BOYD MATSON (and me) By John Watts



On first glance it might look like it would only lead to depression and hand ringing if I were to compare my life with Boyd Matson—he of National Geographic travel fame—me of….well of nothing fame.

Still a man can dream.  Vicarious travel opportunities abound in this virtual world of ours.

Take the magazines in my H@R office.  Each year we arrive early to the waiting room at our tax representative’s office so that I can escape into the pages of exotic travel magazines.  Beautiful people with LOTS of spending money, going to places and adventures that can only remain FICTION for me.  It is a yearly, expected ritual–before we get the bad news on how much federal money we owe so as to make far flung vacation ideas for us IMPOSSIBLE for the next calendar year, I vicariously escape into the National Geographic Travelers magazines so hope can spring eternal for a few more minutes.

If you didn’t already know this, Boyd Matson is a famous, unbelievably successful travel explorer and writer.  I am not.  Certainly not the famous part.  But I can relate to Boyd because he and I have both been in some tight jams in the course of our journeys.  And the actual terms of what constitutes success can be argued and negotiated. Of course his are always slightly more exotic and ambitious than mine, but then again I don’t have a ground crew, paid for travel expenses, or hiking caddies to carry my gear around.  Comparisons are silly of course, and sadistically futile in a case such as this.  I only do so in the spirit of praising BOTH of us along the way.

Boyd is a renowned travel writing legend, for TV and magazine, for National Geographic.  Just his name alone conjures up the most accomplished, self-reliantly noble impulse left in the male gender.

Why in this one travel article alone, Boyd writes of his arduous trip in the Andes Mountains on the spindly trails where the Inca Indians had at one time, hiked down 3,500 steep Inca stone steps in a heavy snowstorm over a 15,000-foot pass.  He did all this jostling on rocks with a bad knee too and with his wife and kids in tow.

Reading his account in National Geographic, I was riveted to read about the 2,000-foot climb his party had to do to get to the next base camp as the sweat pored profusely over Boyd’s face as he tried to dry his ears with a bandanna to hear. And then to top it off, Boyd has to endure ten straight days of rain, which transformed the trail into a mudslide.  While he admits to enjoying some beautiful scenery on a beautiful day, his knee later locks up and our intrepid Boyd Matson is forced to descend the next 2,200 feet using trekking poles like canes.

Yet Boyd’s hardships remind me that I too have had such mishaps.  Why just last week before school, I couldn’t find a reasonably light and good looking rain coat in my closet.  The sky was overcast but I didn’t think the rainfall was steady yet.  I was wrong.  Before the dog walk was finished, my work shirt and pants were sopping wet.  To make matters worse, my dog refused to go number 2 in a fast and expedient manner.

Back to Boyd Matson: Then on day 13 he and his party is crossing their tours highest pass when, for a solid hour, BB-size hailstones pelts the party. And to add to all this, Boyd casually mentions that around this time fighting breaks out between the Peruvian Army and the Shining guerillas, in the valley near Espíritu, Pampa.  For that, he decides to reroute the second half of the trek.  Good call I think.

There truly seems to be no end to the tales of heroic drama and adventure in this guy’s life.

He has rappelled into sinkholes, run multi-day endurance races through the desert, and been bitten by more snakes than most people would ever see in several lifetimes.

Back to John Watts: The next day, I am walking my dog into the forest when it happens: as Ranger finds some soft ivy in which to have his constitutional, the highly extendable dog leash gets wound around a pricker bush.  In fact the leash has coiled itself so many times back and forth across the main trunk of the bush, it resembles a crazy game of tetherball played by kids.  I have no choice but to go around the same bush and try to tighten up the slack of the leash until I can retrace my steps back to my dog.  I receive several cuts on my arm for my effort.

Time is of the essence as I know I am expected at dinner in less than a half hour.

At the same time I am horrified to discover that I have stepped in the recently deposited poop that my dog has left.  The situation is becoming bleak.

With still no luck in freeing Ranger from the stuck leash, I decide to hurl the heavy handled part of the leash around other side of the bush.  Unfortunately the leash flew to fast around the other side of the bush and the plastic handled end smacked me on the head, knocking me out with poop still on my shoes and the dog leash still mired in the bush.

After waking up minutes later, I end up leaving my shoes and taking Ranger’s dog collar off of him and walking home with no leash.  I never went back to get my shoes or the leash.

After hill perching on the top of I am almost licked to death by a marauding band of golden retriever puppies.  In the course of jumping up awkwardly to extricate myself from this predicament, I drop my cell phone into a snow bank and don’t realize my mistake until I get home.  Eventually I have to convince my wife to bail me out of my stupidity by taking her cell phone to call my AWOL one on the hill.  Eventually I am able to contact my forlorn cell phone which is cold and miserable, and mighty glad to hear from me.  I barely make it home to see my Hallmark movie I promised to see with my wife.

I leave you with these stories of both Boyd and myself, not to brag necessarily, or scare you, but so that you the reader can see for yourself how much me and “the MAN” have in common when it comes to outdoor adventure and insatiable curiosity.

So now I can once and for all close with the Boyd Matson versus me comparisons, which was after all, the point of this article.  Both of us have lived our lives to the fullest–based on the supply of courage and resourcefulness we were endowed with by our creator.  It just so happens that he has a much larger supply of both qualities while I just have a little.

You might even think that just knowing of this discrepancy coupled with the predictable trajectory that the remainder of my safe, suburban life will probably close with—would make me jealous and consumed with wanting to find dirt on this guy’s character—as well as unearthing any evidence of delicious hypocrisy to boot!

But I refuse to go there.  Well, most of the time.  Actually I have kept my antennas out while reading of his adventures, mainly to find any examples of arrogance or pious attitude towards others.

But I came up empty.

I’m afraid that Boyd has me beat in the humility department too.  Dang that guy.  So hard not to like a guy who has accomplished so much yet seems so centered and full of affection for his fellow man and planet.  And he even retains a sense of humor through all the fame and accolades.  Don’t you hate that?

So my only choice left to me is to grudgingly admit that I am a fan of Boyd’s while he will most likely never know of my existence.  But that’s OK.  In my own small way I would like to think that Boyd and I are linked to the same rope as fellow adventurers.  We just have slightly different scales and a slightly different audience base!



About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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