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.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015



            Rob handed me the envelope, Valentine card inside, three weeks ago. The outside said, “M. On 2/14.”  He said, “Save it, Babe, for the right day.”

That’s when I knew that Rob, who doesn’t plan such things in advance, hadn’t spent one minute standing in an aisle somewhere, painstakingly sorting through Valentine messages. Whatever it was, somebody else had chosen the message—hopefully, in his voice. Knowing how he operates, I imagined the thing had arrived in the mail. Meaning, of course, Rob had chosen to hop aboard some passing sentiment like a hobo on a box car, traveling for free.

Still, hoping some stranger had penned words worth keeping, I propped up the card in a prominent spot and waited. Today I opened it.

Outside, the words were promising:  “To Someone Special. On Valentine’s Day.”  Inside, the message took a dive. “This special card is sent your way, filled with good thoughts on Valentine’s Day.”  Rob  had circled the words “good thoughts.”

I stared at it, incredulous.  “Good thoughts? “ “Good thoughts?”  Was that the best the writer could do?  Was that the best Rob could do?  Good thoughts in a lousy meter? Rob had printed, “Doesn’t get better than this . . . “ 

Suddenly I was laughing. Of all the intentionally funny cards I’ve ever received, this was the funniest--but not on purpose. It went straight from stupid to hilarious. After 65 years of marriage, I thought, maybe I’d better just grab Good Thoughts and run. 

All of which reminds me of one of my best friends, Elaine, who accepted a blind date, and when he arrived she opened the front door, took one look and said, “You’re too short,” and closed the door in his face. When she opened it again, Marty was laughing. From that moment, their relationship soared.

It also reminds me of Rob, whose marriage proposal came after numerous trips down Bayshore Highway from his school, San Jose State, to mine--Stanford. One day he said, “This trip has gotten so grueling, we might as well get married.”  

After a proposal like that, the pundits would have given us six months. I didn’t get the sentiment, but I got the man. 

Anyway, just so you’ll know, I’ve had better Valentines. Last year’s card from the Heart Association was a whole lot better than this one. The Heart Association will never be apprised, but thanks to their clunky card, Rob owes me dinner at a fancy restaurant.  

Friday, February 13, 2015

NAKED AND AFRAID--A Participant Reveals What It Was Like. Part Two

NAKED AND AFRAID—A Participant Reveals What It Was Like    
                                                       Part Two

            Billy Berger, my nephew, was no stranger to “roughing it.”  Before his 2013 appearance on Naked And Afraid, Billy played a key role in the Discovery Channel's "I, Caveman," which appeared in 2011.

Alone among a group of ten people attempting to live with no tools other than those available to cavemen, Billy Berger managed to use his stone tools to butcher an elk brought down by another of the group—a man who used a spear and a spear-thrower (atl-atl), to fell the animal. (Earlier, Billy had thrown his spear and missed). Between them, the two men gave the group enough meat to survive.

This was the first big game kill documented in modern times.

As the week (or weeks),  progressed, a number of players dropped out. “And the funny thing was,” Billy said, “you couldn’t tell at the beginning who would last and who wouldn’t. One of the men came into the event with a pompous attitude, as though he’d breeze through it—but he was among those who quit. A woman, Manu, was beset with enough discouraging problems to make her give up. Instead, she became an inspiration for the group and lasted until the end.”   

Among the ten was Morgan Spurlock, now an investigative journalist for CNN, who remarked at the end, “Billy, I’m glad you were with us—without you it would have been a disaster.”  

            On the basis of that show and his own U-tube portrayals of survival skills, Berger was chosen to appear on the 21-day adventure, NAKED AND AFRAID.

            “What made you decide to do it?” I asked.

            “I enjoy a challenge. And it might give me exposure for other jobs.”

            “Did you know what you were getting into?”

            “No. I did it blind. Actually, I was so concerned (he wouldn’t use the word “afraid”),  that I spent sleepless nights worrying. None of the shows by then had ever aired. I considered dieting to get my body used to starvation, but decided against it; I’d need all the body fat I could get. Instead I ate normally and kept going to the gym.”

            “Weren’t you embarrassed—being naked?”

