But it’s not all shimmering lagoons and unspoilt expanses. Sometimes, the great and powerful Earth tears us a new one.
So we asked you, our readers, to send us your best campfire-worthy tales of man vs. nature.
From tornado bikers to killer polar bears to half-full beers, here they are, in all their glory.
Don’t try this at … well, I guess it’s too late for that.
Mother Nature (3 images)
Photos provided by Tom
Tom, April 2010
“I walked a 350-mile team race to the magnetic north pole called the Polar Challenge.
After walking for a week to the starting line and another eight days of racing and living off four hours of sleep per ‘night’ (it did not get dark), we made it to the second checkpoint, three hours behind first place. We decided if we were going to win the race we should walk the final 70 miles without sleeping at all, a feat that would go on to take us 52 hours.
After 45 hours of walking without sleep a storm arose, and winds of 80 miles-an-hour hit us face on. As it built up in force, the wind became so strong that we were sliding backward on our skinned skis, leaving us no choice but to take them off and walk in our boots, which sunk through the snow with every step — which, if you have ever experienced it, is extremely tiring — for the final seven hours. The temperature was -35 C/-31 F, but the windchill was pushing it closer to -75 C/-103 F.
Tiredness led to a fairly intense hallucination. We found ourselves banging our skis together and shouting at a polar bear, which turned out to be a piece of ice. But I still think it looks convincing to me [Ed. note: see third photo above].
Finally we rolled over the finish line. We were set to beat the race record by five hours but missed it by 2:20 — though we still won the race by two days in the end, as the other teams were forced to camp the storm out.”
Steve, August 1999
“I was on vacation in Colorado with my family. My kids and I flew into Denver a day before their mom. We went to Denver airport the next afternoon to pick her up.
We got to the terminal and I had my kids look in baggage claim for their mom. She was nowhere to be found. The police wouldn't let me wait at the curb. I told the kids wait inside and I drove around the approach road to kill time. When I got back to the airport terminal, it was deserted — like a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie. I thought I had gone to the wrong terminal, so I drove around the approach road to try and find the correct terminal.
The weather went from puffy clouds to rain to heavy rain to a deluge within a couple of minutes. The rain was so heavy I couldn't see beyond the hood of the car. I stopped the car, and it kept getting darker. Suddenly it was raining heavily on all four sides of the car. Even though I was stopped, the car was shaking like I was driving over a rough road.
After a few minutes, the sky suddenly cleared. The car had rotated almost 90-degrees from the direction of travel.
I drove back to the terminal, and everyone was back. My kids ran to the car. They said as soon as I drove off there was a tornado warning and the police made them go to the basement stairwell with everyone else in the terminal. My wife was delayed several hours because of weather, but we collected her later that night.”
Rachel, July 2013
“My husband and I got engaged on a trip to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, mid-summer. The mosquitos were so bad that by the end of the trip I had a black eye from being bit in the face so much. Because of the bugs and our broken tent zipper, we headed out a day early.
During our last portage, which was a mile long and a big rocky hill, it started storming and flash flooding. We made four trips carrying our canoe and gear in what turned into a waterfall up to our knees going uphill. My husband had to take frequent breaks with the canoe because it was aluminum and lightning was striking pretty close.
It took almost a week to dry all of our gear out.”
Photos provided by Shari
Shari, summer 1986
“I spent more of my childhood on the back of a motorcycle than I did trampling a playground. My parents were bikers. Chap-wearing, anti-helmet-law, bandana-wrapped, Steppenwolf-rockin' bikers. Which essentially made me a biker. My Cabbage Patch Doll, Theresa, had a custom fringe leather jacket, I sh*t you not. And every Saturday morning when I just wanted to watch cartoons, they would throw me on the back to ride God knows where. Oft times, nowhere. They just wanted to ride. And they would ride through anything come hell or high water. And on this particular Saturday, it was hell that came.
We had already been riding for nearly an hour in sideways rain, like parallel-to-the-ground rain, with intermittent hail. But we were only about a half an hour out from our home and the crazy bastards were determined to try to push through and make it. It got to the point where a gust of wind nearly pushed my mother's bike clean off the road, so they had to submit. We pulled under an overpass in retreat.
For those who are not familiar with the torrential storms of the Midwest, the last thing you want to hear is silence. Silence means tornado.
So when the air fell dead calm, my mother screamed, ‘David, put her behind the pole!’ My father picked me up and jumped the barrier to put me behind an overpass pole on I-29, 15 minutes north of Brookings, South Dakota. The pole was bone dry on one side because of the aforementioned literally-sideways rain. ‘Do not move no matter what happens,’ he said.
