“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.
NONE OF THIS IS to say that I don’t like nature—in its more manageable and less threatening forms. (One cannot be a good Minnesotan and not be appreciative of freshwater, greenery and fairly extreme weather conditions.) Nor am I proud to be scared of almost everything, including but not limited to spiders, snakes, most mammals, the dark, water in the dark, sharks, lightning, strong winds, getting stuck between rocks and needing to eat my arm like James Franco, tapeworms, ticks, heights and falling from them, and ghosts. That last one isn’t specific to the outdoors, but one would think that space constraints alone would require more of them to be outdoors than in.
Sometime last year I opened a fortune cookie to a slip of paper that read, “The whole world is a narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid.” It’s dumb, but I kept it. I said to myself, “Now you will be fearless,” and it was very dramatic, but it hasn’t been true in the slightest. This column is going to change all that.
Well, a little of that. Let’s not get carried away. I’ll be doing a few things that maybe wouldn’t scare you, but that do scare me. I am not going to go into the ocean in one of those shark cages. No, sharks will not be involved.
Let’s start, though, with an animal just as big. Bigger, in some cases: the moose.
MY BEST FRIEND AND I were staying in a cabin in northern Minnesota and we had come with goals. I wanted to see the Northern Lights, and she wanted to see a moose. Once it became clear we weren’t going to be lucky enough to witness the former, we made the latter our mission. We asked one of the resort owners for tips, and he told us to go out on the local highway at dusk and look “near the water.”
In northern Minnesota this is sort of a very vague piece of advice.
We got in my friend’s car just before sunset and crept along the highway, looking around marshes and lakes but seeing nothing. After half an hour my friend pulled the car off the road, stopping at some boulders that were blocking off a recently-flooded, descending dirt path, now dry but unready for car travel. “What are you doing?” I asked. The first three times she said, “Get out of the car,” I said “no.”
“Come on. We can walk down there by the swamp. There has to be a moose here somewhere.”
“Do you know how big moose are? Twelve feet.” (Fine, so I double things when I’m scared.) “Do you want to be killed by a moose today?”
She gave me a look and got out of the car, which was cruel because then I had to get out of the car to protect her from all the moose. I was also the one who brought a flashlight—and a shiny, red, handheld alarm.
One of the facts you won’t read about moose (the plural of “moose” is “moose,” which seems suspicious) is that when you’re scared and looking for one on foot, they can sound like anything. Rustling in the trees: an obvious moose. Wind: a moose, breathing. The birds: a little moose-y. What noises do moose make? Does anybody really know?
This is what I was thinking about when I heard a Velociraptor (or, quite possibly, a moose) scream like this: “eeeeehghkkkyyYYAAAAAA.” I looked wide-eyed at my friend and she looked at me and I yelled, “RUN!” So we did, back to the car, me yelling, “Roll up the windows so nothing flies in!” When we were 100 yards down the road, and still alive, that’s when it started to seem funny. We were hysterical, in that giddy way where you feel like you survived something and these new moments of life are earned.
Is this the feeling you climbers and divers are after? Is moose hunting a gateway activity? “She started just casually watching moose and, next thing you know, she was riding lions off of waterfalls.” No, I don’t think that will ever be said of me, for a number of reasons. “She was able to live through a number of modestly intimidating outdoor activities,” though? I can see that more clearly now.
In any case, it’s true: I didn’t see a moose. But I'm pretty sure one saw me.