Sarah and I went down and had breakfast together on our last day in Minneapolis before catching the complementary shuttle ride to the airport at 9:30 am. We got my bag checked and we were both through security by 10 am. I hung out with her in the G concourse until she boarded her flight at 11 am. I gave her a hug goodbye before beginning my long sad walk to the E concourse. I always miss her tremendously especially after those times when we just spent so much time together.

My flight didn’t leave until 1:50 pm so I had a couple of hours to kill which I filled the best I could by wandering around and looking through the books and magazine shops.

I intended to buy a magazine or two and as such I had packed both books that I bought at Magers & Quinn. I didn’t want to waste either ‘The Labyrinth of Solitude’ by Octavio Paz or ‘What Technology Wants’ by Kevin Kelly on the airplane; that’s more what mindless magazines are for. Nobody carried the British Men’s GQ and I couldn’t settle on anything else so I perused the books until I found ‘Deep Survival’ by Lawrence Gonzales. It is a book that examines mostly wilderness accidents – mountain climbing, hiking, being lost at sea – and the subtitle, ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why’ pretty much describes the book’s premise.

I opened the book before takeoff and didn’t close it until we touched down in Houston. The same thing for my second flight; I couldn’t put the book down, probably because some of the points he was making hit pretty close to home.

Gonzales says, ‘It may seem that we live and die by dumb luck, but it is more subtle and complex than that’. And ‘Deep Survival’ is a damn good book and is a must read for anyone who so much as day hikes in the mountains or takes a once a year vacation to a supposedly benign place like Hawaii. He spends some time talking about working memory, perceptions – what you see and don’t see – and how it’s ‘nothing personal when the brain plays tricks’…or ‘nothing personal when you die’.

He makes a well delivered point with ‘Our failures are so common that it’s easy to write them off as inexperience, stupidity, or inattention. Most people operate in an environment of such low risk that action, inaction, or the vicissitudes of brains have few consequences. The energy levels, the object risks are low’. Then he goes on using a couple of case studies to show how every thing changes when the environment changes and the corresponding risks change and how inexperience and poor judgment can quickly turn a bad situation worse. Yeah, I know, deep down inside you already knew that but I can guarantee you that you don’t know what you don’t know until you read this book.

His father, a pilot, drilled into him, ‘Plan the flight and fly the plan. But don’t fall in love with the plan. Be open to a changing world and let go of the plan when necessary to make a new plan’.

He says, ‘One of the things that kills us in the wilderness, in nature, is that we just don’t understand the forces that we engage. We don’t understand the energy because we don’t have to live with it’. Gonzalez had several case studies about river accidents that struck pretty close to home given our recent 60 mile paddle on the St. Croix. Sitting on the plane reading some of those stories reminded me again that I am God’s own special fool. The St. Croix might be a gentle river but in all honesty I didn’t give it near as much respect as it deserved.

One of the single most powerful stories that he related involved himself on the island of Kauai. He told how a single question in a chance encounter saved his life from drowning. He happened to have been passing a life guard station where, making conversation he asked how the swimming was. The water was warm and a beautiful shade of blue and there were gentle looking waves breaking a couple of dozen yards offshore that he intended to bodysurf. The lifeguard studied the water for a minute and then told him, ‘See that flat water over there? I’d say you can go in there and be okay. But if you get more than 10 yards offshore the rip will carry you out’. He point beyond and said, ‘It’ll carry you over there and beat you to death against those rocks’. He goes into some more matter of fact detail about the encounter but said that the guy saved his life. Gonzalez ends with a 12 point guide for both keeping yourself out of harms way and then what to do if you find yourself in harms way. One of those points was ‘Get information’. I was ambivalent to most of the list, which was mostly common sense stuff, but I liked that one. It was good to see someone rubber stamp one of my basic travel tenants: ‘Ask questions. Arm yourself with knowledge’. Excellent book, excellent stories, excellent analysis and just some plain good old information.

We landed in Guadalajara on time at 8 pm. I was a bit skittish after reading all those personal disaster stories and more than a little nervous over getting my 6 month tourist visa renewed but the Immigration lady stamped it and waved me on my way. The young lady in customs asked me what I was doing in Mexico and I told her in my most execrable Spanish that I was studying Spanish. She beamed at me like I had just told her that I had come to single-handedly eradicate the cartels, she was so pleased. Her welcoming smile made me smile and I walked the rest of way through the nice little airport feeling like I was home. Any doubts I might have had returning to Mexico for my third 6-month stay evaporated with that smile.

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