Episode 41: S.O.S.

Global Rescue is a business that, should you get yourself into trouble, will drop everything to come and save you, anywhere in the world. They employ former Navy Seals, helicopters, airplanes, and even yaks to get the job done. But this service comes at a price, and when disaster strikes, is it fair that a service that won’t save everyone can rush in pull out those who can afford it?

Say you’re going on an adventure somewhere you’ve never been before, you don’t speak the language, and you don’t feel 100 percent safe. You’re nervous about getting stranded on a glacier, or getting bitten by a poisonous snake, or maybe you just really want to avoid traveler’s diarrhea. You’re worried that if you’re not even sure how to ask for a hospital, you won’t know where you would turn for help. Hmm. This could go badly.  

Cancel the trip? 

Well, wait. A little company called Global Rescue might be able to give you a hand.

Running Out of Time on Top of the World

Mount Everest | Photo: Gunther Hageitner

Mount Everest | Photo: Gunther Hageitner

Robert Kay summited Everest on May 19th, 2016. The skies were clear and sunny and there wasn’t much wind. Stepping foot onto the summit was something Kay had been dreaming of since he was 15 years old. He was so elated, he barely felt the cold. Kay reached the top, along with two days worth of climbers, because bad weather the day before had caused a backup. At points the hiker traffic was so thick that Kay and his team were stalled for ten or fifteen minutes at a time.

But he made it. Fulfilled his dream. And then started down the mountain

The going was slow. Too slow. Coming down from the summit to the south summit is about a 15 or 20 minute trip normally, but it took Kay and his Sherpas two hours because of crowding on the trail. And, to make matters worse, Kay began to have trouble breathing.

“Imagine putting a plastic bag over your face and tightening it up,” he says. “That’s how it feels. It’s like breathing through a garden hose. You’ve got 50 feet of garden hose and you’re underwater and you’re trying to suck air through this thing and you just can’t get enough air.”

Kay was developing a severe case of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, or “HAPE.” It’s the lungs’ response to getting too little air for too long: ;they start filling up with fluid and eventually you drown.  

Image Credit: Robert and Talbot Trudeau

Image Credit: Robert and Talbot Trudeau

He spent the night in Camp 4, at about 26,000 feet, where his friends kept him awake, so he wouldn’t go into shock,  and gave him medications to get him alive  through to morning. The next day, the team made the long, nearly vertical climb from Camp 4 to Camp 2, with Kay’s Sherpas and teammates unclipping and clipping Kay from every anchor point on the mountain and carrying his pack. At one point they had to switch out his oxygen tank for a new one and taking away that last bit of oxygen nearly did him in.

“I started convulsing and spasming on the ground and I couldn’t even sit up,” he remembers. He says he thought to himself: “I’m going to die in the next few seconds.” 

But he didn’t die. Because someone was there to intervene.

In the Business of Saving Lives

Before Kay left for Everest, he bought a membership with a company called Global Rescue. It’s a New Hampshire-based company, with offices around the world, that provides medical evacuations, security extractions, information and intelligence, and virtual health care systems in the U.S. and abroad.  

It’s like breathing through a garden hose. You’ve got 50 feet of garden hose and you’re underwater and you’re trying to suck air through this thing and you just can’t get enough air.
— Robert Kay

CEO Dan Richards founded the company  in 2004 and he explains that a membership is structured, “a little bit like AAA, but not for your car, for your body.” If something goes wrong, you can call them. They will direct you to local hospitals and provide all the consultation you need to get properly treated. They’ve partnered with doctors at Johns Hopkins, so they are ready to dish out top-notch advice to their clients over the phone or via Skype if needed, and if something goes seriously wrong, Global Rescue will come and get you out of the field, stabilize you, and bring you all the way back home.

All that for $329 a year.

Although a membership with Global Rescue doesn’t cover the cost of treatment (it’s not medical insurance), it’s a good deal if you want to avoid the hefty cost of a private helicopter rescue, which could add up to $15-20,000. The company also provides security services for an additional fee, in case you’re traveling somewhere that erupts into war or civil unrest. Their employees rescued clients trapped in Alexandria, Cairo, and parts of Tunisia during the uprisings there in 2011, as well as after the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.  

CEO of Global Rescue, Dan Richards, participating in the Global Rescue Readiness Test | Photo courtesy of Global Rescue

Last year Global Rescue had about one million clients, ranging from individuals, to NASA, the U.S. Government, and National Geographic.

And who are the super humans rescuing all these people? 

Many of their employees come from a military background, and they go through some intense training to make sure they’re up for the task. They even have a biennial office-wide fitness test, just in case anyone has been slacking since they got hired. 

