Come plunge down China’s biggest sand dune, gallop headlong across the Argentine pampas and clamber up Yosemite’s Half Dome as we present our annual adventure issue, brimming with the world’s best ways to get your adrenaline pumping
The first thing I thought when the shy gaucho Lalo led me to my horse, a brown majestic piece of living equine art practically shining in the sun, was that Argentines must not be very litigious. Why else, upon my arriving at Estancia La Margarita, a ranch run by an eccentric Englishman in the pampas, would someone grant me access to this creature?
The concern grew as I clambered up and realized I didn’t have the foggiest notion how to operate it. Lalo spoke no English—and even if he did, it wouldn’t have mattered, he was so bashful. (He did gesture that I should hold on to the mane, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but OK.) Even the equipment was foreign to me: simple stirrups, reins and a rug to sit on. And a mane to cling to in terror.
My first ride was a graceless and upsetting affair, with the horse trying to run as fast as it could, me trying to stop it and both of us succeeding only in maintaining an excruciatingly uncomfortable trot. All the while, Lalo trotted alongside, performing gratuitous feats of horsemanship. At one point his horse actually started running sideways. He grinned and danced as I clutched my horse’s mane grimly to keep from falling off and being trampled.
At lunch (steak), I asked the owner what I was doing wrong. His answer: Stop trying. The beast wants to run. Let it run. The perpetual trot, which had nearly crumpled my pelvis, was akin to the jerk a car makes when switching gears. Let it go to high gear. Plus, he explained, unlike the English style, gauchos lean back and let the angle formed between their back and their horse absorb the blows.
Leaning back on a horse in a foreign land is an act of great faith, but I decided to give it a shot. I climbed back on and, holding fast to the mane, walked the horse out toward the open fields. All right, horse, I said, leaning back. Go to it. And go he did. We passed the unpleasant trotting stage without further incident, and after that I could feel him lock in and take off, storming across the pampas, fluid as can be (save for when he stepped in a hole and we nearly wound up in what I imagine would have been a broken heap).
We ran around like that for a while, I don’t know how long. I started trusting him. He started trusting me. He decided he wanted to chase some cows. So we chased some cows, rounding them up, picking one off from the herd, then folding her back in, all at precarious speeds, with the cows—nature’s fussy aunts—groaning and complaining to the delight of horse and rider alike.
Afterward, I walked him back to the stable and tied him up. The light was fading and I stood there for a moment, just watching him, with both of us worn out and winded. What a spectacular thing. When the sun rose the next day, we were at it again. —Joe Keohane
“The most dangerous place in Africa is between a hippopotamus and water,” said Arno, my safari ranger, but I was too busy taking pictures of said hippos to listen. The next day, with a herd in the water behind me and the rump of a lone hippo straight ahead, I suddenly felt those words come back to me. The hippo began to turn. I looked to Arno; his usual smirk was gone. My knees vibrated against the petrified horse beneath me, the hippo continuing its slow revolution. Then, miraculously, my horse unfroze. Stealthily it sidestepped, assessing our peril with each sidle, until the hippo rejoined its herd. I didn’t take a picture. —Sarah H. Turcotte
WORDS FROM THE WILD
“Experiences that require that much struggle, and involve that much raw human emotion, really expose us. When you’re that exposed, you can’t help but either love or hate the people you’re with. It just happens that way. When you’re rubbed raw, your partners are going to be salt in your wound, or they’re going to be Band-Aids. Thankfully, on that trip, we were all Band-Aids.” —Cory Richards, whose climbing team nearly perished in an avalanche during the 2011 expedition in which he became the first American to summit an 8,000-meter peak in winter