Nature photography, political rants, and Martyman laughs from the ten-time award-winning author of "Cool Creatures, Hot Planet," "Endangered Edens," and the "Time Is Irreverent" series.

Race Against the Flood

Borneo Rainforest

Marty’s photo of the day #1502. It’s Book Excerpts Week, featuring an excerpt from my first book, “Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents,” and a corresponding photo (that may or may not be from the book). In this adventure, Deb and I backpack with the Iban tribe in Borneo and race down a mountain river ahead of an oncoming flood:

“Easy past here,” he said as he jammed his walking stick into the mud to make a handhold. “Don’t look down.”

I looked down. God, I hate heights!

I shimmied past the waterfall and cautiously descended to the river. I waited until Deb caught up and whispered to her, “This feels more like a rescue operation than a guided backpacking trip.”

“You’re right,” she whispered back. “And to think we paid good money to do this.”

“Honey, you can’t buy moments like this.”

The sky rumbled! Soon we could hear rain hitting the trees, getting louder by the second. We had been concentrating so hard on not falling that we had failed to notice the clouds. Moments later we were drenched in sheets of rain. As the drops pummeled the river, they hissed like a radio tuned to static and turned all the way up.

“Great,” I yelled to Deb, “just when I thought we’d get out of here alive, Mother Nature throws a thunder-and-lightning storm at us!”

My pessimism was premature. I hadn’t considered the effect the wonderfully cool rain would have on my body. My temperature started to drop, and I immediately regained my energy. After several minutes, I felt better than I had since the beginning of the trip. The rain had saved me.

Of course, it only saved me so I could put up a good fight before it drowned me. Before long, the river resembled a giant centipede—each leg a newly formed tributary pouring into its body.

“We need to move quickly!” screamed Jonathan. “River get very deep.”

Though I hadn’t thought it possible, our hike had taken on more urgency.

Now that I was feeling better, it was Deb’s turn to suffer. She was so exhausted she was shaking. Because Jonathan’s new rapid pace made it difficult for her to keep up, I yo-yoed between the two—reminding Jonathan to slow down and making sure Deb was okay.

“Do you want to rest?” I asked. “I can tell him to stop.”

“No, no, let’s get this over with!” she shouted. “I just need to get myself pissed off, and I’ll be okay.”

The rising water frequently forced us out of the river to avoid rapids, pools, and other hazards, and the perilous gorge walls repeatedly forced us back in. Deb slipped and fell several times on the slick rocks near the water’s edge but each time returned to her feet and marched on.

I had just scrambled over some boulders when out of the corner of my eye I saw her go down again. This time she tripped on a submerged rock and fell face-first into the river. I raced back to her, but she was already pushing herself up, cursing in pain. Although for the most part her Teva sandals worked great, they provided little protection for the tops of her feet.

“Are you okay?” I yelled.

“I caught my toe on a rock, and it hurts like hell! I think it’s broken.”

“This is stupid! I’m gonna tell Jonathan we need to stop. If we keep up this pace, someone’s going to get seriously hurt—or worse.”

“No, let’s just go! If we stop now, my foot will balloon up. The cool water will help keep the swelling down.”

I knew arguing would be fruitless. She was as stubborn as I was. We were either going to reach the longhouse by nightfall or die trying.

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