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March/April 2000
In the magazine
Story Previews
Excerpts From the Print Edition

The Warbird Hunter
Hawaii's Edgy Eden
How Gumby Saved My Life
The Gauley Without Crowds


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The Warbird Hunter
By Carl Hoffman

To recover lost World War II planes, Gary Larkins has dodged machine-gun fire, hidden from pirates, sneaked into jungles, and shivered under the Greenland ice cap. But on the trail of a rare B-17 worth two million U.S. dollars, his worst enemy of all is time.

The mountains towering above the morning fog were jagged and huge and tipped with snow, like the gateway to some J.R.R. Tolkien mythical kingdom. Sheer granite walls oozing greenish-brown ice rose 1,500 feet [458 meters] on either side of the fjord as Gary Larkins, standing on the upswept bow of a 175-foot-long [53-meter-long] tugboat, lifted a black-and-white photo to the horizon. "It's taken me ten years to get here, boys!" shouted Larkins, his dark eyes darting from the photo to the mountain range off the bow. "She should be right up ahead!"

Larkins was in pursuit of a most improbable treasure: a World War II B-17 bomber. Putting himself in the old photo was the first step to finding it. He'd studied the picture for hours with a magnifying glass, compared it to nautical charts, even managed to get top-secret U.S. military information on the area it depicted. Now he directed the tugboat, the Ocean Wrestler, farther into the middle of the fjord, closer to the coordinates listed on the plane's crash report.

He held the photo up at arm's length again. The peak like a witch's hat, the shark's-tooth ridge, the glacial ice tumbling about, the sweeping fjord in the foreground: It ought to fit as perfectly as some heirloom key in a long-lost attic chest, except this chest was one of the remotest spots on Earth, a fjord 300 miles [483 kilometers] up the east coast of Greenland, and Larkins's key was this photograph taken on a cold, clear spring day in 1943. Somewhere in the unmeasured depths below was a 33,000-pound [15,000-kilogram] piece of aviation history, "as shiny as a new nickel," Larkins chanted, and about 40 million times more valuable. Of 13,000 B-17s made during the war, 42 remain, and only 10 are still flying. And not one of them is like this airplane ought to be: an intact, war-ready bomber as rare in its own way as a lost van Gogh.

An hour later, the Ocean Wrestler drifted over the exact latitude and longitude cited in the report, supposedly the very spot from which the photo had been snapped. But something was wrong. The mountains at the end of the fjord didn't quite match the picture. "I don't know," said Larkins, sucking hard on a Swisher Sweet cigar and shaking his head slowly. He studied the photo, studied the mountains. "Nothing looks quite right. We've got some pieces to the puzzle, but it's like the puzzle has changed."

By this time Larkins had been wandering the seas around Greenland for nearly three weeks. The captain and crew of the ship were restless. Water and food were low. Winter was coming. The man who was paying Larkins to find the plane was back in Ohio, hemorrhaging [U.S.] $10,000 a day, waiting desperately for word of success. But, it was suddenly and awfully clear, the "treasure map" was wrong. Was it the photograph? The coordinates?

"I don't like it," said Larkins, staring at the mountains. "I don't like it at all."

Follow Larkins's quest in the full article—only in the March/April 2000 issue of ADVENTURE.
(Subscribe today.)


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Hawaii's Edgy Eden
By Laurence Gonzales

To surf these world-class waves, snorkel these razor-sharp reefs, and trek these jungle trails, you too might take a bite out of Hawaii's forbidden fruit—the Na Pali Coast and the rest of the wild isle of Kauai.

I stood on a rock in the rushing river as she came out of the jungle naked, a shredded red sarong held loosely in one hand, the other hand clutching two dark, round objects. At first glance they appeared to be the shrunken heads of tribal ancestors. Then I saw that what she carried were not heads, but two huge, black avocados. Behind her, a man who appeared to be in his mid-30s emerged from a shadowy stand of guava trees: Bearded, with a hairy chest, bare belly, and wild hair to his shoulders, he wore faded surfer shorts low on his slender hips. He was sunburned and had a feral, homeless look. She was younger, perhaps in her early 20s, her skin smooth and tan and lustrous, her golden hair clean. They wore no shoes, not even for this treacherous hiking path on the Na Pali Coast.

They picked their way across the river, stepping from rock to rock, white water at their feet. Once across, she wrapped herself in the sarong and settled on the bank. She ran a fingernail around one avocado, splitting the skin, then twisted the fruit in half. She handed him his share, then ate delicately, scooping out the bright green flesh with two fingers. Occasionally, she dabbed avocado on her legs and arms and face, then smoothed it into her skin. They were refugees from America—not this purloined paradise we call our 50th state, but the real America, the mainland—and it looked as though they had retreated into the wilderness of the Kalalau Valley some time ago. A lot of people become enchanted on Hawaii's oldest island, and begin to think that it would be a good idea to go missing.

Get lost in the full article, in the March/April 2000 issue of ADVENTURE.
(Subscribe today.)


