|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – October 2008
Flesh-eating bears. Dive-bombing eagles. Can a regular guy escape certain death armed with only the clothes on his back and the skills he learned on TV from Les Stroud, Bear Grylls, and John Rambo?
"A cup of pine-needle tea offers five times the amount of vitamin C as a lemon," I say. Bear said it, too, in the Sierra. Half an hour later, we are sipping delightful, tangy pine-needle tea. Or maybe it's spruce. (Which, I know from Bear, contains eight times the vitamin C as a glass of orange juice.) Whatever the specific needle, it's good.
The wilderness compass is another matter. After breakfast, I discover that I have placed my entire stick and stones setup in the shadow of a giant tree. This error might prove fatal; it's imperative we find a water source today. To find a water source, I know we need to orient ourselves.
"How about the river next to our campsite?" Eddie asks.
I explain that Bear and Les are always on the move, always exploring terrain, and besides, a spring would be a much better water source than a river, less likely to contain giardia and other parasites. "The last thing I need is any diarrhea," I say. (Bear, Sierra.)
We walk for two hours, climbing high above the river, past waterfalls, along a trail that plunges hundreds of feet to a watery chasm below. We turn a bend and hear a loud screeching. Three eagles, 30 feet in front of us, take flight. At least I think they're eagles. They're big, in any case. They fly. And they seem to be circling.
I grab a stick.
"If they dive-bomb, I'll take the first one out with this," I say to Eddie, who stares at me. Maybe he's paralyzed with fear. "They might be stalking us!" I tell him. "Grab a stick. We need to be prepared."
"I don't think eagles stalk people," Eddie says. "Especially eagles in groups of three."
"Yeah, ordinary eagles don't. But what if these are rogue eagles? Have you thought of that?"
Eddie says nothing. Is this part of the silent assassin philosophy his kung fu masters have doubtlessly taught him? I appreciate Eddie's laconic nature, and I don't want to turn him into a chatty coward, but I wish he'd be more alert to the dangers that surround us. I feel responsible.
I'm about to tell him about the utter unpredictability of rogue animals when he pulls the book from his pack. He reads aloud.
"The challenge of survival will therefore in all likelihood be easier to meet if you have a firearm and ammunition."
I tell Eddie that's a good point, but I don't think guns are permitted here. Then we walk in silence for 20 minutes or so. We lose the eagles. We fall into a rhythm, and before long there are no sounds but the crunch of our boots. Eddie seems content. There's a nice breeze. But things are quiet. Too quiet. A silent paradise can turn into a leafy nightmare in a single, terrifying instant. I know this. But does Eddie? He is so young. So naïve.
"One palm viper," I intone. "One bush monster lunges out and, oh, man, I'd be in a mess of trouble then." Les said the same thing in the jungles of Costa Rica.
"What's a bush monster?"
I cough loudly.
"I mean, what's a bush monster, sahib?"
"That's a good question, Eddie," I say, "and I hope you never have to learn the answer."