Lick your lips and get ready to gulp down a tankard of testosterone, boys and girls, because this installment of "In the Penny Press" belongs to Outside and Men’s Journal!
But we’ll start off, boringly enough, with a literary note. In an eensy-weensy sidebar in the middle of an article about what a great place Iceland is to visit (the article – heavy sigh for Outside – spends a LOT of breathless prose on Reykjavik’s swinging nightlife, but still…), somebody’s mother thought it would be a good idea to mention CULTURE.
The plug goes something like this: “Icelanders all read the Norse sagas, the equivalent of Greek epics.” (It goes on immediately with “if you don’t have time to cram them in …” but we’ll content ourselves with another heavy sigh – where is it written that everybody fond of hiking must be a literature-phobic boob? – and return to our regularly scheduled program).
To this eensy-weensy little blurb I can only append a hearty ‘I agree!’ With minimal hunting-effort, each and every one of you could probably track down the seven or eight slim old Penguin volumes of the Icelandic sagas (one presumes these are what the blurb’s author meant by ‘Norse,’ rather than the Elder Edda and the Prose Edda … almost sighing a third time here …), or get thee to the nearest Barnes & Noble and seek out a big fat Penguin volume (physically beautiful too) called The Sagas of the Icelanders. These stories are richer and more varied and more enthralling than any other national literature extant (except for Ireland, of course) – you’ll be glad you entered their world.
The other two points of interest in this issue both revolve around far more likely vacation-spots, both of which have been sampled and wholly enjoyed by your humble scribe. The first is the Delmarva peninsula down at the Chesapeake Bay – the article is, of course, heavy on the gearhead stuff (and the beer … sigh …), but nevertheless: ghosting down Snow Creek and Nassawango Creek and all the byways of the beautiful Pocomoke River – especially in the company of friends – is a very nice way to spend a week. Even in a country full of natural beauty, this place is beautiful.
Likewise the second piece, about hiking (no drinking this time, so no sighing) California’s harsh, gorgeous High Sierra – also a thing made infinitely more pleasant by the company of good and tried friends (dogs, in my case, but I’ve heard rumors that humans can be good company too).
Of course, the publication of articles like these two – and the unbelievable proliferation of ‘outfits’ that will get you there, fill you with beer, guide you all around, and then get you back in one piece (innumerable ads for such services, in the back of both these magazines) – virtually guarantee they’ll be overrun with boobs who’ll leave their beer cans behind and call you ‘dude’ when they meet you on the trail. These days, if you’re looking for a place where that won't happen, you should start thinking about offworld destinations.
Over in Men’s Journal, there’s slightly more variety. The letters page had this funny little exchange:
“After reading Jan Nesset’s negative review of the Deuter Hydro Exp 12 hydration pack in the June issue, I realized that Nesset was unaware that the way to eliminate sloshing in all hydration reservoirs is to remove the excess air from the bladder by turning it upside down and squeezing it. It’s kinda sad to think that she had to stand still to enjoy the sounds of nature because common sense (or a good friend with some) did not reveal the way to properly fill a hydration pack.”
To which the editors replied:
“We couldn’t agree more – but we’ve never heard of Jan Nesset or reviewed the Deuter Hydro Exp 12.”
On a far funnier (albeit unintentionally) note, the "Dispatches" section features a question about whether or not any living organism can survive in outer space, to which the editors give this answer:
“A free-floating bacteria wouldn’t last long,’ says Max Bernstein, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in California. ‘But give it a bit of shielding, like a comet, where it can escape some rays, and it might endure thousands of years.’ Several controversial theories hold that such superbugs introduced life to Earth via comets or meteors.”
To which we here at Stevereads say: complete and utter balderdash! Quasi-immortal organisms blasting to Earth’s surface inside meteors? And what would they do when they got here – take host in living things? Why, the heat of atmospheric entry would fry any living thing to a crisp! What could Outside’s editors have been thinking?
Still, not all judgement has left them, because the two-page ‘Exposure’ photo they present in this issue is nothing short of jaw-dropping: a solitary human diver floating just thirty feet from a semi-sleeping female humpback whale – if I had the requisite technical/hacker abilities, I’d somehow find that image online and post it here for all of you to marvel at – but I don’t, so you might want to marvel at it yourself, if you happen to be browsing the September issue.
But the issue’s two main highlights article-wise were a very big story and a very little one.
The little one is a very enjoyable piece by Jennifer Kahn on mosquitoes, their biology, their history, and their life & times today. This is an eminently clippable article, full of quotable stuff. I’ll tempt you with just one:
“Expecting that any one of these schemes [for eliminating mosquitoes] will eventually pan out takes some effort. But I wanted to believe there was hope. We’re smarter than mosquitoes, after all, and you have to root for the home team. Besides, we’re still the underdogs: a species with skin like a baby zucchini, pitted against perfect killing machines, tiny airborne disease carriers equipped with a hypodermic snout and sensory equipment capable of detecting a person 50 yards away.”
The big one marked the ten-year anniversary of the murderous 1996 Everest climbing season (the worst days of which were so memorably chronicled in John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air) by taking a hard, critical look at the mishaps, legal squabbling, and deaths that have marked the 2006 season.
It’s hard to read the piece and not come to the conclusion that the aforementioned adventure-packaging firms are the villain here (one in particular, Asian Trekking, keeps cropping up, like Snidely Whiplash, all through the piece). They complain, as the article points out: “No one calls it a problem when people pay guides to climb Mount McKinley, they point out, so why all the fuss about Everest?”
The venality of which stands out nice and bright, doesn’t it? Needless to say, Everest is not McKinley – it’s another world, or as close to one as you can get and still be on this world. The piece is full of stories of day-traders and thrill-seekers paying guide-companies to overlook their climbing inexperience – people willing to pay top dollar simply to do Everest. I guess that part’s understandable – certainly summitting Everest is #1 on everybody’s fantasy-life-list. And gawd forbid I should decry any trends that are resulting in more and more human casualties! But in the process of dying, all these humans are junking up Everest in the process, and that’s a shame.
Originally published at Stevereads in August, 2006