Wednesday, February 25, 2015


            The gash in his shin needed stitches. Yet Jim Klumpp was on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, miles from anywhere, having just skidded off a wet, mossy rock and into a sharp tree branch. Until a fellow hiker bound up the wound, the blood poured down his leg. No car, no ambulance was anywhere close. Jim was forced to hike another two miles, injury or no, to get preliminary medical help, and then another five miles on a still-unstitched shin for real repairs.  

To prevent infection, the doctor who finally saw Jim used tape instead of stitches, and advised his patient to take a week off to rest the wound. Thus, when Jim returned to the trail, his daily hike went from some twenty miles a day to a few thirty-milers, determined as he was to catch up with trail friends who were now miles ahead of him.   
            Jim Klumpp, age 55, began his trek in Georgia, a 2,185-mile adventure that took him four and a half months, wore out six pairs of shoes, and left him with numb feet, a temporarily crooked back, and a brief period of total exhaustion. Yet the experience, with angels appearing here and there to feed and care for the hikers (which he calls “trail magic”) and brief encounters that turned into lasting friendships--was so exhilarating, that in spite of many days hiking alone, Jim was never sorry to be doing it.  

            With some 150,000 hits, a large number of people followed Jim’s daily posts. His story, told calmly but with an eye for fascinating detail, has now become my daily reading and given me things to be surprised about: that, except for scattered restaurant meals, Jim and fellow hikers subsisted mainly on junk food—pop tarts and Snickers bars; that his pack totaled 34 pounds, yet the stove, tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad, accounted for only 12 of them; that he was often wet, frequently sloshed through mud or climbed uphill over slippery rocks, bathed periodically in cold streams and ponds, but never found anything worth complaining about. 

Google says that the full trek from Georgia to Maine is the equivalent of hiking from sea level to the top of Everest and back 16 times. But this trail experience is not Jim Klumpp’s first physical adventure. At age 17, he and a friend rode bicycles from the Atlantic Ocean, across the United States to the Pacific. My final thought: Everything Jim Klumpp described as he hiked the Appalachian Trail made me supremely proud of him . . . but happy to be safe and comfortable in my own home.    

            NAKED AND NOT AFRAID would be a better title for the 21-day adventures of Billy Berger and his female partner, Ky Furneaux.  As described in a previous blog, (NAKED AND AFRAID, Part 2), Billy had to find ways to survive in a Louisiana swamp with no clothing and only two implements—a knife for him and a fire-starter for her.
With great ingenuity, Billy found ways to turn plants and leaves into shelter, to collect and boil enough water to keep them both alive, and to find leaves, crawdads, and a single captured nutria as life-sustaining nourishment.

     Like Jim Klumpp, Billy Berger’s NAKED AND AFRAID was not his first physical ordeal. A few years earlier, he was an outstanding participant in a group of ten people who tried, for the Discovery Channel show, to exist under primitive conditions, living with the same tools as existed for our ancestors—and thus that earlier show was called, “I, Caveman.”


            Back in 1973, a young hang gliding pilot, Bobby Wills, already a champion in the sport, found a way to set a world record as he flew continuously, with no return to earth, for eight hours and twenty-four minutes. He was on Oahu, Hawaii, soaring in what is called “ridge lift” off a thousand foot cliff near Sea Life Park. By today’s standards, everything about his equipment was rudimentary; he was seated on a swing seat from Sears, his control of the glider came by manipulating a triangular aluminum bar, and his legs hung freely in space.

            Occasionally, just to vary his position, Bobby climbed off the seat and wedged himself into the triangle, peering out at the world like a gibbon.

Odd as it seems, the trade wind over the ocean, blowing nonstop, became unbearably cold to someone who was sitting still and flying barefoot--with only a short-sleeve shirt.  His brother, Chris, attempting to set the record with him, after a few hours could no longer endure the cold and landed on the beach. Recognizing that Bobby might not last without a jacket, Chris figured out a way to “fly” a jacket out to his brother. Over the ocean once more, Chris released a bundled-up jacket on a long string, and Bobby somehow flew underneath, broke the string and secured the jacket.

For another five hours, Bobby flew on, literally into the sunset. His physical ordeal amazed fellow pilots and secured a place for him in world hang gliding records. The scene is described fully in my memoir, “Higher Than Eagles.”


Jim Klumpp’s journal arrived here last week.  As I read his story, I began to grasp the relationship between these three men. First, I am related to all of them. Jim and Billy are my nephews. Bobby is our son. 

All three are the grandsons of my father, Dr. Theodore George Klumpp, whose story is also remarkable, but different. His parents ran a bakery shop in the Bronx, and my father rose from delivering bread as a kid, to a medical degree from Harvard, to a stint as chief medical officer for the FDA, and then to President of Winthrop Laboratories.

I’ve never stopped to think about this before, but suddenly I realized: these three remarkable men are cousins.

"The Tail on My Mother's Kite"  available, authographed, at Maralys.com.  
Or through Amazon--paperback and e-book.  

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