caught was in a VW van on the cowcatcher of a 25mph locomotive that scooped and carried me 300 yards down the track on the cowcatcher. The brakes scream and my life including these survivals passes before my eyes glued out the tilted window at the advancing rail. My hands grasp the bent steering wheel as the VW crushed in a V slides slowly down the catcher toward the sparking wheels as the locomotive decelerates to a stop. I escape out the window with sprained thumbs, and the vow to live life full tilt.
4. Tin Leg
I gaze down the long barrel of a .45 leveled at my chest.´You have the wrong man.´
´You may not be the guy I'm lookin' for, but you're close enough.´
The old codger on the Los Angeles sidewalk takes a step up and spews cheap wine breath, ´I was a bank robber. Red and me was the best east of the Mississippi.´.
The pistol sight hangs a yard from my heart, just out of reach. I follow it to the hand, and into the deep sorrowful eyes of the beholder. ´Did I tell you I was a bank robber? Me and red was the best west of the Mississippi.´
Passersby weave about like current around stumps, and it´s the first time I´ve been the center of attention of bystander apathy.
´Tell me more,´ urging him to get it out.
´Well?´ he demands, expecting an answer.
´I still say you have the wrong man.´
´Son, my gun is still a-pointin' at you.´
My mind races for words. The right ones can save me; the wrong ones end in a puff of smoke.
He doesn't appear drunk. We've never met. This is real. I was just a regular citizen strolling a sidewalk a minute ago. More passersby flow around us. He is too alert to sidestep.
´You handle that gun like you know how to use it, I'll make no bones about it. Nothing to fear from me, Mister. Say where did you get your gun skill? ´
´You're damn right. Where? I was squeezin´ trigger in Shy Town (Chicago) before you were at mamma's nipple. Red and me knocked 'em down from Memphis to San Francisco and a lot of spots between."
´Better believe it, sweet Jesus! It was a fine life until one caper on the getaway I didn't outrun a bullet."
´That's right, son. Slowed me down and put an end to my career. Life ain't been so good since.´
His eyes lower and mine water. Now he drops the end of the pistol, lets it fall to his side and suddenly raps smartly the barrel on his right leg. A metallic THWANG sends the foot traffic in a wide arc. As quickly the big .45 swings up to my breast.
´Tin, young man.´
´Don't doze off on me, fella. You say you ain't the one that shot me and I say you are. Why'd you come back for more?´
´You are a patient man, Mister. Anyone can tell you that. So tell me about the old days when the gun was necessary.´
´I'm ancient but I ain't no fool. Why I oughta …´
A gravel voice booms behind me. I fear to turn that it will be my last because when a man with a tin leg and long barrel orders me stay still, I listen.
´Nick! old friend. The voice roars. Put that pea-shooter away. ´You know how thick the heat is around here. Put the gun in your pocket,´ he commands. Could this be Red? Suddenly there is no chance to find out because I´m shoved between the shoulder blades past the gunman and down the sidewalk.
´Aw, all right, just for you,´ sniffs the old man behind me. ´I'm just old. Did I ever tell you about when Red and me were the best bank robbers between Mexico and Canada?"
´A dozen times if you told me once, but tell me again.´
THWANG I lose the rest of their conversation in a metallic ring that reverberates in my ears to this day.
5. Florida Trail
The Florida Trail stretches 500 miles the length of the state from the Everglades to Georgia border. It begins near Alligator Alley that traverses the everglades east-west where motorists currently pay a $3.00 toll for game wardens to remove or sheriffs to shoot up to 13´ gators from State Road 84. I crawl via a gator path under a tremendous 10´ chain link fence built to contain the reptiles, look up and down the road at a couple five-footers sunning on the asphalt, and climb the fence on the other side.My romance with the Alley began years earlier with the mysterious arrival of a package addressed to Philmore Hare, my 7´stuffed rabbit who rode shotgun next to me in a ´74 Chevy van waving down via an invisible fish line attached to its hand passersby in a search for intellectuality. The return address was Linda Smith in Orlando, and the package opened to a sprig of hand-sewn stuffed carrots and a note, ´I read about your owner in Sports Illustrated ( Nov. 19, 1979), and as the Sea World seal handler would like to train him to bark. If interested, meet me at midnight at mile marker #99 of Alligator Alley on New Year´s eve.´ I met and fell in lust with Linda and then her Everglades, and long after an owl came into her camp I returned to near the marker in a sort of memorial hike to her.
