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Who Needs Adventure? By P.J. O'Rourke
This book is too much for me. The "Ice-Climbing" article, for example-I've been ice-climbing for years, and there's no over on the snow tires. But here is someone ice-climbing on slopes even steeper than those of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood where I live in Washington, D.C., and doing it without the benefit of driveway salt, or even a driveway, and instead of being inside a car he's dangling from a rope. I am amazed. Also perplexed. What is a "crampon"? Has anyone thought to register it as a trademark? It's an excellent name for a feminine-hygiene product to provide relief during the difficult time of the month that, it occurs to me, the target audience for this book never has. Nor do I. I'm past menopause. Plus I'm a guy.
Being a postmenopausal guy, this book isn't targeted at me either. Men my age are not much for wielding ice axes unless the automatic cube dispenser on the Frigidaire jams. And we aren't interested in kayaking Niagara Falls, magma boarding in active volcano cones, taking unicycle tours of the Andes, or butt- skiing the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Not that we're adverse to facing danger in the outdoors. Just last year a friend of mine dropped dead of a heart attack while mowing the lawn. But what's the point of my risking life and limb when both will be useless soon? It's more fun to risk money. Preferably other people's. You, the reader of this book, want to fly an airplane. I, the writer of this introduction, want to raise venture capital for a start-up pharmaceutical company-principal asset, the Crampon trademark-float an IPO, cash in the stock options,and buy a Gulfstream jet.
That G-5 I'm getting is another reason this book is too much for me. Look at the piece "Crash Course." The information is sound, the advice is intelligent, but none of it applies in my case. Once a fellow is into the colorectal-cancer-exam years, the way to deal with plane crashes is by making a list: back taxes owed, alimony due, yard chores outstanding, amount of school tuition to be paid next year, net loss when Crampon Inc. went into chapter 11, date of next scheduled colonoscopy, etc. Then, if the plane gets into trouble, I pull out this piece of paper and die smiling. What's with the adventure-travel trend anyway? You want excitement and risk on your vacation? Go anywhere with a beach or pool, and tell your wife she looks fat in her bathing suit.
"Huh? I'm getting a little deaf in this ear. Old draft-dodging injury. "What's that? Ah, it's the Voice of Youth saying, if I'm not mistaken, "Shut up." Yes. Good point. Who wants to hear one more ex-bong-sucker in pinstripes choke on his Pepcid AC over what's the matter with kids today? I shall mock no more the generation of
Cubicle workspace, calf tattoos
Itty-bitty phones, and great big shoes.
Especially since you with the ore-freighters on your feet are supposed to purchase this book-thereby making ex-bong-suckers a bunch of money. Which reminds me of another business-opportunity idea. (I understand that many-if not most-book buyers in your age cohort have a billion dollars from founding websites. No doubt you are looking to diversify your investment portfolio.) It's a national franchise chain of mall-based cosmetic surgeons specializing in laser tat removal and invisible closure of body-piercing holes. The retired bookkeeper who runs the bake sale at our church has a tongue stud and a four-inch-wide American Indian thingy permanently inked around her biceps, so the hip phase of this trend is over. But where was I? I think I was saying that this book contains too much stuff about achieving physical fitness and improving sexual performance and not enough about raising money to fight Alzheimer's. I envision a dramatic national campaign. Slogan: "Alzheimer's-Fergedaboutdit!" Come to think of it, I wasn't saying anything about Alzheimer's. Of course, a fund- raising campaign would accomplish tremendous good. Although a little late for me. Actually, I was saying that I have to stop making fun of your generation for fear of hurting book sales, getting fired, and so on. But it's not just that. Consider what The Great Life would be if it were, indeed, written for my generation instead of yours. Imagine the chapter headings:
Plaid Shorts, Plaid Shirts,
Black Socks, And Wingtips
Not Just for Dress-Down
How To Open Those
Pesky CD Cases
When the Grand Funk Railroad LP
Is Hopelessly Scratched
3-day solo survival course
Finding Food, Clothing, and the TV
Remote While Your Wife Visits
Her Sister in Atlanta
I Bet I Die
Everything That's Ever Been Printed or
Said About Life Insurance
Plus the artwork would be color photographs of Christie Todd Whitman in her underwear and other age-appropriate illustrations.
No, this is a better book, even if it is full of advice on sit-ups instead of excuses to sit down. You have no business sitting down anyhow. You're not tired yet. Plus a workout will add zipper noises to your private life because you can still get bulges in your clothing that interest women-other than the bulge in the right hip pocket.
The bulge that pops the top two buttons on my cardigan sweater doesn't seem as effective. Although the vagaries of fashion may bring pudge into style. Perhaps one day I'll be walking down the street and major babes will holler, "Yo, Budweiser Balcony, you're looking..." Looking, no doubt, like this book makes me feel-superannuated, out-of-shape, and green with envy.
Not that I haven't enjoyed every page of The Great Life. And envy is the key. I hate you for being young and fit, of course. But don't mind me. Read everything in here and take it to heart. I'll be home beside the lava lamp listening to Grand Funk Railroad and smiling with the secret knowledge that if your generation actually goes on every adventure listed in this book, plays each of the sports, does the whole program of exercises, and practices all the recommended sexual techniques, you're going to kill yourselves.
No Regrets By Sid Evans
You only live once, but if you work it right, once is enough.- Joe E. Louis
This book is about the things a man can do to live a more adventurous life. Recently I tried one of those things, whitewater kayaking, when I was visiting Men's Journal contributor Reggie Crist in Sun Valley, Idaho. Reggie is a former Olympic skier and a world-class kayaker who likes to run six miles in the mountains before breakfast. For years he and his family have kayaked the North Fork of the Payette River near Stanley, which is famous for having some of the most difficult whitewater in North America. We were going to be paddling the Cabarton, just above the North Fork, which Reggie assured me was "not as serious."
