Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot

Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250081971
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 02/09/2016
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 282,329
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

National Geographic Explorer SARAH MARQUIS has been profiled in The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic. During the last twenty-three years, Marquis circumnavigated the globe on foot once and then stopped counting. She’s been covered for solo expeditions in many countries, such as Australia and South America, and her first long walk was the famous Pacific Crest Trail in the United States.

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Wild by Nature

From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot


By Sarah Marquis

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 Sarah Marquis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-08199-5



CHAPTER 1

Before a departure ...

"I wanted to be alone on my walk, but not just that. My mission was both much more serious and at the same time unique."


A sublime sensation started growing in me the moment that leaving showed itself to be the only option. I knew deep in my heart that this departure was the only way to be loyal to the fire that burned within me. I could feel it weakening, the flame was shrinking. ... It was time to go out and collect the wood that would allow me to rediscover my life's flame.

That's how I left. On foot — a fact that presented itself to me as obvious — and alone.

Don't misunderstand me. I didn't one day just jump in an airplane, thinking, "Cool, I'm going to cross the globe walking from north to south!"

It required a huge undertaking, with tons of determination and energy, all before even beginning to walk. I had to put together a team that I could count on, with an expedition leader. For my two previous expeditions, my brother Joël had been by my side. Sabrina, his partner, had taken care of all the logistics for the "Path of the Andes" expedition. We planned everything over coffee, with no headaches, laughing as we went, sharing love for a job well done. After my last expedition, Joël set down his suitcases with his partner and their young daughter. He started his own mountain excursion business, to which he devotes all his time. So I knew that this expedition would take place without him.

My twenty years of experience in this field has taught me that it's vital to anticipate any and all potential problems. I therefore set out to find someone living in each of the countries I was going to cross who could speak English and who, in case of an emergency, could organize an evacuation, talk with the authorities, take care of visas, etc.


* * *

In discussing preparations, it's important to take stock of the complexity of the project. In total: six countries to cross, diverse and varied terrain ranging from jungle to desert, from hot to cold, from snow to sand. As is my habit, I don't leave without equipping myself with good old topographic maps on paper, essential in my eyes. My new expedition leader suggests digital maps, which would have the advantage of being lighter. Something to keep in mind, maybe as plan B.

These operations have a cost that I have to determine and budget for in order to move on to the next step: finding partners to sponsor my expedition, which I've baptized eXplorAsia. At the same time, I need to devote myself to my physical preparation with an intense training program aimed at endurance.

And there it is, two years of preparation in a nutshell. Alone, I launched the machine of this gigantic initiative. As time progressed, good people appeared, as well as some who were not so good. Then one day we got the definite go-ahead. I could finally shift from the planning to the active phase of my expedition.

Vevey, Switzerland, June 2010 — one week before departure


It's only three o'clock in the afternoon, but I'm exhausted. I lie down on my dog's bed, sharing it with him. I'm sad. I'm going to have to leave D'Joe in Switzerland. Each time my eyes fall on his wild coat flecked with red, white, and blue-grey, I can feel Australia, and it reminds me of our crazy adventures — the fire from which he saved my life, our long days without food, our stiflingly hot desert crossings, and our night walks when he wanted nothing more than to sleep....

His breed is the closest a dog gets to a dingo. D'Joe is a Red Heeler, or Australian cattle dog. I saved his life on a farm when he was about seven.

This happened during my expedition to Australia, from 2002 to 2003, when I walked 8,700 miles — 6,200 of them in D'Joe's company — across the most isolated zones on the continent. When we met, I made him a backpack and he became part of my life. Since then, we've shared everything. It seemed completely natural when D'Joe touched Swiss earth in the winter of 2003, after a remarkable flight. With no money, I had to call on people who had supported me from the beginning to fund the transport and quarantine costs of my loyal companion. I can never thank those of you who repatriated D'Joe enough for your generosity.

My heart tightens. I can't imagine not seeing D'Joe upon returning home. I've organized everything, even made appointments with a veterinary osteopath for his achy hind legs. I'll leave my scent in my room with clothes that I've worn; that way he'll sense my presence and won't worry, for awhile at least. I'm sad.

Eight days before I leave and my twenty-four-by-twelve-foot living room is full of gear. There's not an inch of floor that isn't covered in stuff, things piled on top of each other. I've meticulously planned each of my hypothetical needs. The store Yosemite in Lausanne helped me by taking charge of, among other things, the logistics of ordering gear. This is how I spent entire mornings with Alain and Sabrina, who were a huge help when it came to choosing all the equipment. My biggest concern was choosing the right footwear. Since the shoe company Raichle no longer makes the ones I've used for years, I had to choose another kind. The good old Swiss brand I wanted was sold out and my favorite model disappeared from the catalog. Let's hope my feet like my new walking shoes — I bought eight pairs.

