Meridian Star

February 28, 2014

In search of adventure

By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Many folks seek adventure in their lives. The word means different things to different people. I think I see adventure seekers in pursuits like economics, politics, sports. But I am not so sure that the word is the precise one for their enterprises because my knowledge of them is far from profound.

    Adventure to me has always been associated with happenings in the wilds, ever since writers and cinematographers captured my imagination and fed my appetite for forays into fascinating and often dangerous places ostensibly for taking Cape buffalo, giant billfish and the like. I have not faced an angry bull elephant in full charge, thus have never been privileged to measure the resulting adventure. But I have been blessed with enough adventures, by my standards, to overflow my cup. Many I can recommend to readers who share my thirst.

    Try hunting alone in the mountain west in the dead of winter. No fences show on the forest topo map, pre-GPS days. Of course no houses, except a rare sheep herder's cabin left unlocked to shelter wanderers like me far from camp in a blizzard. The scene was northern New Mexico upon which 120 inches of snow had compacted before another 60 inches fell the week I was there. A whiteout struck without warning. Take this paper and fold it over your face and try to see, stand straight and walk straight and you will simulate a whiteout. You can't see your feet or the end of your gun barrel.

    This, my first ever elk hunt, was an adventure. It would have been much more of an adventure if I hadn't brought my compass and memorized far-off boundaries like distant highways.

    Or try trudging six miles through 20 to 40 inches of fresh snow at night in mountain lion country and never reaching camp. I had seen two mountain lions walking together earlier in the day and had to travel frozen streams on my way out; streams that “flowed” beneath steep rock walls with many caves attractive to mountain lions that habitually lie in wait to drop down on trudging deer, bite resolutely into their spines just back of the ears to enjoy a week's victuals.

    How did I meet this adventure? I had learned before my hunt that Vermillion Creek flowed west of me, and my compass found a convenient star that was easy to follow. I sang loudly and constantly, speculating that cougars might wonder if a singing deer would cause indigestion. And I finally found lots of dry juniper on a windblown crest and built a huge fire.

    And then try creeping downhill on an abandoned mining trail in your Jeep, skidding along on ice well glazed by the afternoon sun, only to find that the road had long ago fallen off the mountain just ahead. Backing uphill was not a solution, even with the 4-wheel drive low range option, because a slight error in steering meant sailing off the edge into the clouds below with no bottom in sight. I had to turn around. This is when I felt adventure, along with several other things, like terror for instance.

    I had maybe four feet to work with beyond the length of the little 1951 Jeep. A few inches forward toward the cliff, gently applying the brake, skidding a few more inches and then shifting into reverse and easing back to bump the mountainside. Then I would start breathing again and carefully repeat the zigzag maneuver. I started to feel queasy when I remembered that I, a shade tree mechanic at best, had installed and adjusted the brakes on my rebuilt Jeep.

    I got turned around without falling off the icy cliff obviously, and managed to survive the other winter predicaments. Good preparation was essential and, with the Jeep incident, a little luck. Another time I'll offer examples of warm weather and water adventures you might want to try.