Besides the manpower they have to get things done, they also have the resources. Between helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes, Global Rescue has thousands of aircraft around the world under contract. Additionally, they use all sorts of ground transportation, ambulances, vans—you name it. And Dan Richards says if the weather is too bad, or if motorized vehicles can’t reach the patient, “we’ll put them on a yak or a horse, sometimes accompanied by one of our personnel, as soon as possible.”

Global Rescue will come get you anywhere in the world…except North Korea.

Not all their clients need rescues, which is the reason they make any money at all. Most people go on their trips, it goes smoothly, and they never need the backup. But occasionally, something does go very wrong. Which brings us back to Robert Kay, who is near the top of Mount Everest.

Here Comes the Cavalry

As Kay’s lungs began filling with fluid, he realized he didn’t have much time left.

“At that point,” he remembers, “it just became an interesting fact. It was like, ‘huh, I get to know where and when I die, that’s interesting; the pain’s going to stop—that’s good.’ I didn’t even care that I was about to die.”

But fortunately he never had to face that fate. At 21,000 feet, Global Rescue sent a helicopter to pick up Robert Kay.

Kay says it was like seeing the cavalry coming. “You don’t know for sure if you’re going to live or die for 48 hours, and all of a sudden, you know, guaranteed, you’re going to make it.”

[Global Rescue Plans are] a little bit like AAA, but not for your car, for your body.
— Dan Richards

They flew Kay to a small clinic in Luklah, a town at the base of Everest. From there he was transferred to a bigger hospital in Kathmandu, where he rested and recovered before he caught a flight back to the United States.

And the remarkable thing is that Global Rescue’s work with Kay didn’t stop there. Although Kay expected them to drop him off and say, “we’ll pay the bills, good luck,” they didn’t. “They came to visit me in the hospital everyday,” Kay says, “just to check on me and see how I was doing. They were an amazing group of people. It wasn’t simply ‘pay the claim and move on,’ it was how were you doing as a person.”

And that seems to be the story from the majority of their clients—that Global Rescue really cares.

But parts of this story get tricky, too. Hundreds of people climb Everest each year. Some of those people are signed up to get saved if something happens, and some of them are not—like the Sherpas—because they can’t pay for a service like Global Rescue. Out of about 280 people that have died on Everest, an estimated 114 of them have been Sherpas.  

So is Global Rescue really making the mountain safer?

Ben Ayers, the Country Director for the dZi Foundation in Nepal, says maybe, but not across the board. “It’s making extreme adventure easier and safer for the privileged,” he says, “and it’s not making it easier and safer for everybody else.” 

Ayers has been helping improve working conditions for mountain porters and their communities for the past 18 years. Ben says companies like Global Rescue might be contributing to a culture of mountaineers taking greater risks than they would if they had to rescue themselves—risks that could endanger lives besides their own.

This leads us to our second rescue story, where the ethical implications of getting rescued become much hazier.

A Fundamental Inequality

Courtney Christman, Emily Schlegel, a Haitian teen, and Sara Trupp build a fence. | Credit: Megan Trupp

In 2010, Courtney Christman was in her senior year of college in Pennsylvania. She’d been going to the Christ Mertz Lutheran Church in Fleetwood, PA since she was little, and had gone on a few mission trips when she was younger. She liked them so much that she decided to lead her own week-long mission trip to Haiti her senior year. Her group of 12 people from the church flew down to Croix-des-Bouquets, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. There they volunteered for a nonprofit that provides rural people educational opportunities and basic health care called “Village of Hope.”

Courtney’s group helped paint the church and spent time with children in the Village of Hope school. “You couldn’t walk somewhere without somebody giving you a hug,” she says. And although hugs might not be a measure of real impact, Courtney says she felt good about being there.  

“You get there and you start building relationships and you realize: this is where God wants me to be.”

And then, disaster.  

At 4:53 pm on January 12th, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck just south of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Courtney remembers this moment perfectly.

“The ground started shaking, and I remember looking at my friend Megan, thinking, ‘What is happening?’ And I heard her yell out, almost in slow-motion, ‘It’s an earthquake!’ The ground was moving and it looked like waves. It looked like ocean waves. The ground rose two or three feet in the air and then dropped.” 

Courtney and her group were back at their living accommodations after a day of work.They were staying in a complex of one-story buildings that had bunks and a kitchen. Fortunately, most of them were sitting outside.  

No one in Courtney’s group was hurt.

But many other people were. The death count is highly disputed, but ranges from 200,000 to 300,000. One million people were left homeless and an estimated 3 million people were affected. Today, 2.5 million Haitians are still in need of humanitarian aid.

Following the earthquake, Courtney and her group tried to help. But after a few days they started to get worried about their supply of food and water, and their safety. Trying to secure a ride home, Courtney took the group to the U.S. Embassy, where they were told 200 people stood ahead of them in line to get out of the country; it would take weeks for them to get out. So Courtney called her insurance company, which informed her that they had bought them a subscription to Global Rescue.  