That week, I only sleep a few hours.

I feel a mix of joy and dispiritedness. Sadness gnawing my stomach, I look at D'Joe lying on the pile of camping stoves and fleece jackets in the middle of the living room. Silently he says, "Don't leave ... please," with eyes even sadder than mine.

But suddenly my mom, who joined the base camp at Vevey to give us a hand, slips on my backpack, which is way too big for her, and starts pushing my cart. Laughter ensues and lightens the mood. Meanwhile, Gregory, the expedition leader, is in the yard making sure that the satellite phone connection works with the solar panel.


A woman in Mongolia (preparation)

Each culture is a sort of magic box where one discovers with wonder and curiosity the habits and customs of a country. To survive in a foreign country, the first thing you need to do is learn about its history; I immersed myself in Mongolia's. And knowing that, generally speaking, only seven percent of the communication between two humans is based on language, I have a ninety-three percent chance that everything will go well. In Mongolia, the power of both the close and distant family clan is the key to everyone's survival, and the notions of property and privacy are less rigid than they are in the Western world. What outsiders might consider stealing, Mongolians would look at as being appropriate behavior within a family clan. It's part of their identity, something that is most likely why, for centuries, outsiders have viewed Mongolians as thieves.

In my backpack nestles an English-Mongolian dictionary, small and light, as well as my trusty collection of images that allow me to make myself understood. It contains illustrations of just about any basic situation — whether tense, dangerous, or funny — that a tourist might encounter in a foreign country; a white, female tourist, that is, one traveling alone in the steppe.

The Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet is related to an earlier Uyghur script. Learning the Cyrillic alphabet is, therefore, essential if you want to decipher Mongolian — the language of all of my topographic maps. Fortunately, the metric equivalents are the same as what I'm used to.

On the ground, I've used my ears a lot, asking locals I passed on my routes to repeat the names of the next villages, listening closely to the exact pronunciation. Then I'd repeat them over and over until I mastered the right intonation. Having evolved amidst so many different cultures, I know that a language isn't made of words; it has its melody, its intonations, its own rhythms that must be carefully observed.

Mongolia is one of the rare countries where my safety would be threatened just about every day. A country where the World Health Organization inventoried "diphtheria, hepatitis A, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis ..." and the list went on. Illnesses like the plague and brucellosis are still present in the steppe. Mongolia has also seen epidemics of meningitis and cholera.

My last vaccine was twenty years ago. It made me so sick that I never had another. But for this trip I had decided to get my tetanus booster, which I did, and also to protect myself against rabies. But this immunization required three injections given at fairly long intervals, and in the stress of my departure I hadn't had enough time. I was therefore well-advised to avoid being bitten or licked by a wild animal or a dog.

The preparations for my trip lasted two years and were tedious. Emptied, exhausted, I am finally sitting on the plane, seat 24B, ready to take off for Mongolia.

CHAPTER 2

Mongolia, My Beginning


I'm forced to stop, the temperature has again reached 104°F. My body has been reacting badly since the beginning and I need to listen attentively to what it has to tell me. I slow down and moderate my efforts.

On this day, I decide to walk to the thicket of trees I see from on top of a hill. It will take me more than an hour to reach this little zone of shade. Once there, I close my eyes and collapse, my head in my hands. It feels like there's a little monkey in my head, banging on metal cups. I know exactly what's happening to me, since it's what always happens to me at the beginning of an expedition. I've gotten sunstroke again, and yet, not an inch of my skin is exposed to the sun.

The next morning, I begin my day with my head looking like a slowly roasted pear. The morning light hurts my eyes, but I'm happy, the sunstroke has passed. At least that's over with!

I walk slowly, pushing my cart along the uneven terrain. This takes a lot of effort, but I know that without the cart, I wouldn't be able to travel these long distances where there's nothing, not a single village where I can resupply. I have with me two weeks' worth of limited food rations and over twenty liters of water reserves. After just ten short minutes, I come upon the other side of the hill.

What an unexpected discovery! I take off my sunglasses to be sure I'm seeing clearly. Before me is a valley full of real trees, a forest dense with birch, and at their feet a carpet of green ferns. The place is magical, and I'm so astounded by its beauty that I get out my video camera. It's as though I've been transported to another country, far from the typical, bare steppe.

Video camera in hand, I film this woodland scene straight out of a fairy tale. Suddenly, I catch my breath, my elbows squeezed against my body to keep from moving. Something brown has appeared in the frame. My eyes widen as the thing comes closer. My God, I don't think he sees me! Without taking my eyes off him, I check to see that the little red "record" dot is lit up on the screen.

