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Explore 2016: Strange lessons from the wild

Explore 2016: Strange lessons from the wild Tony Webster
18 Nov
Explorers share a strange experience from the wild and what it taught them 

Explorers often make feats of endurance look easy.  However, the unknown can terrify, cultural faux-pas can be made, and accidents do happen. The following stories show that it is okay to be scared, embarrassed or the butt of joke. That even the best-prepared adventurer can be humbled by remote locations, extreme environments and their own funny mistakes.  Let's open-up about the outdoors.


The best angle

‘I was travelling through the rusty red landscape of Wadi Rum, Jordan as part of a photo project on deserts. At one point our beduin guide, Eid, knelt down for his daily prayers photogenically giving scale to the mighty cliffs surrounding him. Excited by the evocative image before me I buzzed around like a fly trying different focal length and camera angles to get the best composition. When he had finished I gave him a warm smile and a wave. Later that day my travelling companion took me aside and whispered “Eid asked me why you kept taking pictures of him urinating?".’ - Quintin Lake, Photographer (@QuintinLake)


Without a paddle and asleep

‘It seemed light.  I rubbed my eyes.  I must stil be asleep, I thought, as I saw water left and right. But slowly coming to, I realised that I was in a canoe somewhere out in the middle of a lake.  Whilst confused and amused at first, it dawned on me that I hadn't a clue where I was, and didn't have a paddle.  Frantically surveying the scene, I recognised a jetty a kilometre or so behind me. Swimming back to shore, dragging the lightweight canoe behind me I pieced together what had happened. I'd camped on the shore the night before, and inadvertently sleep walked into my canoe during the night.  I wont be sleeping near the shore or near any cliffs anytime soon".’ - Anonymous


Time for a change

‘It was minus 42 degrees, and we were camped on the sea ice en-route to the Magnetic Pole. It was approaching time to do our daily spilsbury radio check with the inuit community to the south; they only listened out for a ten-minute window either side of the hour. A quick check of the watch revealed...no watch. A thorough search of the tent, followed by a two-hour ski back along our tracks in bitter cold, revealed no watch lying in the snow; we were left with no way of telling the time.  Said watch duly appeared two days later, in the underpants I had been wearing for several days, and where it had obviously come off after hands had been thrust into nether regions in an effort to warm up. A regular change of underpants can assist expedition radio communications.’


Trying to sleep in the deep

‘I woke up suddenly to something bumping into the side of the boat. I lay still, aware, waiting for what might happen next. In a small rowing boat on the Pacific I felt vulnerable and alone - I just wanted to be left to sleep in peace for a few hours. Silence, and then a splash, a great breath, and the boat rocked in the water. A bump again, and then a scraping - Something Big was pushing itself along the side of the boat, knocking me off balance in my bunk. I held my breath, not wanting to attract more attention, and waited for the next sound, the next crash. The minutes seemed interminable, until I finally realised that nothing had happened for a long while...it had gone. The boat was still intact.’ - Elsa Hammond, explorer, rower and wild swimmer, (@ElsaAHammond)


Look out below

‘After exiting the plane at 15,000ft, and having fun with some jump buddies in the sky, I deployed my parachute, and as I did so, my helmet somehow came off and went hurtling to earth. After I landed, I was determined to go and search for it. The chief instructor told me not to bother, that it was gone for good. Two hours, four big fields and one episode of being chased by huge cows later, I found it! I felt like I'd found £500 lying in a field. Lesson: always buy bright kit - it makes it easier to spot!’ - Wendy Searle, skydiver (@betweensnowsky)


Look out above

‘We were running surveys in the rain forests of Northern Madagascar, and around midnight a trail of head torches were strung out along the hillside heading home. Just as we began to descend down to base camp, a thunderous crash rumbled through the canopy. An enormous branch, that until a few moments ago, was happily growing sixty feet up, had just come down a few paces from my tent. At midnight, tired, hungry and worried, deadfall is inconvenient to say the least. Peering up into the night you worry about the rest of the tree, and the safety of your team. You worry other trees that might have been damaged in the fall, but you also worry about moving camp in the dark. You checked for deadfall when you picked a campsite, this doesn't feel fair! Should you wait till morning? What if something happens. What if we're not thinking clearly because we're all tired and hungry? All you can do is try to make your best decision.’ - James Borrell, conservationist and explorer (@James_Borrell)


Accident Pros

‘Bulgaria, Autumn: I roll to a halt beside Andy. “Mate,” he says. “We have a problem. A really big problem.” I look down. There’s a six-inch crack along the rim of his rear wheel and the inner tube is bulging horribly from the gaping maw. We are only 3 months into our round-the-world bike ride. Turkey, Winter: the ambulance lurches to one side. We’re arriving at the hospital. The paramedic gets to her feet, and my attention returns to the deep throbbing pain in my face. I am covered in blood, blind in one eye and I have very little idea what just happened. Mongolia, Spring:  we look at each other in horror. We have each assumed that the other would bring spare inner-tubes. It’s a 1000 kilometres to the nearest asphalt and the valve on Andy’s rear wheel has just snapped off. Oman, Summer: I am drenched in sweat. It’s 40 degrees and climbing, and the humidity is hovering at 100 percent. It’s a week’s ride back to the nearest city, and I am standing in the middle of the desert with a piece of snapped metal in my hands and my worldly possessions at my feet. The breakage is irreparable.

What do you do in situations like these? The same thing everyone does. First, you stand paralysed, crippled. Then you realise that the time has come, you must solve the problem yourself by whatever means necessary.  Then you go ahead and get on with it’


Creepy encounters

‘I'm in Indonesia, in a  jungle, by a river with a hot spring. We had made camp, and were cooking dinner. I noticed that all the local staff were taking the empty tin cans and hanging them on their hammock strings. When asked why, they warned that the place was haunted and that they wanted to be alerted if any ghost came too close. That night I couldn’t sleep, so I crawled out of my hammock and went down to the river in the moonlight. Someone was crouching by the waters edge, an old man I didn’t recognize… then it struck me, we were in the middle of nowhere - there was no one for miles around! All my hairs stood on end, and as breeze picked up, the cans started jangling! Note to self: if the locals put cans on their hammock, do the same!’ - Catherine Edsell, Expedition Leader (@cathadventure)


Thoughts on port

‘At minus 35 degrees Celsius, port shows signs of thickening slightly. Sheltering inside the shell of an old wooden hut on Canada’s Melville Island, the bottle of port, followed by a cigar, was being passed around the four sleeping bags as we started the nightly ritual and settled for another cold night. The sound of footsteps squeaking in the snow outside the hut brought the convivial atmosphere to an abrupt halt; Melville was uninhabited. With no windows to see what was outside, a conclusion was reached that it had to be a polar bear. A port-fueled decision was made to release a rifle shot through the roof of the hut, only averted at the last minute by the sight of four white wolf heads peeking through the narrow crack of the ill-fitting door. The Lesson? Never ever shoot a hole in the roof before opening the front door.’


Got a strange lesson to share? Email your entries to [email protected] 


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