Tasting Life Twice

Archive for the category “Adventure Stories”

Twain Tracks

I found this great adventure story in the United travel magazine.  Something I’ve often wanted to do – a 70 year-old Northwestern professor beat me to it! 


Twain Tracks
A Dodge Caravan pulls into Seattle on a typically damp afternoon.  The driver, 70-year-old Northwestern University professor Loren Ghiglione, and his two traveling companions get out and take a good long strech.  It’s especially well deserved, given that they’ve been on the road for 85 days – eating at roadside buffets, drinking gas station coffee, crashing at Super 8s – all in the name of one man: Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain.
       Along with Northwestern junior Dan Tham and recent graduate Alyssa Karas, Ghighlione launched this 13,500 mile odyssey from Twain’s hometown of Florida, Mo (current population: zero), stitching together a 30-city itinerary inspired by routes that the author took in the 1850s and 1860s.  their goal: to explore identity in America by interviewing people along the way about race, immigration and sexuality for a book Ghiglione is working on.
       “I’ve always been fascinated by Twain, and I thought, ‘Maybe I can use him to get people to think about serious issues,” Ghiglione says, noting that Twain once wrote that ‘travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.’  In fact Twain himself had been an admitted bigot before enlightened through travel.
       Ghiglione recruited Karas and Tham through a student email blast and received a grant to fund the adventure.  Their stops included the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City (“It was 11 a.m. and everyone was sleeping,” recalls Karas); a barbershop on Chicago’s South Side frequented by President Obama (Ghiglione got a trim) and an old Nevada mining town, where Tham celebrated his 21st birthday (the locals baked  him a carrot cake).
       “A lot of times, we just dropped in on people and hoped for the best,” says Karas, who squeezed an interview out of Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. after arriving at his office unannounced.  “We always finished the day saying, ‘Wow, we got lucky.’
       Except, that is, in San Francisco, where thieves broke into the Caravan and stole Ghiglione’s and Karas’ laptops, as well as Karas’ suitcase.  Fortunately, Tham’s computer, which held the bulk of the trip’s video footage, was spared, and Karas’ luggage was eventually found with her belongings intact – mostly.  “My clothes were in there,” she says, “but the thieves took my biography of Mark Twain.” Perhaps they were planning a road trip of their own.
– Nicole Frehsee


The Makings of a Good Bar Story

Here’s an interesting read from a few weeks back.  The owner of one of my  favorite local haunts is in the front of the line to see the earth from space.  The comments section of the online article also includes some cheeky back-and-forth about the wisdom of spending $200,000 for a space flight when this money could be spent elsewhere. 

Smith, who owns downtown Columbia’s Flat Branch Pub & Brewing, is among 300 clients who have signed up to be inaimageugural passengers on the first commercial spaceship.

Yesterday, he was in the Mojave Desert to watch British billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic unveil the SpaceShipTwo, which was renamed the VSS Enterprise. The six-seat bullet-shaped craft, roughly the size of a large business jet, is expected to offer 2½-hour tourist space flights in 2011.

Smith is paying the $200,000 ticket price to be one of its first galactic tourists.

“I simply want to be in space,” he said during a phone interview with the Tribune yesterday from California. “I want to see the curve of the Earth. I want to see the planet from space — no lines on a map, no countries, just the Earth in its entirety. And out the other window, I’ll be able to look and see the blackness of space and the stars — the stars won’t be twinkling because there will be no atmosphere between us. I’ll just be able to look out into the universe.”

Smith’s interest in space comes from his dad, Floyd Smith, who was an aerospace engineer for McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis. “I read all the sci-fi stuff as a kid,” he said. “And with my father basically being a rocket scientist, the world of space travel wasn’t just a crazy idea.”…..

…..If all goes as planned, Smith will be among the first 1,000 humans to visit space. NASA has sent fewer than 500 people outside the atmosphere over the past 40 years.

Then again, “they were flying to the moon,” Smith said. “We’re just popping up for a little sightseeing and back. … And little ol’ Columbia gets to be there.”

If nothing else, he said, being among the first space tourists “will make for a good bar story.”

Two Ladies on Top of the World – in Africa!

Last year I taught a course, “Journeys and Journals: Stories of Exploration” where we considered the nature of travel, the human quest for adventure and what happens when we step out of our comfort zone and experience “threshold anxiety” and the romance of differences. 

Jordan Floyd, one of my students at William Woods University, told our class of a fascinating trip she made a few years ago.  During her senior year of high school, Jordan was asked by her grandmother, “where do you want to go for your senior trip?”  Grandma said it would be just the two of them.  Without hesitation, Jordan replied, “Africa.  I want to go Africa.” 

