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Answering Call of Wild--for Some, but Not All

October 06, 1994|WENDY MILLER | Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

Being a native Southern Californian and not being a lover of the Great Outdoors is a condition a person probably shouldn't talk about. Like wearing a leather coat and carrying veal scaloppine to the anti-vivisectionists' potluck dinner, it makes one vulnerable to criticism.

But the truth is, I think it's pretty dangerous outside. Think about it. Infestations of flying, swarming and bloodsucking insects that sting, bite and go to battle with you over your burger. Stones that cut your feet. Plants that fight for space with an amazing array of weaponry: poisonous berries, thorns, thistles and those really irritating things that stick to ankles and socks. Then there are scratching cats, biting dogs and the occasional skunk--do I even need to get into that? And I haven't even left my yard.

Then I talk to my hiking, biking and rock-climbing friends, who are always encouraging me to join them on their weekend forays. Judging by their adventures, it sounds like a blast: We can all get dehydrated, break our legs or commune with the local flora (poison oak) and fauna (rattlesnakes). "Yeah, love to," I say, "but unfortunately I hear the call of my VCR."

Then we have Ken McAlpine, the intrepid free-lancer who, in the name of having something to write about, is generally on some sort of open-air suicide mission.

McAlpine has done some harebrained stunts--he's competed in long-distance ocean swims, gotten into the ring with professional martial artists and run through the jungles of Malaysia. But for this week's Centerpiece story, he and his wife Kathy went on Mission Impossible: They camped with Cullin, their 18-month-old son.

"I have done some nutty things, there is no doubt about it, but I think I was more nervous about this trip with Cullin than I have ever been on any other assignment," McAlpine said.

"Even though a mile swim in a freezing ocean or a run through a jungle is dangerous, there is an X factor--you pretty much know what the dangers are and you only have yourself to worry about. But with a small child, you never really know what to expect, which makes you feel vulnerable all the time."

So how does going one-on-one with a tireless toddler compare with going into the ring with a martial artist?

"Faced with the choice of being punched by the world shoot-fighting champion or spending two days following Cullin around a campsite, I might actually choose to step back in the ring," said McAlpine, laughing.

So I guess this means that Cullin will have to wait some time--perhaps until college or grad school--before he again is allowed to hear the call of the wild.

"In truth," McAlpine said, "it was a fantastic experience, and I look forward to doing it again. But, then, look at the sort of things I've done. Mine is not a rational mind."

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