The trail proves more dangerous as the days progress to weeks and then after a month´s march north along an unmarked footpath with a sketchy guidebook on the day before reaching the George line I step into a bog that oozes like dark mashed potatoes with no plate. The conventional method to extract from a soft spot is to fall forward into a crawl and swim out, however my boots are entwined below in vines or roots and the pull of the pack straps prevents it. Next the manuals advise scream ´HEEEELP!´ but I haven´t seen anyone ever on trail, and instead while sinking to my navel scan about and think it queer to be missing the lower body half. The vicissitudes of the past month flash before my tearing eyes…
Sleeping with tarantulas in trees above snapping turtles, stepping over 5´ Cottonmouths, monkeying over log bridges, getting shot at by deer hunters, hiking a 20´ wide two-mile levee of a gauntlet of hundreds of alligators 30´away and up to 13 feet long that can sprint faster than a racehorse, hungry and lost dozens of times, and a water experiment designed after John Muir who fell ill with ´swamp fever´ in Florida on a walk down from Ohio…
Unable to afford a water filter, I tested each source with a series of pint plastic bottles from rivers to saw grass marshes by sipping mouthfuls, rolling each around my tongue, drinking a pint from any savory source, and thirty minutes later taking my body temperature with an oral thermometer and recording them in a Francis Galtonian chart. Normal temp is 98.6F, and over the course of a month the generalities proved that flowing streams and saw grass swamps were clean and without a fever; large lakes brought about a degree increase to 99.5F that I easily continue hiking; stagnant ponds or standing water raised to 101F for which I had to stop to let a gutache or headache pass, and only once at 102F did I pass out for a few hours. Fever isn't a disease but a fighting style, so by the time I sink in the bog on the last day there is probably immunity to everything in it but death.
It is inglorious that after enduring a hundred water tests that I would drown in this bayou. I kick the bottomless mire, give up, shake hands with the phantom of Philmore, sink to the chest, kiss the spirit of Linda goodbye, and open wide for the last gag.
The descent stops, and I look about. Empty water bottles strapped to the outside of the pack are acting as ballast to keep me afloat. With them I´m able to breaststroke to shore and crawl out caked with muck and Spanish moss. A swamp monster appears lost and shambling along a fence line for some hours until the crack of a whip like Rawhide and ´He Haa!´ breaks the air, with the sound of advancing hoof beats. A burly cowboy in a white hat on a black stallion waving a whip above his head gallops along the fence and hard reins the horse that rears pawing the sky like Silver missing my chin by scant inches.
´Mister, I just walked 500 miles and crawled out of a bog or I´d give you a hug.´
´Bud, grouses the cowboy, I smelt you comin´ through the heifers a half-mile back. Follow the horse´s tail to my ranch and we´ll fix you up.´ After a warm meal and bed, the next morning I leave with springs in my feet for the Georgia line thinking anything else will be anticlimactic.
The drone of autos sounds along State Road 301 that parallels Alligator Alley 500 walking miles over my shoulder. A battered Ford sways onto the shoulder and a white gloved thumb jerks me into the back seat, I slam the door, and the driver turns around to show a white beard and red stocking cap. ´Merry Christmas!´ yells the driver swinging the wheeled sleigh onto the road and I Ho Ho Ho into the next county.
6. Dollar an Inch of Skin
I draw an assignment to seed capitalism around the globe. One of the early stops is Caracas, Venezuela where an applecart salesman who is writing an English teaching manual is to be handed $2000. My capitalist benefactor will take a receipt for 15% off the annual gross, and then it´s on to the next stop like the 1950´s TV series ´The Millionaire´ appearing on peoples´ doorsteps in surprise. I pause first in Caracas for a meal."May I change twenty American dollars if I eat?" I ask in Spanish.
The dish steams in my face in three minutes. The café is elongated like a French fry with a dozen tables and a tiny bar; just a place to get a meal before the next stop. There are two occupied tables, a husband-wife pair at dessert and two males drinking tall beers with their meals. I study the drinking men with their backs to me. Clean ebony skin, cropped hair, pressed shirts, and grace in bearing the bottles to their mouth. Inexplicably, one built like a cheetah raises the beer in salute. I nod, and at first bite see his dark face blush. Francis Galton observed in Africa that this betrays shame rather than embarrassment. The waiter clears the table, I order another plate and pay with an American Jackson, and in five minutes she returns with Venezuelan Bolivars change and the piping hot plate. The waitress leaves, the two drinkers exit, the cashier disappears, the cook is unseen, the floor sweep locks herself in the bathroom, and the married couple rises for the door.
