WE HAD BEEN DRIVING THREE HOURS toward the put-in of the Yangtze River when we rounded a bend and saw them: two men slumped in the road, blood streaming from their weathered faces. One of the men had his leg bent at a precarious angle, and I could see the bright white bones protruding from an open wound. Motorcycle parts, liquid, mirrors, glass and metal were strewn across the road. A colorful Tibetan carpet from the motorcycle was lying crooked on the pavement. A truck was parked on the right side of the road, its driver’s side mirror sheered off, metal bent from underneath the truckbed.
“I’m going to need towels and a tourniquet to stop the bleeding,” shouted Jason, our expedition doctor, transforming our river team into a MASH unit. “And water, and something for a splint … this guy is losing his leg!” We jumped into action, half panicked, perplexed at the austere look on the injured faces. A crowd of 15 Tibetans stood back, seemingly worried yet passive at the scene.
Rummaging through the most accessible of our drybags, we extracted NRS straps and a handful of T-shirts, and someone found an umbrella in the van. All of these items came into play. Was this really how our 200-mile, 10-day rafting expedition on the headwaters of the world’s third-longest river was starting off?
When the ambulance arrived it was literally a van with the back seat taken out. No stretcher, no medical devices, not even a Band-Aid. The first aid kit had a wrench and a fan belt in it. We lifted the men on blankets into the van as it prepared for the three-hour drive back to Yushu on the bumpy, treacherous road. We could only hope they made it. — Megan Paulson
ON THE WAY TO SOME RIVER IN FIJI, we had all our gear in the back of a huge cattle truck and after driving for hours over a bumpy-ass dirt road we got to this jungle river without a bridge. No worries … a Fijian man was there with a giant Huck Finn-style bamboo raft. We drove the truck onto it and peeled into the current, using paddles and poles to work our way to an eddy on the other side. Most crucial eddy I’ve ever caught: Miss it and all our gear (and us) would’ve been jungle-bound downstream. That night, upon arriving at a village near the put-in, we sat down with the village chief to drink kava kava–a narcotic cocktail known for paralyzing colonial sailors. As we passed the bowl, he mentioned casually that his grandfather’s generation had sworn off cannibalism. And this was just to get permission to run his river. — Eugene Buchanan
MY BUDDY CHRIS AND I WERE ON OUR WAY TO THE PUT-IN for a five-day whitewater canoe trip. Driving down the Trans-Canada Highway, he spotted a bunch of ravens—the telltale sign of a moose roadkill. Chris is a die-hard roadkill guy and he was stoked: The weather was cool, perfect for scavenging, so our trip immediately went on hold. We pulled over and discovered that the moose had stumbled a few hundred yards from the highway and we’d have to cross a small pond to get him. We unloaded the canoe, grabbed butchering equipment (which Chris always brings on spring road trips) and paddled across the pond. An hour or two later Chris had cut up the moose and we’d filled the canoe with bloody moose parts. We got on the river a couple days late with a wannigan full of moose steaks, and wondered what type of wildlife our blood-streaked canoe might draw into our campsites. — Conor Mihell
ON THE WAY TO MEETING A COMMERCIAL GROUP ON THE KLAMATH, our boss almost hit a group of vultures dining on a week-old deer carcass in the middle of the road. We had no AC in the vehicle so I was sitting shotgun with my shirt off and my arm out the open window. One of the vultures had eaten too much and was unable to fly away fast enough. In a last ditch survival move it puked up a half-pound or so of rotten deer meat onto the window of our rig, most of which violently slapped against my right arm and neck. We were close to the put-in and the group was waiting so my boss refused to pull over while I dry-heaved and scraped the rotten meat off my bare chest.
“Don’t F-ing puke in my car,” he said.
“Then, aaaaaack, puuuuuull over, aaaaaack,” I replied.
“You can wash it off at the put-in,” he said, “in the meantime don’t F-ing puke.”
I didn’t puke, but I ran directly past our group at the put-in and dove into the water. The other guides rolled as I desperately scrubbed my skin with sand. — Joe Jackson
WE SQUEEZED INTO OUR TIGHT SHUTTLE RIG ready for anything B.C. could throw at us. Next stop: Whistler Air.
Upon arrival, we lifted seven meticulously packed kayaks into a seaplane.
“Wow, mine’s pretty darn light this time,” Ryan announced proudly. “My multi-day packing system is DIALED,” he couldn’t resist telling us … for the third time. True, his boat’s weight earned bragging rights. Ours were all heavier, despite having packed freeze-dried food, bivy sack shelter, and nothing extra.
The seaplane elevated over ice caps to the middle of a silty lake. We landed on the water, unloaded and then the plane disappeared into astounding, grand-scale scenery. Twenty-five Class V whitewater miles from the nearest logging road and 100 glacial miles from humanity, master-packer Ryan had a revelation. He’d forgotten one of his two bags. Half his gear was missing.
The nights were cold, but the boofs were weightless. — Stacy McBain