My wilderness survival course in the southern Utah desert included three days completely alone in a red canyon so beautiful it made other parts of the earth seem lonely. Mother Nature’s sandbox dyed me red-orange. My senses felt alive. I smelled the sage breeze, heard the wisp of darting vultures, saw the dry earth crackling under my feet, and felt the precious seconds ticking.
This desert, like most, can experience 60-degree temperature swings in a day. One chilly night in sandstone-cactus backcountry, I tried lulling myself to sleep with thoughts of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Simulating sleep, I burrowed deep inside my burrito-fashioned poncho, pulled my hat down over my face, and listened to my breath. Then, a large-footed animal, possibly a human linebacker, encroached. The sound of legs brushing against dry shrubs started and stopped abruptly. My adrenaline flooded as it drew close. When it stood above me, I lay stone-still. The steps became more erratic, and my heart raced. I froze, waiting for the intruder to decide my fate. It just stood there. I blinked. It stepped. Blink. Step. The sound of my heart thudding against my eardrums overtook the clamor. I held my breath, then realized that the nerve-racking commotion was really just the sound of my eyelashes brushing against the inside of my hat.
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Zambezi River, Africa
If you do frighten yourself, it’s important to bounce back. A touristy bungee jump wouldn’t be in these pages unless my premonition came true. Before leaping off Victoria Falls Bridge, the world’s third highest bungee bridge, located above Africa’s raging Zambezi River, I stood atop the 365-foot-high span connecting Zimbabwe and Zambia. As I was about to freefall toward chugging whitewater, the number one thought banging around in my skull—what if the equipment fails—must occur to every jumper.
Other musings about this suicide practice were of the rumors that this high-velocity leap causes people to have strokes, wet their pants, or suffer detached retinas. Finally, I realize the triviality of stressing over an optional recreational danger in a region boiling over with inevitable danger every day.
Needless to say, I survived the jump. However, not long after my leap, the same bungee cord snapped, sending an Australian woman, ankles still bound, plummeting into the alligator-infested river below. Cuts and bruises aside, she amazingly survived. Talk about nearing the end of your rope.
Testing your limits is a joy to reflect upon, and leaps of faith are often worthwhile…many moons later.
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And then there are those times you don’t intend on scaring yourself, but stupidly do. New York City’s Puerto Rican Day Parade had been my reigning image of this Caribbean island until a 10-hour layover from Aruba in the 90s became a few nighttime hours of partying. When the bar closed, I hoped to bypass paying for a fancy San Juan hotel by napping outside for a few hours. Sand flies convinced me that heading inland to get a bit of shuteye behind a hedge near an inviting villa was a better idea. Shortly after dozing off, a loud, angry voice yelled “Policia,” so I jumped to my feet and emerged from the hedge to behold a man crouched in a position with a gun pointing at my chest. Likely a private security guard, he was 10 feet away, shaking and serious. Fearing for my life, I summoned some high school Spanish. Somehow “Sueno, no criminale, sueno!” tumbled out of my mouth. No bang, yet. As I continued begging for forgiveness, I had to go back into the hedge and fetch my backpack, which didn’t amuse the gunman. Fortunately, I managed to skulk away and escape the grounds alive. Although my first book was called The Frugal Globetrotter, this el cheapo blunder changed my travel tact forever. Stingy nurtured by stupid can be deadly. I resolved to never again risk my life for frugality’s sake.