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Running of the Fools

July 23, 2001
July 23, 2001

Table of Contents
July 23, 2001

Cover Story [bonus Piece]

Running of the Fools

This seems as good a time as any to extend my sympathies, and an
apology, to the victims of the recent carnage in Pamplona, Spain,
where nine people were gored and trampled in this year's annual
running of the bulls.

This is an article from the July 23, 2001 issue

Dear Bulls:

Obviously, it was beneath your dignity to be forced to mingle
with such a drunken, clueless rabble. Sorry about that.

Rain-slicked cobblestones and, I don't know, maybe the fact that
they'd been drinking all night, caused some runners to fall down
in the path of the snuffling, one-ton beasts, who, miraculously,
didn't kill anyone. "I'm a fast runner," goring victim Jamie
Massie told the Toronto Sun, "but they can catch up to [anyone],
no problem." That knowledge might have served you better, Jamie,
before you decided to engage them in a footrace.

This is not to imply that running with enraged bovines while
one's blood-alcohol level hovers in the neighborhood of Rey
Ordonez's batting average, is a sport. However, the injuries the
bulls inflicted do have something in common with many of those
suffered by mainstream adventure athletes: They are unnecessary,
preventable and the result of sheer stupidity.

While the bulls played Hacky Sack with those fools in Pamplona, a
search party of roughly 100 people combed California's Stanislaus
National Forest. They were looking for Eric Tucker, an
intermediate hiker who'd decided to trek solo some 50 miles
through the Sierra Nevada mountains. On June 27, his first day on
the trail, Tucker got lost and broke his left ankle. Things went
downhill from there. The good news is that he's O.K.: He limped
out of the woods on July 11. The bad news is that five searchers
were injured when their helicopter crashed while they were
looking for him.

"One thing we stress," says David Kovar, a search and rescue
volunteer from Cupertino, Calif., "is that there are consequences
to your actions. When you get lost, you put other people at
risk."

That's what happened when hiker John Devine, who was 73 and blind
in one eye, attempted to summit a peak in Washington's Buckhorn
Wilderness Area in 1997. When he didn't return for several days,
rescuers went looking for him in helicopters. A chopper went
down, three rescuers died and Devine was never found. Two years
ago Kovar was part of the First Response Group, an elite search
and rescue squad that helped find Robert Bogucki, an Alaska
firefighter who sauntered off on a solo, soul-searching trip into
Australia's Great Sandy Desert and wound up lost for 42 days.
From his hospital bed on the day of his rescue, Bogucki told an
Aussie TV crew, "I do feel satisfied that I've scratched that
itch." Oh, sure, he'd necessitated rescue efforts that cost a
small fortune--but, hey, at least he scratched his itch!

Even if you are the only one injured, you have the power to give
an entire sport a black eye. Take BASE-jumping, whose
practitioners parachute from Buildings, Antennas, Spans and
Earth, and have long sought to have their extreme sport legalized
in national parks, where it is forbidden. Gosh, wonder why? In
1999 a BASE-jumper named Frank Gambalie executed a successful
jump off the 3,500-foot face of Yosemite's El Capitan. When park
rangers pursued him, Gambalie fled--into the Merced River, in
which he drowned. That, Alanis Morissette, is ironic.

Outraged at what they saw as his persecution, Gambalie's
BASE-jumping peers organized a demonstration. They would prove to
the world the safeness of their sport. Three jumpers leaped from
El Cap, all three landing safely. Then it was Jan Davis's turn.
Because she didn't want rangers to confiscate her rig, she
borrowed someone else's chute--a cardinal sin in BASE-jumping. As
TV cameras rolled, the chute never opened and the 60-year-old
grandmother hit the talus slope at the base of El Cap going 120
mph.

One ingredient of Greek drama is the inevitability of tragedy. It
need not be so in the great outdoors. We can manage our risk. We
can elect to not ski out-of-bounds, especially on days when there
is an avalanche risk. We can decide not to skydive at night, not
to go free diving alone. We can get off the streets when we know
that some very unhappy bulls are headed our way.

COLOR PHOTO: JON DIMIS/AP PHOTO
Injuries inflicted by the bulls have something in common with
many of those suffered by adventure athletes: They're the result
of sheer stupidity.