IN the course of reporting for this magazine a number of writers have put their lives on the line. The circumstances have sometimes been the stuff of high geopolitical drama: Robert D. Kaplan's forays into war-torn Eritrea (July, 1988) and Afghanistan (September, 1988) come to mind. Other occasions have had more of an opéra-bouffe quality. Readers who missed James Fallows's account of his nauseating flight at speeds nearing Mach 2 aboard an F-15 (Fallows was taken aloft by an Air Force pilot after having criticized the F-15 in these pages) would do well to look up "I Fly With the Eagles," in the November, 1981, issue.
During the past decade and a half Atlantic authors have been shot at, have exposed themselves to exotic pathogens, and have criticized Camille Paglia. Andrew Todhunter, the author of "The Precipitous World of Dan Osman," has the distinction of being the first Atlantic contributor to jump off a cliff in pursuit of a story (or at least the first one to turn the story in). Todhunter, twenty-nine, has previously written about sea kayaking during winter storms (August, 1995) and scuba diving beneath the ice (January, 1994). His article in this issue is about one of the nation's most accomplished rock climbers, a man who deliberately falls from great heights and who initiated the author into the procedure.
"It's not about risk," Todhunter asserts. "That's not why I do any of these things. An adrenaline hit is exquisite, but far more than adrenaline--under the ice, in bad weather at sea, in the seconds following a free fall--the core experience is closer to losing oneself in something of great beauty."
Born in Paris, raised in New York, Colorado, and Washington, D.C., Todhunter worked as a laborer and spent six months camping at archaeological sites in Europe and Egypt before earning a degree in ancient history at the University of California at Berkeley. A writer and outdoorsman, he has spent much of the past twenty years sailing, scuba diving, skiing, surfing, kayaking, climbing, and caving. He admits that over the next decade, in addition to becoming "a passable fiddler, husband, and cook," he would like to climb Denali, dive the wreck of the Andrea Doria, and paddle a kayak from Lake Nasser to the Mediterranean.
In the months ahead The Atlantic will no doubt be supporting some of Todhunter's other outdoor endeavors. The insurance he can take care of himself.
The Atlantic Monthly; February 1996; 745 Boylston Street; Volume 277, No. 2; page 6.