In Case of Tsunami, See Page 54

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, August 1999

In Case of Tsunami, See Page 54
Gearing up for your worst nightmare? Buy this book.

Brie: Don't Leave Home Without It
Do you ever lie awake at night wondering what country qualifies as the worst place on Earth for in-line skating? Frenchman Fabrice Gropaiz—of course it would be a Frenchman—has the answer: Mongolia. "A wolf attacked my camp. Then there was an ice storm, and then an earthquake," says the 27-year-old law student. In addition to these ordeals, Gropaiz braved the wind-whipped tundra of Siberia and the baked canyonlands of northern Mexico (among some 15 other countries) to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe on skates—a goal he accomplished in May when he concluded his three-year, nearly 15,000-mile journey by zipping around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. But now Gropaiz, who towed a 90-pound trailer laden with gear, must confront an even more daunting challenge: recouping his adventure's $30,000 price tag with a documentary film of his trip and recovering from an unappetizing diet of horse milk, beer, and fat-soaked bread—standard Mongolian fare.

"A saw of some sort is required. The flexible saw in your survival kit was originally a surgeon's tool and will do the job. If no saw is available, sever at the nearest joint."

Hacking off your hiking pal's leg has never sounded so, well, doable—thanks to The SAS Survival Handbook, a classic outdoor manual that's been enjoying something of a revival in recent months. Written by John Wiseman, former survival instructor for Britain's elite Special Air Service (an all-conditions strike force considered by some to be tougher than the U.S. Navy SEALs), the book addresses every conceivable disaster scenario, from clearing grit from your eye to outrunning molten lava to surviving a nuclear winter—and, yes, performing a backcountry amputation (and then dressing the wound with a giant puffball mushroom).

Survivalism may seem like old news; after all, Ted Kaczynski has been behind bars for over a year and Randy Weaver is now selling vacuums door-to-door. But for reasons not entirely understood—probably having as much to do with a voyeuristic fascination with tragedy as with a need for practical wilderness advice—The SAS Survival Handbook has created a stir among consumers, selling 200,000 copies in the United States and more than one million worldwide, and appears to be at the front edge of a growing trend in book publishing. "More and more, people are traveling to places like Borneo that a decade ago were off the map," says Bill Thomas, an editor at Doubleday Books, which in June released a similar volume by Robert Young Pelton, Come Back Alive. "Survival guides like thishelp them to prepare themselves and add a perceived danger to the adrenaline rush."

After 26 years in the SAS, Wiseman is no stranger to danger, and his spit-shined, authoritarian prose, combined with more than 700 chillingly rendered illustrations, lend the book a stark do-what-I-say-or-die tone. Which may explain its rather unorthodox route to bestsellerdom. First published by HarperCollins U.K. in 1987, it was distributed to a general audience throughout Britain, Europe, and Australia, but when Wiseman and his U.S. distributor, Richard Lewis, decided to bring it to the States a decade later, Barnes & Noble and other mainstream bookstores were reluctant to buy in on the trend. "They thought the survival niche was too small," explains Lewis. "They were certain the book wouldn't sell, so they killed our proposal."

Survivors to the core, Wiseman and Lewis activated Plan B: distributing the title via army and navy stores and on-line "preparedness" suppliers such as Not surprisingly, the book hit its mark: Camo-clad militia types came out of the woods by the tens of thousands to snatch it up, prompting Barnes & Noble and other chains to hustle and stock up on the once-shunned title and its competitors, including Come Back Alive and the more wholesome National Outdoor Leadership School's Wilderness Guide.

For all his success, however,Wiseman admits there are certain skills that simply can't be learned from a book. "The difference between survival and death is often mental toughness," he says. "Anyone can eat a worm."

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