Between the Lines

Feb 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

A search-and-rescue worker's mission is to save lives. A U.S. Marine's mission, on occasion, is to take them. While their methods can be wildly divergent, they both possess a willingness to sacrifice themselves, plunging into hazardous situations with scant regard for their own safety. This month, we dispatched a platoon of writers to explore these extremes.

As part of our search-and-rescue cover story ("Masters of Disaster," page 36), in which we highlight six of the nation's preeminent backcountry saviors, contributing editor Hampton Sides traveled to Tennessee to profile cave-rescue specialist Buddy Lane. Sides found that Lane's temperament and outlook closely resemble those of the World War II veterans he interviewed for his recent best-selling book Ghost Soldiers, which chronicles a mission by a company of U.S. Army Rangers in 1945 to free American troops imprisoned by the Japanese in the Philippines. "All good rescuers are modest to a fault," says Sides. "It's the hallmark of a heroic person to not think that they're heroic."

To investigate altruism of an entirely different sort, Outside columnist Mark Jenkins journeyed to California's Sierra Nevada and central Alaska to shadow 60 elite Marines from the Mountain Warfare Training Center as they suffered through the rigors of maneuvers in rough terrain and bone-chilling cold. "With all the talk of fighting in extreme environments like Afghanistan, I wanted to explore the connection between military challenge and the outdoor world," says Jenkins. Worried about the combat readiness of these backcountry warriors, he instead found chiseled soldiers hiking 3,000 feet up a mountain fully loaded with state-of-the-art equipment. "They have a sense of duty and honor that is rarely this intense in the civilian world. It was gratifying to see that some people still hold these things in high esteem." His feature story, "Winter to the Corps," begins on page 64.

From Afghanistan to San Francisco's Tenderloin district, novelist William T. Vollmann has seen his share of harsh environments. But none left him with festering sores up and down his legs. "I don't know what they are," says Vollmann, whose raft journey down the New River to southern California's troubled Salton Sea begins on page 52. Still, he's planning to return: "I want to leave a bike frame in the water overnight to see what the painted metal looks like the next day."

Ed Kashi's assignment to photograph search-and-rescue teams in the Colorado Rockies (page 50) started off with a bang: "I flew into Denver thinking I'd have a mellow evening," says the San FranciscoÐed photographer. "The next thing I knew, I was tripping over rocks at midnight." Still, Kashi came away with a renewed respect for the volunteers. "It's incredible to see their skill," he says. "I was stretched to the limits of fear, and they did it with their eyes shut."

Bill Donahue was the perfect choice to report on the painful saga of skiing legend Bill Johnson (page 70), who nearly died last year while attempting to race as fast as he did in 1984, when he won gold in the Olympic downhill. A former amateur ski racer, Donahue brought experience and empathy to the task of reconciling Johnson's bad-boy glory days with his agonizing recovery from a coma. "I feel for the guy," says Donahue. "One bad moment, and he pays for it forever."

As a kid, National Public Radio correspondent Howard Berkes was fascinated with ski jumping. A fear of heights stymied his Olympic dreams, but he is still eminently qualified to write about the Games (page 14); Berkes has covered three Olympics and the 1998 IOC bribery scandal. Terrorist threats aside, the Salt Lake City resident is thrilled to play host: "The Games make people see the larger world out there. Plus, it's an excuse for one big party."

Portrait photographer Michael Lewis regularly shoots Hollywood celebrities and business moguls for GQ, Details, and Fortune; but his favorite subjects are real people. "In Bill Johnson's case, I walked into another worldÑlike I was hanging out with my little brother," says the graduate of the San Francisco Fine Art Institute. And while Johnson's recovery is steeped in melancholy, Lewis applauds the skier for holding his head high: "Bill's story saddens just about everyone except Bill."

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