The cheetah and his partner brush in past them with raised machetes. The split to stand to either side of the chair, the table's in front, and my back to the wall.
"Tranquillo," orders the cheetah jabbing me in the ribs with the machete point just hard enough to hurt. He holds the knife low and expertly. The blade is fourteen inches long, plus another six in the wood handle. The other knifeman hold his lower and stabs my thigh.
´Su dinero!!´ (Give us your money!)
´I spent it all.´ Everything in Spanish.
Jab. Jab. They double team me with the knives, one below the left floating rib and the other on the right thigh, bruising but not breaking the skin. If I move I´ll impale myself.
I try to stay way ahead of these bad guys. The first step is to secret stashes around the body with the idea of sequentially losing only one or two. The most obvious spot to a thug is a money pouch around the waist or neck, where I now carry a thick wad of small bills to raise the saliva of a hooligan. I struggle to pull my neck pouch but a sharp blow by the knife point in the ribs knocks the wind out of me. There´s another wad in my back pocket, I beg them to let me pull it and throw over their heads to greedily claw the green shower allowing an escape, but a sharp stab below the pocket prevents it. The cheetah slashes the neck pouch, and the other slices the pocket and the monies fall into their hands. Now all that´s left is the big store, the seed capital for all of South America, sewn inside my right pant calf. Inadvertently one of the jabs hits the thick pouch of hundreds. The knife slices out the secret pocket, they take the three purses, and flee.
´Silencio!´ the cheetah barks at the front door, and then they're gone. On cue, the sweep girl emerges from the bathroom and shakes her head sympathetically, the cook starts banging pots, and the waitress asks if I want another dish on the house. I'm cleaned out but alive with a full stomach and this is no place to linger. Today I bucked odds without spilling blood, learned about myself and, at the price of a dollar a square inch of skin, walk out on lighter feet.
7. Silverback Gorilla
The 500-pound mountain Silverback Gorilla stands five paces away drumming his chest. The arms can bench press 1000lb. and bend the 2¨ tempered steel bar. Yet the thin Rwandan guide behind me whispers, ´He will charge only if you are afraid.´
The male at 5´ 11¨ is big for the largest gorillas in the world. A harem of four females half his weight gather leaves behind him for the nest. He gazes at the four European girls behind me, and then locks my eyes. It´s taboo for wild animals to stare down but he must defend his honor. There is no need as I would trade my group for his for the education. You don't have to call them. You don't have to send them flowers…
He displaces, grabbing limbs and breaking them, racing up a 15-meter palm in two seconds and raining coconuts down on everyone, and then returns to the ground and stands chin to chin with me at the same distance.
´Bo, he likes you!' giggles a French girl behind me. The gorilla´s face twists in amusement. His shaggy neck is a stump and erect penis shorter than mine.
He beat his chest, and I open my shirt and do the same lightly. The girls and guide back off in my peripheral vision. It´s a respectful stare down of one man and one beast, and today there is no winner because the gorilla glances away bored.
The brute edges forward; It´s a bluff. He climbs a tree like a ballerina and roosts in a crotch twenty meters high in the last stronghold of the remaining 1800 Silverback gorillas on earth.
8. White Mountain Crash
Clomp, clomp across the Golden Gate bridge in a Bay Area 10k race that began one week ago with a crash on White Mountain. I am bicycling 1500 miles from Canada to Mexico along highways #101 and #1 on a Peugeot PX-10. ´Bikeman!´ is relayed for two weeks up and down the Pacific coast to ward off logger trucks on narrow mountain highways. Bikeman is my CB handle, a grasshopper on wheels in bug Walkman earphones with a 5´ Radio Shack antenna stretched ahead off the handlebar.
In the shank of a golden California evening churning the cranks through the Redwoods along bike pathless Highway 101 the road climbs, zeniths in a roadside splash of wildflowers, and I coast down the other side with the wind whistling in my ears and feeler. The grips tighten, and as the speedometer dials to 35mph a rabbit in the meadow catches my eye so the fraction arch of the brow starts a wobble that on trying to correct intensifies into a violent frame shudder that the brakes amplify. The front tire catches the soft dirt shoulder, stops, and I shoot over the handlebars as if shot out a cannon. A tumble skid back and forth across the asphalt and earth leaves a bloody ten yard exclamation!
