From Glacier National Park to the Appalachian Trail, from the Tongariro Northern Circuit in New Zealand to the Inca Trail in Peru, there are hundreds upon hundreds of amazing, awe-inspiring hiking routes carved into this great globe.
You can be stunned breathless by the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, Hawaii. Humbled by the wonders of the Torres del Paine Circuit in Chile. Challenged by the dangerous Cable Route of the Half Dome of Yosemite.
The options are virtually unlimited. You could spend the rest of your life training, planning, mapping and taking hikes at various junctures around the world and you’d be too old to hike long before you’d run out of incredible possibilities.
Which brings us to the two American hikers who were released from prison on Wednesday after more than two years in an Iranian prison.
While many Americans sighed with relief, said a prayer of thanks and celebrated this victory for freedom, others couldn’t have cared less if these “left-wing liberal idiots” ever got out of jail.
For the latter group, it comes down to this: what in the hell were they doing there in the first place?
Take a hike. Somewhere else
Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd were arrested in July 2009 along the Iraq-Iran border, charged with spying and sentenced to eight years in jail.
Shourd was freed last year; Bauer and Fattal have just now finally gained their freedom.
The three maintained from the start they were simply hiking along northern Iraq and perhaps accidentally strayed over the border into Iran. That seems like a more plausible explanation than some sort of movie-like scenario in which the three were working undercover for the U.S. government and were on a mission to … do what, exactly?
The Republic of Iran says they illegally entered the country and engaged in espionage. Bauer is a journalist. Fattal is an environmentalist and teacher. Shourd, who has battled serious health problems, is an educator and social worker. Seems more likely they stepped into a pile of you-know-what by crossing the unmarked border.
Websites and Facebook groups and Amnesty International and other organizations called for the release of the innocent Americans.
Others weren’t so compassionate.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of Americans assuming the risk in traveling to foreign lands that hate us, then exhausting U.S. foreign policy resources and bargaining chips to get out, once they are kidnapped or imprisoned,” wrote one particularly shrill right-wing blogger.
Wrote another blogger, “I’m not saying they are spies, but what the hell were they doing hiking in Iraq? Haven’t they ever heard of the Rockies?”
Harsh and naive? Maybe. One can only imagine the suffering the hikers endured — spending 23 hours every day in a tiny cell, wondering if they were going to spend eight years in prison. One sympathizes with their families. The whole thing does sound like the premise for a movie — but not a spy movie, a film about three young Americans who got trapped in a nightmare.
All due empathy to the situation, but come on, admit it: as you followed the story over the last couple of years, wasn’t there a part of you that asked the what-the-hell- were-they-thinking question?
I know: they’re not the only American civilians to have visited Northern Iraq. We’re told Iraqi Kurdistan is safe for tourism and people are welcoming to Americans. It’s the “other Iraq,” as many websites put it, a “popular tourist destination for people living in the Middle East.” The hikers were experienced world travelers. Bauer and Shourd were living in Damascus. Bauer is fluent in Arabic.
But as the Los Angeles Times pointed out, “They traveled to … the Ahmed Awa waterfall, a crowded tourist spot several kilometers from the Iranian border. Hiking out from there … they inadvertently wandered [into] Iran. As locals have explained to reporters, venturing beyond the waterfall was nearly unheard of. The trios decision to do it anyway represents not just a spirit of adventure but what seems like a particularly American form of hubris …”
In a perfect and safe world, one should be able to hike any trail, climb any mountain, sail any sea.
But in the meantime, just to avoid possible jeopardy, I’ll take Yosemite for the win, Alex.
The TV promos leading up to last Sunday’s game between the Falcons and Eagles played up Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta, home of his former team. Ooh, the drama!
Of course, those promos left out the details about Vick’s departure from the Falcons, e.g., trading in his No. 7 jersey for a prison uniform after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges in connection with a cruel dogfighting ring.
This wasn’t exactly Brett Favre returning to Green Bay to face the Packers as QB for the Vikings, or LeBron James coming back to Cleveland in a Miami Heat uniform. This was a guy who had left town in one of the more shameful episodes in NFL history.
But Vick’s done his time and I fully support his return to the NFL. He deserves a second chance just like anyone else. That his second chance includes an $80 million contract and thousands of young fans sporting his jersey just shows you we’re more sports-crazed than ever before.
Just as strong as the appetite to see the mighty fall is the desire to see the fallen rise again. We’re a surprisingly forgiving bunch. Whether it’s Eliot Spitzer getting a talk show, Roman Polanski winning an Oscar, Kobe Bryant starring in commercials or Robert Downey Jr. becoming one of the most popular stars in Hollywood, you can have some seriously scandalous stuff in your rearview mirror and still climb your way back to the top.
Unless you’re Pee-Wee Herman. Pee-Wee, we hardly knew ye.
(Yes, I know Paul Reubens is working here and there and even brought Pee-Wee back to Broadway — but we seem to have had a more difficult time forgiving Reubens’ onanistic transgression than we have with much more egregious acts committed by other celebrities. Mike Tyson’s a convicted rapist, and he’s on his way to becoming a cuddly character in movies and on TV.)
Should we be surprised at Charlie Sheen’s Comeback Tour?
Only if we didn’t pay attention to the comeback stories of Rob Lowe, Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Grant, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Josh Hamilton, Plaxico Burress, Ben Roethlisberger, Tiger Woods and dozens of other celebrities who weathered scandal and either thrived or at least were welcomed back into the spotlight.
Winner winner comeback dinner
Charlie Sheen’s track record includes then-fiancee Kelly Preston getting accidentally shot in the arm; affairs with two generations of porn stars, from Ginger Lynn to Bree Olson; an overdose from a self-injection of cocaine; admitting to being a star client of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss; bitter custody disputes with ex-wives; a guilty plea to misdemeanor assault, and of course the public meltdown that led to him getting fired from “Two and a Half Men” and going on one of the most bizarre tours in the history of “entertainment.”
The debacle that was Sheen’s appearance at the Chicago Theatre wasn’t even six months ago. Those of us who attended saw a guy who looked like he was knocking on death’s door as he chain-smoked cigarettes and rambled on incoherently about his vendettas against the “Two and a Half Men” team and his ex-wives.
Fast forward to September — and there’s a cleaned-up Charlie Sheen everywhere, making amends on the “Tonight Show” and on the Emmys and on the talk-show circuit. (And angling for a reported $25 million settlement from his former show.) For a guy who was so dismissive of AA, he sure seems to be going through some kind of multistep process, whether it’s self-motivated or with the help of a program.
All that hateful talk about “Two and a Half Men” creator Chuck Lorre, including insults about his children? Leading audiences to chant “F – - – that bitch!” about Denise Richards, mother of two of his children? Bringing the so-called “goddesses” into the lives of his younger children, until even those two bimbos wised up and flew the coop? Lashing out at his family, claiming he could cure his addictions with the snap of his fingers? Forget all that madness! Charlie’s back on Planet Earth, laughing it up at a Comedy Central roast, making jokes at his own expense on “The Tonight Show,” sincerely wishing the best to everyone involved with the new “Two and a Half Men.”
He’s setting the stage for the second act of his career.
For about the seventh time.
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