“Sure. For the first hour. I’m not an exhibitionist. But the awkwardness didn’t last long. After an hour, we weren’t thinking about our nakedness--we were trying to figure out how to survive.”                                                                    

            “What was the worst part?”

            “At first, the cold. We were in the swamps outside Baton Rouge. A cold snap came through as we began, and we were freezing. Forty-eight degrees. But it didn’t help to cuddle. When you’re both cold, with no blanket to keep in the heat, huddling together doesn’t work. We quickly gave it up. Instead, we had to create some shelter and a fire.”  

            “Like how?  With no tools, no wood scraps. Nothing.”  

            “Actually, I had a knife, and she had a fire starter—but that was all.  I used sticks to create a framework and palmetto fronds to wrap around it, stuff I tied together with roots and vines.” 
            “Who was your partner?”

            “Ky Furneaux—an Australian who’d been a stunt woman. She was my rock. She kept me going when I got discouraged. A positive attitude was hard to maintain, but she stayed positive enough for both of us. By seven or eight days, I was so hungry that standing up made me light-headed.
            “Luckily, Ky found a discarded cooking pot, so we had a container to boil water. But we had to walk quite a way to get it, because the cameramen churned up the nearby water and made it murky. Even so, we had to boil our water for quite a while to kill the germs—and then let it cool. We were both dehydrated—so much so that my salivary glands stopped working. It was hard to swallow anything.”

            “What DID you eat?”

            “Certain plants that I knew were safe. Whatever we could find or catch. Crawdads. And once we caught a nutria—that was the best. I was used to eating bland food—no sugar, no sodas, no candy in my normal diet, so for me this stuff didn’t taste bad.”     

 “Anything really dramatic happen?”

“Yeah. The area had a lot more snakes than I figured—I had some close calls, nearly stepping on water moccasins. And three times our fire blew out, and I had to re-start it—the hard way. The fire was critical . . . for purifying our water, for body heat, for cooking.”

“What did you get out of the experience?”

“A little money, but not much. About what I would have earned on the outside during those 21 days. And lots of exposure. Turns out our episode was the most popular of the Discovery Channel season. They played it over and over.” 

“But you didn’t get residuals.”


“Any repercussions later?”

“Yes.  Back in civilization, I discovered I couldn’t tolerate food with flavor. It stung my mouth—no added salt or sugar. Even a banana was too sweet. I had to stick to plain lettuce and boiled chicken. Also, thanks to the dehydration, my salivary glands were out of commission for nearly a month—so food kept sticking in my throat. Later I was asked to be a “peacekeeper” in three versions of the Hunger Games. Later still, Naked and Afraid asked me to do a forty-day segment. I decided that was just too dangerous, so I turned it down.”

“What about Ky?  Are you still friends with her?”

“Sure. We’ll always be friends. You can’t go through something like that and not remain close.”      
            Billy’s episode was filmed in May, 2013, and aired on July 28, 2013.  It’s called, “Beware the Bayou.”

            When you talk to Billy Berger, he doesn’t sound eccentric, or like anything but just a normal guy. Over the phone he makes the experience of NAKED AND AFRAID seem like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

NAKED AND AFRAID -- with my nephew, Billy Berger

NAKED AND AFRAID—with my nephew, Billy Berger
                                                    (Part One)

            He was naked and cold, but his thoughts were not what he you’d think: he feared stepping on a water moccasin.  And his daily activities, all spent with an equally naked woman, were not what you’d imagine, either. Billy Berger’s focus was definitely not on romance.   
After an hour talking to my nephew, whom I last saw when he was just a boy, I now have a mental picture of what it was like, this 21 days in a swamp near Baton Rouge. Frankly, I was fascinated. First, that he sounded so normal. Second, that his 21 days were so anything but normal. You can still find his program online, “Beware the Bayou,” as filmed by the Discovery Channel and broadcast July 28, 2013.   

I can’t send the rest of this saga now—I have to get Billy’s approval, and he’ll be away from his e-mail for a week.  But by the end of next week I should have a great story to tell.  You’ll find it extraordinary, just as I did.  And now I’m wondering: why didn’t I contact Billy Berger sooner?