Some survive, some don’t
August 27, 2004
Anyone who’s read Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire,” knows the importance of staying on top of your game when you are in the wilderness.
The story is about a man who, defying local advice, decides to walk 20 miles alone in Alaskan winter – in a bone freezing minus 20 degrees. He senses early on he’s made the wrong choice, but convinces himself not to turn back. The mood of the story becomes increasingly dark.
Although he’s equipped with emergency tools, matches and food, a series of foibles and mishaps leaves the man inching more and more toward doom.
There are many who have survived being lost or stranded in the wilderness. A former Olympic hockey player survived for five days in the snow last winter after going down the wrong side of Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort.
Rock climber Aron Ralston survived six days in a 4-foot wide canyon, his arm smashed under a refrigerator-sized boulder, hallucinating that the scurrying sounds of rodents were people’s voices. He had been drinking his own urine for 26 hours when on the last day he gained the courage to break his bones out of his wrist and cut his arm free with a dull knife.
There are also many who have not survived. “Into the Wild” by John Krakauer tells the true story of a young man who was found dead in a school bus 10 miles into the wilderness in Alaska. Krakauer makes out Christopher McCandless as a modern-day, although naive, Henry David Thoreau. Turns out, McCandless adventured into the wilderness in spring, easily crossing a frozen river on the way, not knowing that summer would bring higher water and a more difficult crossing back to civilization.
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Thinking himself trapped, McCandless decided to survive on the fruit of the land, and although he had a huge book on native edible plants, inadvertently ingested bagfulls of a poisonous relative of the pea plant. He died after a month of debilitating nausea and diarrhea.