He moves forward again — this morning's light breeze is blowing in the opposite direction — I'm lucky. He continues with prudent steps, as though he senses danger without being able to discern what it is. But his desire to follow his path wins out. Just then he rushes forward, a few yards from my camera. I stand silently in disbelief, bubbling over on the inside. Then he bounds away between the ferns into the woods. For a moment more I can make out his bouncing hindquarters before disappearing deep into the forest.

It was a magnificent buck just a few years old, given that his antlers weren't very big. I'm left speechless. His caramel garb and big, black eyes are still floating before me and I have to blink to come back to my senses. The encounter leaves me awestruck and full of energy. It erases all the little corporeal memories, sending nonstop signals of pain. I push my cart, suddenly light as a feather, up the slope. I thank the vagabond of the woods, the cause of the sudden lightness.


* * *

While my body walks, pushes, carries my movable house, my spirit smiles and slips away into another forest during the summer of 2002 in the United States. I was walking the 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, a path that goes from the Canadian border to the Mexican border.

It's the end of a long day of walking. I find myself in a forest of dark, humid pines, where a sense of chaos reigns. Trunks covered in green moss blanket the ground, others remain halfway suspended. A large granite rock that seems to come out of nowhere catches my eye. I move toward it and joyfully put down my pack.

At my feet, a deep stream with no current, opaquely black, imprisons the big rock that I saw from far away. I undress and slip into the cold water. If you move into water slowly, the body adapts and the sensation of cold is diminished. Without moving, I sink little by little until just my head is above water. It's a simple experience of abandon; I feel like I'm nothing more than a head at the surface of this black water; my body has disappeared, the cold water has put it to sleep. Suddenly, a movement draws my attention to the other side of the stream. My eyes open wide, I can't believe it! It's a magnificent stag! He moves forward slowly, freezes, listens, then, after a long moment, bounds ahead elegantly and soundlessly. He swims, a procedure at which he demonstrates astonishing mastery. I still haven't moved, the top of the water is a true mirror. These majestic woods seem to shift themselves to the surface without a body beneath them. The black, stagnant water accentuates this impression. With no fear, the stag passes right next to me. He reaches the bank just a few steps from my dry clothes, then disappears, bounding elegantly into the dark and humid forest.


* * *

Back in Mongolia, my shoulders are untouchable because they hurt so much. Just about every one of my muscles is swollen. Since my departure, my body has creaked into motion like an old steam locomotive slowly taking off.

I started training a year ago, but didn't push myself as much as I did for the previous expeditions. I was short on time, as the size of the project didn't leave me much time to spare.

So I promised myself I would be careful at first, and find my rhythm. I move forward slowly but surely, as pushing a 110-pound cart and carrying a 40-pound pack on my back requires some effort. Since the ground is uneven, progress is difficult.

I find myself on the summit of one of the hills that I'd seen to the north, bare but green. The air is very heavy. Moving my tongue across my lips reveals the tension in my body. I'm sweating. Salt is everywhere, the temperature is holding steady at 104°F and there's not a single tree or bush around to provide shade.

From this small height, I carefully observe the curves of the countryside. I need to find water, which has been an incredibly difficult task up to this point. My long career as a water hunter spares me the anguish that most people would normally feel in this kind of situation. Over the years, I've used and acquired different techniques for gathering water. Here are a few of them:

• Dig a hole in the earth and cover the opening with a plastic bag. Place a small stone in the middle (on the plastic). The temperature difference between day and night will create a condensation effect and water will collect.

• Another technique is to wrap a branch covered with as many leaves as possible in an air-tight plastic bag. It's best to use this technique when the sun is at its height. The leaves will begin to sweat (a sauna effect) and after a few hours you'll be able to collect the condensation at the bottom of the bag.

• The third technique is ancestral and is also used by animals. In the dried-up bed of a sandy stream, you can sometimes find water beneath the soft surface. First, picture the streambed before you filled with water. Then look for a curve, or an obstacle like a big rock. This may be the place where the water was slowed down before the stream dried up. Once you've found such a spot, and you're sure that it's worth it to spend your energy and your sweat to dig a hole at least three feet deep, then start digging. Once you've accomplished your mission, take a nap. When you open your eyes, if you guessed right, you'll find a small quantity of water at the bottom of your hole.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Wild by Nature by Sarah Marquis. Copyright © 2014 Sarah Marquis. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Dedications,
Introduction,
1. Preparation,
2. Mongolia, My Beginning,
3. Central Mongolia,
4. Gobi Desert,
5. Gobi Desert — Second Attempt,
6. China,
7. Gobi Desert — Third Attempt,
8. Siberia,
9. Laos,
10. Thailand,
11. Northern Australia,
12. Southern Australia,
Notes,
Acknowledgments,
About the Author,
Copyright,

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Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This a a book to reread at least annually. It was wonderful of Ms. Marquis to share her wonderful adventure. Thank you!