Wonder What It’s Like To Be Near Death?

Remember those winter mornings when you cursed your office’s less-than-adequate heating system, only to grumble and sweat out the weak A.C. come summer-time? Well, imagine this: You’re in the middle of a 3,000 mile solo trek through the Baja desert, unable to quench your thirst as you discover that the last of your water ration has leaked from its bag. But wait! What’s that? Up ahead you spot a wooded area, telegraph poles, civilization! You start running at full speed, even in your weakened state, only to discover that the telegraph poles are dead leafless palm trees and the “civilization” is just an abandoned fishing camp littered with empty bottles and fish carcasses. Your oasis is a mirage… and the temperature is 100degrees.

Cecil Kuhne (http://www.randomhouse.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=74534) has collected these hair raising tales in Vintage Departure’s Near Death Series, culminating with the final exciting title NEAR DEATH IN THE DESERT (on sale: July 14, 2009) and recently sat down with Vintage publicist, Julia Baxter (http://twitter.com/JbaxterVAPub), to reflect on the series.
(Also available: Near Death in the Actic http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307279378, Near Death in the High Seas http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307279347, and Near Death in the Mountains: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307279354)

JB: Which Near Death story included in your collections did you find the most compelling and why?
CK: That is a difficult question, and while I know that it sounds like a scripted answer, I really do find all of the stories in these collections to be compelling. I’ve spent the last thirty years collecting adventure travel literature in my garage library, and the final selections made for some tough choices. But if forced to choose, I think I would select Steven Callahan’s story from his book Adrift. Steven, you might recall, was forced to survive in a small, leaking inflatable life raft for 76 days in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean after his sailboat sank. That’s a long time to endure such pain, hunger, and fear.

JB: Which was your favorite Near Death series to edit?
CK: Once again, I enjoyed immensely editing each of the four books, and the project became a labor of love, which I hope is apparent. Looking back, there is surprisingly little I would select about the books. But if I was forced to choose my favorite, I think I would choose Near Death in the Mountains. The literary quality of these works by mountaineers is extraordinarily high, and it was a delight to see individuals so passionate and gifted in their endeavor also be able capable of expressing it in such memorable prose.

JB: How has the idea of exploration changed since the days of the vanished age of exploration in which Amundsen and Scott became heroes?
CK: Modern communication devices have changed everything. If certainly makes for a safer expedition, but the old-school explorers had no contact with the outside world. They were completely alone, with no one to rely upon but themselves.

JB: Which adventurers today are doing the most to salvage a spirit of exploration and expedition in our plugged-in, tech-savvy society?
CK: There is, amazingly enough, a great deal of adventure going on around the world as we speak. Endeavors like sailing through the Drake Passage, walking across the Sahara, and climbing Mount McKinley are still dangerous pursuits in which you can quickly lose your life. Nature is ultimately in control in these perilous places, and it will always be so.

JB: Stories of lost hikers, stranded mountain climbers, and devastated sea expeditions still litter the news today. Some have argued that government-funded rescue operations shouldn’t be accountable for saving these adventures. What do you think of the opinion that these modern-day daredevils and explorers should challenge nature at their own risk?
CK: This is a controversial issue. As humanitarians it is natural and good that we do all we can to save a life in jeopardy, but it can also be argued that such rescues actually encourage those who are not adequately prepared because those individuals assume a rescue party will be sent if they get into trouble. The costs to the taxpayers are astronomical, and rescuers put their own lives at risk. If the government made it clear that it would not engage in such rescues, these individuals would be forewarned, and they could then make arrangements for private rescue at their own expense.

JB: Which region of the planet offers the greatest opportunity to explore an unknown, uncharted territory?
CK: The world has unquestionably gotten smaller, but there are still places in central Africa that remain enticingly terra incognito.

JB: What are the most dangerous locations in the U.S. for travel and/or exploration?
CK: The Rockies, the Sierras, and the Cascades are all examples of places offer their fair shares of danger for backcountry skiers, mountain climbers, and river runners, but one need not go so far afield. New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, which is within a day’s drive of 70 million people, has some of the most extreme and unpredictable weather on the continent. But because its altitude is only 6,300 feet, people often don’t adequately prepare for it. Well over a hundred deaths have occurred here.

JB: What has been the single greatest technological advancement of the past century that improved man’s ability to venture into treacherous locales?
CK: I would have to say the Global Positioning System (GPS). It is incredible that this very sophisticated technology is now available for as little as $100.

JB: Do you have your own personal Near Death survival story you’d like to share?
CK: My puny stories pale in comparison to the ones contained in these anthologies. I’ve been a part of a few rafts that overturned in whitewater, but my narrowest escapes occurred in rush-hour traffic on my way to the airport.

JB: Based on your editing of this exciting series, and your own adventure experience, what advice would you give to explorers embarking into the unknown today?
CK: I would tell people to get plenty of experience in the field, gradually building up their level of expertise in whatever medium they are interested in. You can read all the how-to books, but they are no substitute for taking on the real thing.

JB: What is the appeal of Near Death stories for the armchair traveler, who has no intention of scaling a mountain, taking his/her chances on the high seas, exploring a polar crevasse, or trekking through the desert?

CK: I think that ultimately their appeal is the adage that “life is an adventure only for the adventurous,” and that we all have to take some risks in order to feel truly alive. When asked what they would have done differently, many older people say they would have lived more boldly, whether pursuing a new career or simply traveling more. I hope these stores inspire people to move out of their own comfort zones in at

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