And then the roar of terror ensued as the skies tore open.
My mother and father grabbed their bikes' handlebars to keep them from flying away because Harleys are expensive and also my parents are insane. And I can't hear it, but my mother is screaming because the tornado has dropped directly on the interstate in front of her and is ripping right down the road for us, picking up and throwing cars along its merry way.
But this isn't what I see facing the other way. As I'm clutching my doll and crying, I hear the deafening roar go silent again. And then, about a football field away, I see the tornado drop back down onto I-29 and resume its path of terror.
The twister had miraculously pulled into the sky, moved over our heads, and set back down. I slid down the pole in teary, little shambles. My father came over, scooped me up, put me on the bike and we rode home.”
Steve, April 2018
25-40 MPH headwinds.
I swam from Hopkinton to Boston with almost everything Mother Nature could throw at me.
Hayden, about 10 years ago
“Thought I would relate a tale of mountain lions, half-full beers and overall bad people.
As all great ideas go, there are risks. Or in fact there are most likely risks that can be avoided that factor into an adventure later. Bald tires, snow on the ground and just not enough beer should have been the signs to look for before setting out on a four-wheeling adventure up Blacksmith Fork Canyon on the outskirts of Hyrum, Utah.
Sixteen miles up the canyon, we went off the road after what some people call ‘the waterfall.’ The waterfall is a very steep stretch of road that got its name from the fact that water runs down the road. Very observant. So off the road we go! Stuck in a ditch at 3 AM, no beers and a choice: stay and hope for help in freezing conditions? Or venture forth and hope our bodies can handle the 16 miles of rugged terrain and mountain lions?
I found a shovel on the path and wished I could trade it for beers. (Later on, I was glad to have the shovel.) Towering cliffs, failing motor muscle and sounds in the night made it feel as if a pride of lions were all around. Never saw a mountain lion, but they were there! At about mile 14, after failed attempts to break into a cabin, we desperately flagged down a hunter. After pleading that we were not going to make it, had walked 14 miles, death, etc., the asshole said, ‘You are almost there,’ and sped off. Of course I cussed like I was the fat kid in A Christmas Story.
The worst part was the curving of the canyon. After coming around a bend, we continued to think we would glimpse the welcoming lights of the Tesoro in Hyrum. Eventually we did, and I slept in front of a fire for a day.”
Sebastian, June 2007
“While I may have thought it was a harrowing tale of survival back then, this is more of a 'teenagers that probably should have died, one way or the other, because they were stupid' type of story.
The setting is Texas in June of 2007. I was with two of my buddies, let’s call them Joe Namath and TD [Ed. note: nice.], at the lake that we grew up next to. We got the bright idea to swim across the lake with noodles ‘to see what was on the other side.’
The swim was slow, but fun and easy. We made it to the other side after a while and started to explore. We found a barn, a bunch of items someone had thrown away, and a bunch of cows. We were obviously trespassing on someone's land, but we didn't care. We also found a bull and, being the bright young kids that we were, we tried to agitate it. We succeeded in this endeavor when Joe nailed it directly in its asshole with a football we had found, as it was pooping. We hightailed it out of there.
At some point I had actually found a nice neoprene life jacket, so I was wearing that. I offloaded my noodle onto Joe. As we are starting to swim back, I notice that a thunderstorm is starting to roll in and the water is significantly rougher than before. If you don't know, thunder and water makes for a trio of dead teenagers.
TD and I started to channel our inner Michael Phelps and quickly left Joe Namath behind. About a quarter of the way back, we noticed a boat was following us and I just knew that it was the owner of the enraged bull we left behind. Paranoia, some would call it. I think they just thought we were dying.
Fast forward to about three-quarters of the way through, the thunderstorm is directly over us and I'm sure we are going to die at any moment. The waves have now doubled or tripled in height. TD has been right behind me this whole time, so I stop to get a status update on Joe. He is quite a long way back, at least a football field. He is also screaming, waving his hands and pointing into the water. We didn't know what he was saying, so we turned and started swimming again. A couple of minutes later, this huge wave starts to crest in front of me. I sh*t you not, an alligator gar, at least the size of me, swims along the crest of this wave, less than five feet in front of me, and then dives down below the surface. I've never swam so fast in my life or been so scared. With the thunder cracking around us, I was sure mother nature was going to take us one way or the other.
Thankfully, I was wrong. Everybody made it back to the shore and reflected on the events of that day, happy that our dumbasses were still alive.”