At the dot I find my feet but it is difficult to walk. Blood streams everywhere on bare skin except the tennis shoes, shorts and curly hair. The bike front wheel is bent at 30-degrees like a flapjack that made only three-quarters the flip, and the remainder is in standard post-wreck condition of gimped stem, twisted seat, luggage strewn in a line, and paint chips everywhere. I sit by the bicycle along the roadside like a faithful dog. I don't know what to do. There is little money. I am far from anyone I know. My body hurts all over. The sun is setting. A siren sounds in the distance…
A fire engine, patrol car, ambulance and sheriff arrive in a fifteen minute window from a 911 call by a good Samaritan passerby and suddenly I´m surrounded by multi-color flashing lights and concerned uniformed men. The cool sheriff takes charge and on learning that I have no wherewithal for the hospital or hotel, advises all to leave except the fire truck to which the bike is strapped to the bumper, and he allows me on a blanket into the front seat of his patrol car. We cruise down White Mountain to the nearest little burg where he pays for a room for which I´m grateful to this day.
The room offers a wall mirror in which I play doctor – patient. You feel fine, just look bad. I shine a light in the right eye of the mirror and determine there is no concussion. The pulse is stringy with shock but evens to 60. Blood covers 80% of the skin with dirt and grime stuck like flies on good flypaper. I release the patient to the shower and it must be cold to wash off the blood and seal the bleeders. On emerging there is a clearer picture. Scrapes and scratches cover 30% of the skin, so I take the first aid kit consisting of a one-ounce bottle of Methiolate and dab all the raw spots I can reach, lay a towel on the bed, and collapse.
The next morning I pick up a couple bottles of Methiolate and one large of pink Calamine lotion for poison ivy from the roadside tumble. The bike won´t be fixed for another day, however the sports page announces a marathon at the Golden Gate Bridge, so I board a bus to watch. Yet on arriving on the north side a number is pinned on my chest and the race director ushers me to the frontrunners saying it will be good publicity to have a Pink Runner in the lead for a few seconds.
We´re off and in the first minute a hundred runners breeze by shouting ´Go Bikeman!´ I am 70% pink in black tennis shoes, a running advertisement for Methiolate and Calamine in a 10k race. I lose ground on downhills where the skin is stretched and jars with each step, and gain on uphills where the bubblegum scabs don't bounce. Bikeman!´ chant hundreds of spectators four-deep along the south ramp of the Bridge as runners sprint and slap my back until the blood flows to the tape.
After the finish there is another, as I hitch a ride back to the repaired Peugeot, and another on the bike to Mexico, and then another… wherever the last one lands me.
10. My Old Man and the Sea
The Indian Ocean surf on the white sand beach of Bali is cold between my south of the equator toes after a sunrise jog, and the unpeopled shore slopes sharply to the breakers. I backward walk through the rollers, dive through higher ones, and the first blow of a powerful offshore current carries me a quarter mile out to sea. With a patience breaststroke I fight the current for a minute without making headway. I shift to a strategy of floating and am carried another 200 yards out to sea.
Swells glide over the withdrawing layer of water, springing high and cresting with foam when the lip becomes too thin. An underwater tug-of-war for my body takes place with the waves beating me beachward and the undertoad pulling me outward until I grow dazed and thrust out the water like a porpoise for a view over the rollers of swell and break, swell and break on the island Bali.
What does it mean to fight for one's life? There is a position, a goal, a plan, struggle, and the outcome. I try a modest front crawl, make headway to the beach, then stop, rest and drift back out to sea. Then it´s an all-out swim kicking hard and extending my toes in hope, stop to survey, and am swept to sea. The difficulty of rest there is that I am an Ironwood human with a body fat of 7.8% compared to the floating average of 17%. Following another adrenalin pumped leaden legged battle with the current I reckon that for lack of body fat I´ll fall to Neptune and this afternoon´s tourist attraction washed up on the shore of Kuta beach may be a bloated man with a half-smile on wrinkled lips.
