Between the Lines

Aug 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

REGARDLESS OF whether he's searching for the most distant parking space at a New Jersey shopping mall or meditating on the voluptuous silence of Dawes County, Nebraska—one of the emptiest spots in America—contributing editor Ian Frazier is a geographic connoisseur of all that is faraway, forsaken, and forlorn.

"Remote, by definition, is a place that's hard to get to," says Frazier. "It's a place that, partly because so few people go there, is lacking in the irritations and troubles of home. Which is why such places seem so attractive and appealing.

It's similar to the consolations of heaven." As Frazier has learned from experience, remote isn't just a place on the map—or rather, a place off the map. Remote is also a state of mind—a republic of the imagination where the small details and larger truths that tend to get lost in life's whirl can achieve a sudden clarity. Which is why we asked Frazier, Sebastian Junger, and a platoon of our other favorite writers to reflect on journeys they've taken to the earth's emptiest quarters. The tales they brought back from the Congo, the Amazon, the back of beyond, will, we hope, inspire you to go off and experience some of these places for yourself. To make that possible, our adventure-travel special, "See You in Six Months", includes a roster of the world's most remote destinations, from Bolivia's Tuichi River to China's Taklimakan desert and the gates of Timbuktu.
So read and dream; then go. Because, as Junger knows, the only freedom greater than that of the open road is the freedom of venturing where there is no road at all. "If you're in the desert or at the top of a mountain, you confront the fact that human beings really don't matter much," he says. "Our place in the universe is miniscule. Realizing this can be both terrifying and exhilarating. I've never been in a sailboat in the middle of the ocean. But to anyone who has, all of a sudden their mortgage payments aren't such a big deal."

Mark Synnott is renowned for audacious ascents on big walls like Pakistan's Great Trango Tower. But when we asked him to write about his favorite alpine playground ("Spires of the Bugaboos," page 96), Synott surprised us by choosing a place that's actually accessible to us mortals. "One reason why the Bugaboos are so cool is that there's an unlimited supply of beginner routes I can take my kids on," he says. "But then I can also go off and do something truly sick. That's the perfect scenario."

Having uncovered the workings of the Hungarian porn industry and the travails of lonely Alaskan bachelors, Natasha Singer insists she never, ever, gets emotionally involved with her subjects. Well, almost never. After meeting Keiko, the orca star of Free Willy who is now the object of a trouble-plagued campaign to return him to the wild, she pretty much lost all control. "You can't not fall in love with him in the first 30 seconds," she says. Her report on why Keiko may never swim free begins here.

Outside senior editor Brad Wieners never imagined that when he finally got his chance to climb Mount Rainier, it would be with a venture-capital firm staging an informal, extreme business event ("Networking on the Rope to Success," page 43). "The climb was a great way to bond with new people," says Wieners. "As one of the team members later put it to me, 'After you've shared outhouse experiences with someone, they pretty much have to take your phone calls.'"

After photographing civil war in Bosnia, U.N. peacekeeping in Kosovo, and ethnic strife throughout the Middle East, Jonathan Olley found that the chance to document the obscure sport of bog snorkeling offered a much needed—albeit rather malodorous—change of pace. "It was squishy and smelly and pretty much everything a bog should be," says the London-based photojournalist. "But I must say that the participants were very charming and polite, in that eccentric British way."

Tim Brookes has turned his obsession with the strange games people play into something of a franchise. In the past five years, he has written about jai alai in Connecticut, hurling in Ireland, and competitive lumberjackingin Vermont. Even so, his pungent treatise on the Welsh pastime of bog snorkeling took him to a new level. "I find all of these odd sports absolutely fascinating," says Brookes, who teaches writing and cricket at the University of Vermont, "but this is unquestionably the filthiest of them all."

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