Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ever Get That Lost Feeling?

You know that feeling you get when you know you're lost? I'm not talking about the I-wonder-if-that-was-the-turn sort of lost. I'm talking about the sort of lost where you intended to visit a friend in the suburbs but instead find yourself in the bad part of downtown, and the locals are following you. The sort of lost where fear starts creeping in and you wonder if you'll make it out alive.

I had that happen once. I was backpacking in the Rockies of Idaho, doing work for the Forest Service in a wilderness area there, and found myself suffering Acute Mountain Sickness, though we didn't know what it was at the time. Apparently I'm especially sensitive, as the altitude was only about 8000 feet or so. It started with a buildup of fluid in my lungs, then headache, then fatigue, after having been at that altitude for a day or so, and (luckily) we were headed back down the mountains. My crew and I were on a rather long and hurried hike out of the forest to meet a deadline, so most of them had gone on ahead, leaving my miserably stressed and uncompromising crew leader with me, pushing me to go faster. But my condition deteriorated. I was becoming dizzy and disoriented, and hiking very slowly, sometimes needing help. Frustrated by my slowness, and despite the fact that we had seen black bear cubs disturbingly close to our position (and their mom was surely around), she decided to leave me behind to hike at my own speed. Bothered by her, I decided I'd rather agree than continue dealing with her. Big mistake.

Soon I found that I had left the trail, and backtracking, could not find it again. I had shortness of breath, a feeling of lethargy, and difficulty keeping my footing on loose rock with about 50 pounds of gear on my back. Evening was coming, and all around me were big, snow-covered mountains and valleys of thick forest. At one point I threw myself against a boulder and wondered through blurring eyes whether I'd be able to go on. I did, of course, and eventually found the trail again. Alarmed by my absence, one of my crew members came back to look for me and helped me the last several miles. Once we were at a lower altitude, my symptoms quickly dissipated.

Yesterday it was reported that an 18-foot, 12-ton Minke whale had been found beached 1000 miles up the Amazon River in Brazil:

As I write this, intrepid volunteers are trying to keep the whale alive and moist by tossing water on its back and trying to roll it back into the water.

Minke whales live in the ocean, of course, so what the hell is it doing way up in the middle of a jungle? Talk about lost! I wonder what was going through its mind as it swam upstream, its fellow whales long since left behind. Did the fresh water go to its head, the way altitude did to me? Did it beach itself in despair, analogous to how I had thrown myself against that boulder? Or was it just clueless, thinking something like, "Hmm. Did Bob tell me to turn right or left at the coral outcropping? Funny, I don't remember him mentioning anything about piranha. And I'm starving. Bob had better have some krill left for me."

Who knows? But if the big baleen sea mammal makes it back to the ocean alive, won't he feel stupid! I can only imagine the exchange between him and his whale pals:

Bob: "Hey, Minke, where the hell were you? You were supposed to bring the plankton!"

Minke: "Oh, you know, I was passing by Rio de Janiero and decided to stop in and take a closer look at all those thong-wearing human women."

Bob (leaning his blowhole closer for a sniff): "Is that river water I smell on you?"

Update (11/20/07): I'm happy to report our lost little whale in the Amazon is alive and doing well, thanks to the hard work of volunteers (updated news article HERE). Folks have pulled him off the shore and into a penned area in the shallows. Soon, Mr. Minke won't even have to swim back to the ocean – he'll have a ride on a boat, because there are "too many tributaries that could confuse him." Lucky for Mr. Minke, the world's largest river has people with the largest heart, or at least they've got a love for large-ish sea mammals. It's okay, Mr. Minke. Don't blubber. We know you appreciate them….

First image taken from HERE.

Second image taken from HERE and courtesy of AP.


Anonymous said...

Hey rat, nice post, but the joke in the end left me worried. You know Rio de Janeiro is really, really far from the Amazonas river, right?

Angry Lab Rat said...

Yeah, you're right, Anononymous. But then, who really knows where Sao Luis, Macapa or Belem are? :)