Roughing It with Alex Constantine

Out here in the Sierras, the sun blasts you awake before 7:00 am. Up for another day of roughing it, survival training in paradise. This photo was taken at a car park by the side of Highway 395, over a bubbling pot of Sarrano fondu with crepes. I had a shot of champagne to brace for the hard day ahead on the trails, and finished off my breakfast by nibbling on mint leaves. By the end of the day, the unflitered UVs of high country burned me to a crisp. But I was in ignorance of the future when this photo was taken. If only you could step through the photo, through time, and warn youself to use sunblock. Then the emergency room visit wouldn't have even been necessary ...

Pick up a pair of Gore-Tex hiking boots before hitting the high Sierra trails because you WILL be wet before the ordeal is over. I tried to cross this river by hopping on the rocks. At precisely the moment I patted myself on the back for my emergent superhuman agility - "finally, I'm a true outdoorsman ... " - I slipped on a wet rock and fell, backpack and all, straight into the soup. Thank God for the Forest Service. They launched a rapid rescue and dragged me out of the freezing cold froth before I iced over completely. I tipped my hat at the rangers giving me baleful glances as I set out on the trail again, blue-skinned, limping along as best I could, chattering like a Flamingo dancer. The unexpected bears were just up the trail a piece, roused out of hibernation by global warming. I was about to learn why you should never pack frozen steaks and fish sticks on an outing in the Sierras ...

It's wild out there - and lonely, too. So before the sun went down I was on the Blackberry, called an escort service. A few hours later, Suzy here, guided by GPS and cell phone, strutted into my campsite and we turned in early.

Hemingway was right. Man is more primal up here in the mountains. Still, I'd have traded my right arm for a good steambath after a rigorous, cold, bloody day on the trail. Determined to endure like a primitive, Suzy and I ate smoked sausages and pickled herrings, topped off with a really decent Cabernet the escort service packed along. Thank God the bears didn't bother her or it would have been a long, lonely, hungry night at 12,500 feet above sea level with nothing to do but blink at the blazing stars overhead and think about how small we are, when you really get down to it.

- AC