“She started just casually watching moose and, next thing you know, she was riding lions off of waterfalls.”
Editor’s Note: Get Me Out of Here will be a regular column in which a novice attempts to do a number of outdoor activities, increasing the level of fear with each successive story. This is the first edition.
My roommate’s ex-boyfriend didn’t have cable, so he used to come over to our apartment and borrow ours. He had this internal compass, I think, for instantly locating the grossest, scariest, weirdest countdown show on air at that moment—“20 Deadliest Maggots,” “35 Humans Killed By Something That Crawled Out of Their Toilets,” that kind of thing. The music and voiceovers on these shows demand a person’s attention, so even when I pretended I wasn’t going to join them on the couch for the next to-be-determined number of hours, I knew I was lying.
It was in this way that I came to know the story of Jim Davidson, the incredible American climber who summited Mount Rainier, fell 80 feet into a gigantic crevasse with his best friend Mike Price, saw Price die, and was still able to climb back up those 80 feet of ice, climb backwards underneath an ice ledge, and survive. All before dark.
There are a lot of places to give up in that story. I would have picked this one: “Are there any big hills or mountains you’ve been wanting to climb lately?” “Yes. No.
At a party last weekend, someone told me that the bodies of people who died attempting to climb Mount Everest are used as trail markers. This is how I know that empathy has its limitations. A guy at the party said, “Yeah, so other climbers will say things like, ‘Turn left at Green Boots,’ referring to the dead guy with green boots or whatever,” and I heard him, but I did not understand.
I am like mountain climbers and other outdoorsy daredevils in the same way the ape at the beginning of those human-evolution drawings is like today’s man or woman. We’re linked, I guess, but there are several steps between us, and getting through them would take more years than I have left to live. That impulse to take risks and push my body to its limits: I don’t have it. Since 1990, the fatality rate of Mount Everest climbers is about 4.4 per 100. If eating a certain kind of food carried over a four percent risk of killing you, everyone would tell you, “Yeah, just don’t eat that.” I know it’s not the same, but I also kind of think it’s the same.
I realize that Mount Everest is an extreme example. I realize that I would (probably) survive bungee jumping. And it’s true that there are plenty of other risks I encounter in my day-to-day life—driving, putting a cell phone next to my head, allowing myself to age—but these I cannot avoid. I’ve never once wanted something on the other side of a mountain so badly that I had to climb up and over it.
Besides, I just don’t think I have what it takes to scale a mountain or jump out of a plane or hang glide. I guess I can’t be positive without trying, but I feel okay about taking that one on faith. Some of us have to fight and some of us have to flee. I know my role.