The breakdown of the emotions when caught in a rip tide is: Panic with hope; hope disappears and willpower takes hold; truth replaces will, and in horror I believe I will drown. But it is countered by a flashback of water memories of my old man and the sea. At five years he took me by the hand into the Santa Cruz Pacific, and let go saying, ´Look out for the under toad´ that I thought was a rare water frog and spent several gleeful hours chasing. Red Cross swim lessons followed at the Idaho Falls YMCA pool. He built a submarine in a basement. Body surfing on vacation off Coco Beach I swam headfirst into a Portuguese Man of War narrowly escaping the 6´ dreadful tentacles, and he pacified it. One day Pa showed up like Jacques Cousteau on our front yard dock over Browns Lake, Michigan lugging a bell helmet to which an umbilicus ran to an air compressor like a fish bowl to a bike pump. He yelled at me to stop riding off the dock on my bicycle to make way for my first diving lesson. It was extraordinary looking from inside an aquarium glass at the fish and snapping turtles, and opened a life to scuba diving. A peak underwater moment was having a mouthpiece torn from my lips and breaking bubbles with my teeth to take in oxygen mixed with water, separate it in the oral cavity with a chewing motion, spit out the water and breathe the air for three minutes. The snowdrifts piled to the windows of our Charlevoix, Mi. home and father walked out the front door every Saturday in a black wet suit, the neighbors chattered, ´There goes Galloping Gil´, and he jumped off the ice into half-frozen Lake Michigan to scuba for an hour. One Spring we pulled a 19th century anchor from the bottom using a 55-gallon drum sunk, tied, water displaced by tank air from the mouthpiece, and raised the 5´ anchor and leaned it against out front yard Maple tree.The flash of incidents was like holding a dance partner for his strength and caring. Then the watery history moved swiftly full circle to a mouthful of saltwater in the Indian Ocean. I flip onto my back. Many fish take or rejects air from its swimbladder, a carrot shaped sac off the gut in the upper body, by swallowing or burping air. The amount of air inside the bladder controls buoyancy and an average fish must be occupied with about five percent air by volume to float. With a body density that approximates the specific gravity of water, I use my lungs as a swimbladder, taking in half a lungful when I desire to hoover just beneath the surface, or a full lungful when I want to float, or exhale to sink like a tombstone. I take a big gulp, rest on my back and think. Buddhists believe their dying thoughts influence their next life but that presupposes the next life which i do not believe in. I refuse to go out kicking like a berserk fish.
I remember I learned to make water my friend. In this recovery a textbook solution comes to mind to swim parallel to the shore to escape the grasp of the rip, and I turn on my right side and begin the transverse. After five minutes onto the left side for five minutes more. In twenty minutes I pivot with an energy saving breast stroke toward Bali. The distance closes until my feet touch the bottom only to bob away. Finally I stand upright in waist deep and gratefully feel the push of rollers. I stagger heaving lungs through the breakers, crawl up the beach and flop in my earlier footprints. Our home should not be called Earth but Ocean for it is seven-tenths water. One body, dynamic under the sun's heat, over the planet's rotation, beneath the lunar tides and countless breezes and currents that shape our lives. I would have met Neptune today but was buoyed by a flash of memories owed to my father. It will be nice to see him again on what others say is his deathbed, tell the story, and thank him.
The lessonfrom these ten survivals is don't believe anyone who tells you, ´You're gonna DIE!´. But I had to put myself in the coffin after the Cold Freight trip. That winter I returned to my alma matter MSU seeking two things: warmth and money. I spent my last $50 on a simple pine coffin constructed by the woodwork instructor, who introduced me to the sociology dean at Lansing Community College who hired me to teach a sociology course ´Hobo Life in America´ You bet I took the first check and lined the coffin with electric blankets to sleep like a baby through the Michigan winter in a Lansing basement. The first night in the coffin was risky because I shut the door tight in the unheated basement and mentally calculated its cubic volume, my tidal respiration, and using a factor of 80% exhaled oxygen per breath determined there was enough to last eight hours, but set an alarm clock for seven hours as a failsafe.
The coffin from which I popped the next morning like a Jack-in-Box illustrates the formula for survivals: You venture beyond where most go, there´s a jam, you calculate the risk factors, and use a store of knowledge and experience to escape. I obviously have no death wish, but purely a strong will to calculate survival.
So it was with surprise last November I read of my recent death in Mexico hopping freight trains in dozens of Emails and Facebook posts. My family on not hearing from me for three months had filed a missing person report with the El Centro, Ca. police department, and assumed the worst on not hearing back from them. They appealed online. The death spiral was finally clipped by an a post-obituary in Chicagoist ´From the Vault of Art Shay: The Legend of Bo Keeley Grows´ (12-14-11) which explained simply that I had retreated to my Sand Valley home to feed the animals and write.
The mind is the best all-purpose survival tool, and it is honed by experiences. The first test venture is the only difficult one, so head out as I am in the Amazon encountering fer de lance, tarantulas and Sapo frogs, and live to tell the stories.
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