Alex, summer 2008
“Driving to my hometown, a quaint Midwestern suburb in lake territory, most people take a two-lane highway from the east. You pass a Target and Kmart and all those chains at a junction about 15 minutes out, but then it eases into a picturesque little town — the high school, the sign for ‘Live Bait,’ the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood-esque trolley. But if you’re headed into ‘downtown,’ a main drag that runs less than half a mile from the docks to the highway, most people turn off after the green city limits sign.
As it happens, that exit runs right past the town cemetery, situated on a small hill. But because trees on the side of the road obscure it during the greenest months, an out-of-towner may not even notice the graves. It’s a stretch that my friends and I drove hundreds of times, so by the summer after our senior year we didn’t take note of the graves, either. But apparently they were keeping an eye on us.
Every recent graduate was much more mobile that summer, driving to grad parties, going away parties and parties that you would have skipped except you may never see these people again so you’ll go. One friend, let’s call him Michael, was driving to one such party of a guy who lives ‘downtown.’ It was a classic temperate but sunny day on the lake. A storm had recently blown through knocking a few trees and a powerline over, but that had all been cleaned up. Yet as Michael exited, blinker still flashing and the custard stand now in sight, he heard a loud crack.
A giant tree on the cemetery hill smashed down on the hood of his car, shattering the windshield and crushing the hood like the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter. If he had been stepping on the gas just a little harder, or if anyone was driving behind him urging him to quicken his pace, the tree could have come down straight on the roof and flattened him.
For the next few distraught days he contemplated why the cemetery would be trying to claim him. Was it karma? Did his sins hit a tipping point? He was as shaken up as I’ve ever seen a person, but by the end of summer he was back to his old ways.”
“My buddies and I were at the Paint Mines in Calhan, Colorado, a series of ditches and dales left behind where excavators had scooped out soil to make paint. We were about 16 at the time. We used to hunt small game out there — rabbits, squirrels, robins.
Now this story concerns my friend Steve West, who always bragged about his Choktaw heritage, which translated to him fancying himself some kind of outdoorsman savant. After bagging a rabbit, Steve turns to us and says, ‘Let me show you the quickest way to gut a rabbit.’
He takes out his hunting knife and splits the bunny from groin to throat, as you do. Then he takes by its rear legs — left leg in his left hand, right leg in his right — and spreads his own legs wide. And he raises that rabbit up above his head and says, ‘You do it like this.’
Then, like a long-snapper, he whips it down between his legs, expecting all the guts to fly out backwards. It worked, sort of. Everything came out of the cavity clean — it just happened to go straight up the back of his jacket once it did. Violent shades of red and purple were plastered all up his back and streaked across his favorite hunting jacket.
‘Ah, hell,’ he said, the rest of us now rolling on the ground we were laughing so hard. ‘At least there was blood on my jacket already.’”
Athena, spring 2011
“‘There we were —’; just kidding. In college in Eugene, Oregon, I took a class led by a local naturalist who would bring students around the city and county to explore native flora and fauna, talk about geology and geography of the area and so much more. Ended up being my favorite class of my half-decade undergraduate misadventure.
On one field trip we had driven out of city limits to some wetlands. A vanload of about 12 us in our muddy gear (just having come from one of our butte-iful buttes) tumbled out and stood around as the group composed itself. Eugene in spring is nothing if not damp; it was raining off and on. I saw a man walking in the distance in field-worker garb, a utility bucket hat and vest — wouldn’t be too unusual to see some kind of steward in and around these marshy fields. He’s marching determinedly across the field, with a destination apparently behind our group, so that he’s gradually going to cross pretty close to us.
(A brief departure: the instructor, a wonderful and enigmatic character named Whitey, instructed us before starting our University of Oregon-issued van that morning that he would under no circumstances be engaging in conversation during our drive so as not to be distracted from the road. If he needed to put on his sunglasses, he said, he would pull over and come to a complete stop to do so. Safe guy.)
Whitey starts talking to the group about a local butterfly conservation project this area is involved in: they like a certain weed here — the Kincaid lupine — and it’s difficult to please them. Meanwhile, Mr. Bucket Hat marches on. He's now about 100 feet away. We see a butterfly! They’re bright blue. I get distracted in the corner of my eye when MBH is at the closest point he’ll be to the group and I can hear his steps, so I turn to look.
At my big brother! My big goofy bro, who yes, wears bucket hats and work vests and such, had been driving a nearby road when his car broke down. He was walking across the field heading to a nearby gas station as part of a solution to his problem when our paths crossed in this unexpected way.
A big brother sighting in the wild.”