Chronicle of a Year Foretold

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, January 1996

Chronicle of a Year Foretold
By Larry Burke

After you've uncorked the Dom Perignon and yowled a few obligatory bars of "Auld Lang Syne," dig into this month's cover story for a revealing and decidedly effervescent sneak preview of the year ahead. For our second annual "Outside Prognosticator," we asked a crack team of our most prescient correspondents to take a reading of the latest trends in sports, travel, adventure, environmental politics, and culture. With a calendar that brings us the Atlanta Games and another (not again!) presidential election, 1996 should by turns keep our adrenaline pumping, our blood boiling, and our sense of humor fully engaged. Among our findings: With no speed limits on the books, Montana highways should bear a striking resemblance to the autobahn; an insane thrill-sport called "falling" is coming to a cliff near you; Rocky Mountain ranchers and environmentalists are beginning to forge improbable alliances to ward off Californians; and Bikini Atoll, former nuclear test site, is proving to be scuba's newest undersea garden.

If our reading is correct, 1996 is also shaping up to be a year of what might be called Hair-Shirt Chic. "Heading into 1996, we seem more determined than ever to feel good about feeling bad," explains senior editor Alex Heard, who along with associate editors Brad Wetzler and Adam Horowitz mustered the troops for this year's Prognosticator. In increasing numbers, Heard notes, Americans are working themselves to exhaustion on exercise machines, participating in mass atonements for the ecological sins of their ancestors, and venturing on new "sampler" tours that cram smorgasbords of frenetic activity--biking, kayaking, rafting, climbing--into a single week. Concludes Heard, "1996 is coming on like a frat boy with a paddle. Get ready to smile through the tears and say, 'Thank you, sir, may I have another?' "

Elsewhere in this issue: when longtime Outside correspondent John Skow agreed to come aboard an old friend's sloop for a teeth-chattering cruise from Scotland's Hebrides to Norway via the seldom-visited Faeroe Islands, he knew this uncommon voyage would require a certain amount of what he calls " 'I'm not here, I'm somewhere else' Zenning." But for two boon companions who've bummed around the world together in pursuit of all varieties of unjustifiable adventure, a bracing jaunt across the almighty North Sea--tracing the route of the Vikings in reverse--sounded just too good to pass up. See "Heave To, Felix! Thar Blow th' Faeroes!"

Michel Beaudry consults with three indisputable savants of the slopes--Olympic gold medalists Tommy Moe and Donna Weinbrecht and famed extreme skier Scot Schmidt--to compile a read-it-by-the-fireside midwinter primer on the three irreducible skills of downhill skiing: carving flawless turns, burning up the mogul fields with aplomb, and taking fearless command of the steepest of the steeps.

In our Inside Stories column, writer Caroline Alexander travels to northern California to investigate a seminal court case that has provided a rare glimpse into the Victorian world of butterfly collecting. Alexander's intriguing foray into this unlikely subculture raises a basic question of societal perception: Should lepidopterists who run afoul of the Endangered Species Act be viewed as harmless hobbyists or as hardened criminals in the same rogues' gallery as tiger poachers and ivory traders?

Finally, in "A Bimonthly Bath, Penguin Porn, and Thou," Jack Barth converses via satellite with Don and Margie McIntyre, an Australian husband-and-wife team who for reasons that are not entirely clear have spent the past 12 months living out of a spartan, eight-by-12 foot capsule beside Antarctica's Commonwealth Bay. What's it like having to cope with icicles dangling from your nose, bisonlike body odor, and the most acute case of cabin fever since Jack became a very dull boy in The Shining?

A bit hellish, of course. But therein lies the fun.

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