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How Gumby Saved My Life

By Jim Thornton

The frigid waters, 50-foot [15-meter] waves, and one-hundred-mile-an-hour [161-kilometers-an-hour] winds off Oregon's coast have foundered some 2,000 vessels, making it the perfect place for the oddventurous Jim Thornton to take a swim, in his new role as U.S. Coast Guard rescue dummy.

It's the wee hours of Thursday morning on the Oregon coast, three days before the final Halloween of the century. Sheets of bitter rain lash the windows of the B&B where I'm hunkered down. The wind outside shrieks like a pack of starving wolf pups. As a first-time visitor to these parts, I assume all this must be normal for late October. I burrow deeper under my down comforter, muffle my ears with feather pillows, and descend back into the Land of Uneasy Nod.

At breakfast the next morning, I order a platter of fried oysters—an attempt to habituate my stomach to seasickness, a cure advocated by a "friend" back home in Pittsburgh. A front-page story in today's Oregonian announces: "The first serious storm of the Northwest's long rainy season blew through Oregon early Thursday." In the nearby resort town of Cannon Beach, sustained winds blew at 80 miles [129 kilometers] an hour, with gusts up to 113 [182 kilometers].

David Campiche, the B&B's owner and oyster chef nonpareil, dubiously spatulas over a half-dozen Cajun-style mollusks, then relates the story of a friend caught offshore under similar conditions. The 60-mile-an-hour [97-kilometer-an-hour] winds and 30-foot [9-meter] waves were so fierce that the guy's fishing vessel could make no headway traveling north, and he was forced to turn around. As the boat blew helplessly back toward the Columbia River Bar—a four-square-mile [six-square-kilometer] churning mess of water where the river and sea collide—he realized that his life would depend solely on the luck of the tides.

"He figured," says Campiche, "that if he hit the bar at ebb tide with all the water rushing out, he'd never make it over. But if he hit it during flood tide, the currents would carry him in to safety."

As luck would have it, he hit it right.

And so have I. The weather beating on the windows of the breakfast room strikes me as wonderfully horrifying. I can't believe my good fortune.

It's your turn to get lucky. Read the full story in the March/April 2000 issue of ADVENTURE.
(Subscribe today.)


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The Gauley Without Crowds, and Five Other Great Spring Rivers
By Scott Willoughby

Spring is here, and ADVENTURE's March/April 2000 issue has your complete guide to running the season's rapids, from the best rivers and boats to white-water playparks, performance gear, and more—beginning with a look at West Virginia's Gauley River.

Every time I camp beside a swelling river on a rainy night, I lay awake fantasizing about the next day's run. This time, though, my insomnia is worse, and for good reason: This time the river is West Virginia's Gauley, one of North America's classics, equaled in white-water stature only by the Grand Canyon stretch of the Colorado. As the rain falls, I imagine the consequences: Initiation Rapid swells with the power of new water. The waterline creeps up Pillow Rock and plays havoc with a neighboring maelstrom known as the "Room of Doom." Where the Meadow River joins the Gauley, Lost Paddle Rapid contorts like Popeye on a three-day spinach bender. Best of all: No one is around to see it but my boating partner and me.

Welcome to the "other" Gauley River.

"Other" because the Gauley that most paddlers know—the Gauley of September and October, the traditional season to run the river—is one of crowds, baloney-boat bumper derbies, and five-minute waits in eddies for a solo shot down one of the Gauley's epic drops. Yet in March, April, and May, it isn't uncommon for paddlers to have the entire Gauley to themselves. Most people simply aren't aware that frequent spring rains and controlled dam releases combine to create one of the best rides on the continent. And the springtime bonanza isn't confined to the Gauley. You can find uncrowded rafting and kayaking on other popular North American rivers, too. You just have to time it right. In the case of the Gauley, it's all about avoiding the season of commerce.

The Gauley's well-deserved reputation as one of the world's ten greatest white-water rivers has more to do with legislation than nature. Thanks to a 1986 bill introduced by West Virginia Congressman Nick Joe Rahall, the United States Army Corps of Engineers is required by law to release 2,500 to 2,800 cubic feet [763 to 854 cubic meters] per second (cfs) from a trio of enormous tubes at the base of the massive earthen dam that backs up the Gauley into Summersville Lake. The artificial torrent flows for 22 days over six weekends from Labor Day until mid-October, and the promise of consistent, demanding rapids that don't require an overnight stay to reach them has helped to create a major tourism boom: During the Gauley's hectic fall prime time, 60,000 rafting enthusiasts arrive to join commercial trips, amateur kayakers come for weeks at a time, and everyone comes to party. It's not a bad scene, but it's hardly bucolic. Neither is summer, when the water (by default) belongs to the nearly 200,000 powerboaters squeezing their fair-weather fun from the 63 billion gallons [238 billion liters] making up West Virginia's largest reservoir.

But in spring, when it's cooler, and you need to dress for the weather, the Gauley is at its wild, unpeopled best. And with seasonal rains, the water levels are surprisingly boatable. To get the best of the Gauley, you need to know which part of the river to be on and when.

For more information on the Gauley—and five other great spring rivers—check out the whitewater report in the March/April 2000 issue of ADVENTURE. (Subscribe today.)


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