I finally got around to reading the Jules Verne article at the Museum of Unnatural History website, located here. I’d had the tab open in Firefox for a week now.
Here’s the beginning of the article, which struck my fancy, both as an outdoors guy and writer:
On the 31st of January, 1863, a small volume began appearing in bookstores all over France. It was the adventure of three travelers, led by a Dr. Fergusson, who dared to penetrate the interior of darkest Africa using a balloon. The brave explorers in the story risk angry, spear-carrying natives, ferocious baboons, and slow death by dehydration during their trip. Readers found themselves puzzled by this account. Was it fact or fiction? It read like an authentic travel diary, including detailed descriptions of natural phenomena that was seen and notes taken on the longitude and latitudes as the travelers moved, but the adventures seemed fantastic!
In the Paris daily Le Figaro a review read, “Is Dr. Fergusson’s journey a reality or is it not? All we can say is that it is bewitching as a novel and as instructive as a book of science. Never have the serious discoveries of celebrated travelers been summed up as well.“
The title of this amazing work was Five Weeks in a Balloon and its first-time author was a man named Jules Verne.
Man vs Wild
Late last week, Denyse and I got to see a couple of new (to us) episodes of “Man vs Wild” on Discovery Channel, hosted by Bear Grylls. Also two episodes of “Survivorman” with Les Stroud. Some amazing guys, and some of my favorite shows. Sort of like real-life Jules Verne characters.
There is a certainly an artificiality to their predicaments, but their lessons and adventures are very real. And their lives have some pretty amazing real stories to rival those of Victorian scientific romances.
Ordinary and extra
This is from Bear’s website:
“The difference between ordinary and extra-ordinary is so often just simply that little word – extra. And for me, I had always grown up with the belief that if someone succeeds it is because they are brilliant or talented or just better than me…and the more of these words I heard the smaller I always felt! But the truth is often very different…and for me to learn that ordinary me can achieve something extra-ordinary by giving that little bit extra, when everyone else gives up, meant the world to me and I really clung to it…“
This from a former special forces member and all-around adventurer.
Extraordinary things can be accomplished by doing a series of little things everyday — like the old story about moving a mountain one spoonful at a time.
19th Century Adventure vs 21st Century Adventure
The last episode of “Man vs Wild” that we saw — where Bear parachuted into an African savanna from a hot-air balloon (while his voiceover reminisced about the jump he had made in Africa that broke his back in three places) and set off toward a mountain in the distance — made me think both how much adventure has changed since the days of Five Weeks in a Balloon, and how much it hasn’t. The bull hippos will still try to kill you if you get too close, dehydration is still a constant threat, and making it to The Mountain is still a going concern.
Nowadays, though, we can parachute in, have a camera crew capture everything for later broadcast to millions of people around the world, and write about it on a worldwide communications system.
The irony about the “realism” of Jules Verne’s travel is that he apparently did relatively little of it, and none in Africa before writing Five Weeks. His wide reading and efforts at getting the science correct went a long way to realizing the details. I imagine that would be tough to pull off these days, where the entire globe can be virtually explored (from above, at least) on your laptop.
I’m writing this after a long period of seeming inability to get outdoors much, despite some beautiful SoCal weather. For whatever reason, it’s been all but impossible to will myself out the door. Times like this, when I need most to get out on a trail, is when it’s hardest to do. This feeds on itself and just gets worse with time.
There’s a handy metaphor there to accompany the literal problem: getting out of the house paralleling getting out of your own head.
How to solve this?
Children of Jules Verne
Ray Bradbury wrote about being children of Jules Verne.
As a member of the Television Generation, I guess we’re also children of Jacques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins, not to mention Jeff Corwin and Bear Grylls (and Alton Brown, but that’s a different website ;).
Even if your hikes aren’t up Everest and your cycling trips aren’t the Tour de France, there is still something profound about stepping outside for a few hours. (After millennia of hardscrabble human existence, being under a roof and inside walls is still a magical thing.)
If you’re like me and get into phases where What You Most Need also becomes What Is Hardest To Do, I think there’s a bit of reprogramming that needs to happen. At least for me, where it becomes the first instinct again to grab the poodle and a leash and go on a walk, rather than grabbing the laptop and remote control for the afternoon.
With the habit re-formed, I’ll have those familiar moments about 10-15 minutes into the hike or ride when the sighs of satisfaction kick in, and I start shaking my head. Somehow, I always forget that feeling.
And it just takes a step out the door. A little bit every day.
Like that old story about moving a mountain one spoonful at a time.
Know what I mean?