I have led a somewhat… adventurous life. I have visited seven continents, flown in the back seat of an F-18 supersonic jet during an aerial combat exercise, hiked glaciers, scuba-dived, jumped out a plane free-falling from 10,000 feet and… well, you get the drift.
Most people have a few near misses during their lives, but looking back, I have had more than my share of close scrapes, dating all the way back to my childhood. So in this article, I decided I would share these with you, as a cautionary tale to would-be adventurers.
Close encounter number 1:
When I was eight I was in the habit of climbing a steep cliff behind my grandmother’s house on Bonavista Bay in eastern Newfoundland. The incentive was that at the top of the cliff lived my Aunt Gladys, who always had freshly baked bread for me should I drop by. Of course, I could have taken the road up instead, but that was a long walk. It was a beautiful summer’s day and the sun glimmered on the bay. As I scooted over a hump at the very top of the cliff, I slipped and found myself hanging over the edge of a sheer hundred foot drop. Luckily, my cousin Clifford happened by and pulled me up. I dusted myself off and went on for a feed of bread and molasses.
Close encounter number 2:
By now I was 15, and at this point in my life I spent a month in West Africa, mostly in Ghana but there was also a brief visit to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). We traversed the country, visiting the Akoneda Shrine (the local juju magic school) and experienced a private audience with the King of the Ashanti at his palace in Kumasi. Nothing too serious happened while in Africa (though there was a military coup a month after I went home and the king was very annoyed that one of our party did not wear a tie…). However, shortly after I got back to Canada, I started having high fevers and chills. It took a while for the doctors to figure it out, but finally they concluded: I had contracted malaria. Thankfully it wasn’t the rapidly fatal “blackwater fever” but a somewhat more treatable variety.
Close encounter number 3:
There was quite a gap between age 15 and my next effort to do myself in. The ten-thousand-foot jump from an airplane and subsequent free-falling went without a hitch. However, while hiking a glacier in Iceland, I was trying to get the perfect photo of a glacial mill, a hole in the ice about 200 feet deep. The ice around the mill was a lustrous blue, and as I straddled it to get my shot, I slipped. Thankfully my cleats caught the ice and I managed to wrench myself backwards to safety. Had I not done so I would have emerged a few hundred years later as an “ice man”.
Close encounter number 4
My next near-lethal exercise occurred while diving in the Galapagos Islands. The near miss with a man-eating Galapagos shark wasn’t as much of a close call, since I managed to find myself a few people between me and it. However, while trying out my new underwater camera, desperate to get close-up footage of three graceful eagle rays… I got a little too close. It turned out that the two smaller rays following the large one were male rays on the prowl. When one of them reached the female, the water suddenly erupted into a wild thrashing mass of razor sharp, poisonous spikes. They whipped within inches of my body and face, but amazingly, I wasn’t touched. Check out this video of spotted eagle rays.
Close encounter number 5
After that, at least for a while, I was more cautious. However, while cruising Antarctica a few years later I climbed to the top of a snow-covered cliff (childhood habit) and sat down at the top to have a snack. The problem was that the top of the cliff overlooked an ice-encrusted rocky beach about 200 feet below. Heights don’t bother me, but while chowing down, I had moved imperceptibly closer to the edge. As the snow underneath me started to crumble, one of the guides advised me to move slightly forward. I did so, probably for the best.
Close encounter number 6
My “Top Gun” F-18 aerial combat exercise, including pulling 6.9 G’s and getting radar locks on our opponents, did not involve any unforeseen events. I have to say, though, that at certain points in the exercise, air-sickness from barrel rolls, loops, dives, etc., made me contemplate the end of times in a not totally unfavourable light.
Close encounter number 7
My next self-destructive attempt involved chasing after a shark while diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Once again my camera was the culprit. When I spotted the shark, my first impulse was to get as close as possible so that I could take video. For this reason I paddled like mad towards the formidable predator. To be fair, he was only a few feet longer than me (I’m 6 feet and 1 inch) and it must have been rather odd for something to actually chase him (or her). The shark stared at me for a few moments, probably confused, and then decided that anything worth eating probably wouldn’t be swimming rapidly towards it. With a disgusted look it bolted for deeper water when I had barely gotten within ten feet.
Close encounter number 8
Argentina is a lovely country and Buenos Aires a beautiful capital city. Unfortunately, the good people of this country have had their shares of economic ills, and as I left for the international airport after an enjoyable visit, I noticed large crowds of people gathering followed by the arrival of police vehicles. I believe the riots started just as my flight back to Canada lifted off the tarmac. That was cutting things even closer than the military coup in Ghana.
I am sure I could add to the list, however, I am getting a little depressed. As an army sergeant once put it: “Nobody is entirely f***** useless. They can always serve as a horrible example.”
I consider my job done.
All images courtesy of Dr George Burden—all rights reserved.