Grandma had made a trip to Africa about a decade earlier and the stories from that exotic land has left a mark on the grandchildren.  Grandma agreed to take Jordan there, but on one condition: she had to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with her!  Grandma explained that the last time she was in Africa, she couldn’t talk members of her party into making the ascent up to the summit (19,331 feet). 

So two years ago, Jordan and her grandmother traveled to Tanzania.  Jordan says,

When we arrived at the mountain it was cloudy and rainy.  That was just our luck.  So we bundled up in a  image bunch of unnecessary layers.  When we got to the starting point we were greeted by these cheery faced men who were going to be joining us on our hike…we had eighteen shurpas, a first aide guy, a cook, a server and two guides.

It took them six days to reach the peak and two to return to the base.  Along the way, Jordan writes, 

my grandma and I talked about everything imaginable until we literally ran out of things to talk about.  Then we started thinking about how we could be shopping in Paris or on the beach somewhere amazing, but instead we were hiking.”

She continues:

The hike was good until the third to last day when we got to about 17,000 feet and were camped at the base of the steepest slope I have ever seen.  Msafiri, our guide, told us that is how we were going to get to the top.  I wasn’t really surprised because we passed people throughout the trail they told us we were crazy to take the Western Breach.  So, I looked up this slope and wanted to cry….that night was the first night we noticed how cold it was.  We woke at four am and ate some breakfast.  We put on all of our clothes because it was supposed to be real cold.  We started out climb in the dark.  Bad idea.  I was already really nervous from what I saw on the breach the day before.  The entire trail before had been straight up.  Unlike in the USA, it didn’t zig zag gradually up the mountain.  Msafiri told us that it would zig zag and not go straight up.  He lied.  African zig zag is two steps to the left and two steps to the right and then ten steps straight up.  I had to trade my grandma backpacks because somehow her bag was as a lot heavier than mine.  She has a tiny little body that if she accidentally tipped the wrong way it would be sayonara grandma….

….Once we made it up the hill, we were awestruck by the beautiful glaciers that sat on top Kili.  They had three glaciers that were on top.  They were huge, at least twenty feet tall that seemed to go on forever.  Not only were the glaciers beautiful, but it was as if we were in an airplane and on top of the clouds.  We could look across at Kili’s sister mountain as she stuck her peak through the clouds.  We finally reached the sign that said we were at the peak.  My grandma started to cry.  I was really happy for her that she was able to complete what she had wanted to do for so long and that I was able to experience it with her. 


Bull Running Scary, But Always a Good Story

Last year I taught a course, “Journeys and Journals: Stories of Exploration” where we considered the nature of discovery and why it is that people cross boundaries and leave their comfort zones.  We also discussed risk management and the experience of disequilibrium.  Our stories covered everything from Homer’s Odyssey to a local girl who hopped a security fence and climbed a 300-ft smokestack.  The following article is a good addition to the collection of such stories. 

Bull running scary, but always a good story


NEWS ITEM: A young Spanish man was gored to death last week in the traditional running of the bulls in Pamplona.

I ran with the bulls once. Just over 20 years ago. I was younger and faster back then. I was also drunk. Everyone was. What most people don’t realize about that famous Spanish tradition — popularized by Ernest Hemmingway in "The Sun Also Rises"– is that it is part of the weeklong festival of St. Fermin, and another part of that festival is drinking all night. And I mean all night.

Then, when the sun comes up, they close the bars, block the exits and let the beasts loose. Imagine telling thousands of tired, tipsy people to run a 100-yard dash after a full night of Mardi Gras. It would be crazy without bulls.

On my particular night in Pamplona, I saw moreimage injuries during the dark than during the light. I saw a barefoot woman step onto glass and bleed profusely — before dunking her foot into a large cup of beer. I saw several fistfights and shoving matches.

Fortunately, I had a mentor, a local guy named Pablo whom I met that night. He wore the traditional red scarf and white shirt and told me his family had been running with the bulls for generations. He had enough English to ask if I would introduce him to American girls, and I had enough sense to say only if he ran with me come morning.

We made a deal.

For all I know, it saved my life.

Safety in numbers

Here’s the way the whole thing works. Around 8 a.m., after a few prayers sung by the masses, the bulls are released from the corral. They stampede through the narrow, cobblestone streets and finish about a half-mile later, in the stadium, where they will be killed in bullfights.

So they’re racing to their deaths. Can you blame them for wanting to take a few of us along?

Read more…

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