Dispatches, May 1997
How Do You Say "SOS" in French?
In the wake of the latest edition of the solo, nonstop, around-the-world Vendëe Globe sailing race, many are grumbling that the event is unreasonably dangerous. After all, only six of the 15 monohulls that set sail in November finished the race, three sank, one capsized, and one sailor, Gerry Roufs, is missing and presumed dead. Race officials convened a panel to look into the issue, but organizers of the other major transglobal sailing event, Around Alone (formerly the BOC Challenge), aren't waiting for the findings. "At our next race," says Around Alone race director Mark Schrader, "we're going to require engines in the boats for emergencies." Surprisingly, the sentiment seems to be shared by Vendëe champion Christophe Auguin, 37, whose 105-day time broke the 1989 record set by fellow Frenchman Titouan Lamazou. Auguin, also a two-time BOC winner, says he's pushed his luck far enough. "Solo around-the-worlds," he proclaimed, "are over for me."
A Spitz Is Born
Going into the U.S. National Swimming Championships last February, Chad Carvin said that if he didn't swim well, he wouldn't compete again. The event was Carvin's first major meet since being diagnosed with the viral heart condition cardiomyopathy 15 months earlier, which forced the 23-year-old Californian to miss the Atlanta Olympics. Well, suffice it to say that Carvin has put his retirement plans on hold. He kicked off the week by winning the 200-meter freestyle and the 400-meter individual medley on the same day. Then he added titles in the 400-meter and 1,500-meter freestyle events, joining Mark Spitz and Tom Dolan as the only men in the last three decades to win four individual events at the nationals. Nonetheless, Carvin had to answer to critics who questioned the wisdom of a heart patient's competing in a breakneck event like the 1,500. "I didn't allow myself to think, 'What if I go all-out and drop dead,'" says Carvin. "I just did it."
The Masochists' Ball
Yes, legendary endurance mountain biker John Stamstad almost collided with a buffalo at 3 a.m. Yes, he also secured his win in the 350-mile Trans-Alaska Range Iditasport Extreme last February by riding 39 straight hours from Rainy Pass to McGrath, drafting for a while at the heels of an annoyed gray wolf. And yes, he wouldn't have it any other way. "Extremely extreme," declared Stamstad after finishing the race in five-and-a-quarter days, 20 hours ahead of his nearest challenger. Goaded by Stamstad and others who felt the event was getting soft — what with its frequent checkpoints and minimum gear requirements — race organizer Dan Bull made the '97 version longer and tougher. The result was a very happy four-time champion. "I met two Athapaskan natives out checking trap lines," says Stamstad, referring to an encounter 50 miles from the finish — his first brush with humanity in two days. "When one of them offered me a Pepsi, I almost cried."
Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map
It seems the nation's environmental groups have found a new weapon in the fight against the brown scourge: cartography. Both Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund have recently released educational maps to focus attention on ecologically threatened regions, although each approaches the subject differently. CI's "Global Biodiversity Hotspots" revolves around the notion that half of Earth's species can be found on just 2 percent of its land surface, mostly in tropical forests, and highlights 17 key areas. WWF's "Global 200," meanwhile, focuses on a wide range of key "ecoregions." Above are a few spots that made the cut on both lists.
How Green Is My...Final Resting Place?
"I hate flowers," declares Dale Schultz, the proud owner of a plot in the newly created Brundage Wilderness Cemetery, "and I'll hate 'em when I'm dead. I want natural vegetation." That's exactly what Schultz, 60, will get when he is eventually lowered into the nation's first "all-natural cemetery." Located in the white-pine and wild-turkey country of northern Michigan, the one-acre haven lies at the end of a double-track road and provides, according to its brochure, "a fascinating chance to be forever with the environment so well-loved during life." For $250, tree-huggers can have their cremated remains planted in a one-square-foot plot surrounded by Pere Marquette State Forest. Why don't nature lovers simply have their remains deposited in the woods for free? "There's nowhere to pay respects," explains Brundage owner Gloria Pierce. "That's what my brother had done, and one day we're going to have to tell his grandkids, 'Uh, well, your grandfather's scattered all across Florida.'"
Onward and Skyward
When amateur astronomers from as far away as Luxembourg descend on the central Texas town of Leakey on the fourth of this month for the 19th annual Texas Star Party, expect a grumble or two about the sky being a bit brighter than usual. "It's not nearly as dark in Leakey as it is here," claims John Robert Prude, who hosted the nine-day astronomy festival — the world's largest — for 18 years at his Prude Ranch, 245 miles west of Leakey in an isolated area considered one of the hemisphere's darkest. Prude, it seems, wanted to jack up his site fee, but TSP organizers balked and left him to organize a rival event — and to take potshots at his former cohorts. "Someone'll come barreling along with their brights on and upset everyone," says Prude, who maintains that the Leakey site is inferior because traffic on two nearby roads brightens the night sky. TSP veterans seem none too concerned — 1,000 will flock to Leakey, while Prude expects a mere 300 this year.