On the drive from Sun Valley we stopped at a small alpine lake where Reggie's sister Danielle, a winner of the Survival of the Fittest contest and the owner of a kayak school, spent an hour teaching me how to do an Eskimo roll-lean to the opposite side of the boat, get your paddle out of the water, flick your hips, and stroke-how to steer, and how to "exit" the boat if I was unable to roll. I told Danielle and Reggie I was nervous about the idea of going through rapids upside down.
"All you have to do is lean forward and keep paddling hard," Reggie told me. "Especially when we get to the Plunge." "The Plunge?" I asked. Reggie just laughed.
By noon the next day we were stroking toward the first stretch of rapids on the Cabarton, known as the Cocaine Wave. I could see up ahead where the river narrowed into a canyon and the clear green water turned to white foam. As we got closer, I could hear the crashing of the waves, a sound that until this moment I had always considered pleasant. Wearing a wet suit, a plastic helmet, and a life vest, I was flanked by Reggie, Danielle, and several of their superathletic friends, but I was still not convinced that I would survive the day. When the first big waves started tossing around my 40-pound kayak, I heard Reggie shouting something, but before I could figure out what it was, I was underwater.
It had crossed my mind on the drive up to Stanley that whitewater kayaking was not my kind of sport. A longtime fly-fisherman, I had spent the majority of my river time on the surface, breathing oxygen. Now, as my kayak was being whisked through the Cocaine Wave, I was gaining an entirely new perspective. If a rapid looks wild when you are paddling into it, then it is ten times as wild on the other side. Clouds of air bubbles are swirling all around you, strong currents are pushing and pulling you in different directions at the same time, and, of course, there is no oxygen. Add to this the fact that it's somewhat difficult to "exit" a kayak-pull off the spray skirt, push with both hands to free your butt from the seat, slide your legs out-and being upside down in a rapid becomes an intensely urgent situation. If you can perform an Eskimo roll in mid-rapid-what kayakers call a "combat roll"-you right your boat and keep paddling downriver; if not, then getting out of that boat quickly becomes the most important thing you've ever done. Bagging the idea of an Eskimo roll almost immediately, I focused, made my exit, came gasping to the surface, and rode out the rapid on my back. Reggie and Danielle and the others were whooping and clapping when I finally crawled out of the river. As if I'd been kayaking for years, Reggie said, "Hey, man, what happened to the roll?"
Adventure, of course, is all about experience-in some cases, years of experience-but if you turn to page 13, you'll find a short piece about whitewater kayaking that tells you how to perform an Eskimo roll and how to exit your boat in a rapid, should the need arise. (It will.) It also tells you a little bit about what to expect on the river, what sort of gear you might want to buy (I strongly recommend nose clips), and what kinds of skills are required to become proficient in the sport. Like a lot of what's in this book, this information won't do you much good until you've bought it in your first big rapid. There is nothing like a dose of terror to speed up the learning process. But just as we try to do in Men's Journal, our goal for The Great Life was to give men a kind of road map to an interesting life. You pick a route and take your chances; how much territory you cover is up to you.
You can't learn much about tantric sex or mountain climbing or catching a six- pound trout by reading about them, either. Especially tantric sex. But we've gone to the absolute experts in all of these areas-and a lot more-to try to create a comprehensive guide to a modern man's active life. Some people will tell you that the great life is all about making more money, buying a nicer house, driving a faster car, drinking expensive wine, and having the right cuffs on your shirt. There's nothing wrong with any of that, but we think that men are looking for something a little bigger, more surprising, more fun. We think that men want adventure in the natural world, where life is stripped to its purest forms; they want to excel in sports that make them feel strong; they want to know how to take care of their bodies; and they want to travel to interesting places and be ready for anything when they get there. This can become complicated when you get in over your head-literally-but at the end of the day it's all about having as many experiences as possible.
There are six sections in this book, each one covering an important part of a man's life: adventure, sports, fitness and health, women, skills, and vices. We've compiled some of our favorite articles that have appeared in Men's Journal since the magazine was founded in 1992, and we've also included lots of new material that goes into greater detail than what the magazine usually covers. We've tried to pack every section, every chapter, and every sidebar with the kind of information that a man can really use, the secrets you learn over a lifetime.
I spent most of my day on the Cabarton going down the rapids upside down. I learned to exit my boat quickly, and after my second or third swim I felt completely comfortable in the river. When we reached the Plunge, we pulled into an eddy to strategize. About 100 yards down, I could see where the river disappeared over a ledge into a cloud of mist. "Just remember, lean forward and paddle hard and you'll be fine," Reggie said. "And try not to freak out when you see it." He was laughing-that same maniacal Idaho laugh-as he said this, and then he stroked downstream and was gone.
Every time I think about going over that waterfall-head down, paddling hard-I wonder how I could have lived so long without learning how to kayak. I remember the free fall of descending that seven-foot drop, riding the big tongue of water that exploded into the deep hole below, and the way my breathing stopped before I'd even gone under. It was a foregone conclusion that I was going to wipe out at the bottom, and wipe out I did-mightily. Maybe if I'd read about kayaking in a book like this one, I would have known that almost no one pulls off a combat roll on their first trip. It might have made me feel better about the thrashing I took. But here is the image that stays with me: I think about flushing through the Plunge upside down, throwing my paddle into position, flicking my hips and stroking hard for the combat roll. In my mind's eye I nail it every time.