The ground started shaking, and I remember looking at my friend Megan, thinking, ‘What is happening?’ And I heard her yell out, almost in slow-motion, ‘It’s an earthquake!’
— Courtney Christman

The earthquake was on Tuesday. On Saturday, two Global Rescue employees arrived in Haiti, and whisked the group to the airport at 5 am the next morning. In front of several hundred people waiting in Embassy lines and several thousand more who would never be able to afford to leave their ruined country, Courtney’s group boarded one of the first chartered flights out of Haiti.  

The moment she boarded the plane, Courtney says she wanted to tell the pilot, “turn around, let me out! Our work is not done.” She says she felt guilty leaving, especially because they had come to Haiti to make an impact. “It just felt like we had so much more work to do,” she says, “and we got to go home.”

Courtney and her group had come to Haiti to help spread their privilege—to give back. But when the time came, they used that same privilege to get out. 

Nealin Parker, the former Deputy Director of the Office of Transition Initiatives at the U.S. Agency for International Development, thinks this is more about the pre-existing systems of inequality than any kind of individual choice. “My experience in aid in general,” she says, “is that there is just a fundamental inequality and injustice in place. In the moments when you are getting on a plane and somebody else isn’t getting on a plane are those moments where there is the least amount you can do to fix that inequality and it is the most morally troubling.”

A Moral Question

As long as it doesn’t risk their own clients’ survival, Global Rescue does help non-members as much as they can—they’ll bring in medical supplies for free and evacuate non-members. But in the end they are not the Red Cross; they’re a business, with clients who are willing to pay for the services they offer.  

Dan Richards, the CEO of Global Rescue, thinks the choice not to insure your life raises its own moral questions. “You could argue that that is one of the most selfish things you could do, going to a place like Haiti. You could leave your family and the people who love you in the lurch.”

Still, there are people who prefer to travel without a fire escape. Mark Jenkins is the Writer in Residence for University of Wyoming, as well as contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine. He’s been on all sorts of dangerous adventures and often goes without any kind of backup.  

We’re always faced with this. This is the human condition. What do we really owe our fellow man?
— Mark Jenkins

Jenkins says, “the difficulty obviously arises when affluence gives one person a better chance of survival than another person—a person of lesser means. But this is precisely how the world works. If you get cancer in Holland your chances of survival are much higher than if you get cancer in the Congo. We are living not in the world of our choosing but in the world we have, which is packed full of the haves and the have-nots.” 

So maybe paying to insure your life is just a proxy for the greater inequities of the world? Mark Jenkins thinks so.

“We’re always faced with this. This is the human condition. What do we really owe our fellow man?”

And when it comes to saving your own life and the lives of the people you love, that question can get pretty hard to answer.

As for Dan Richards, he thinks it doesn’t need to be a question at all. “You’re talking to the wrong guy if you want an in-depth, microscopic examination of the moral implications. l’ll never be able to understand why there might be a moral question about rescuing somebody. Particularly at the risk of your own life. That’s just not a moral question in my mind.”


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Outside/In was produced this week by Cordelia Zars with help from: Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Logan Shannon, Molly Donahue, and Jimmy Gutierrez.

Special thanks to Frank Mauceri, Ben Ayers, Ann Shannon, and Megan Trupp for their help making this story come together. Thanks also to Robert Kay and Courtney Cristman for sharing their stories with us. A post-script: Robert has adopted two girls from Nepal. One of them is applying to med school this year. And Courtney is hoping to set up a physical therapy clinic in Haiti as soon as she can.

Music from this week’s episode was composed by Cordelia Zars.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder.

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-844-GO-OTTER (844-466-8837). Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

S03|E04: Full Disclosure & Hoofprints on the Heart

In this week's episode, we look into the wonderful world of nature documentaries and find that truth behind the lens and the microphone is sometimes hard to find. Also, a heartwarming story from our podcasting friends in Montana, HumaNature, about a man who set out on a long journey with his trusty sidekick who just happens to be a real ass. 

Note: This is an hour-long broadcast version of our show made especially for the radio. This show is made up of stories subscribers to the podcast have already heard so it won't show up in your podcast feed. If you'd like to hear us on the airwaves instead of just in your earbuds, consider asking your local public radio station to air the show! And if you'd like to support the work that we do, consider supporting NHPR, the NPR member station for the great state of New Hampshire, and the entity that pays our bills. Thanks!

Click on the individual segment titles to see photos, videos, and more!

Parts 1 & 2

FullDisclosure.jpeg

Full Disclosure

Nature documentaries and wildlife films transport us to places in the world that still feel wild, but what if the wilderness they present is staged? What if, in order to capture nature’s unvarnished beauty and conflict, filmmakers have to engage in a bit of fakery? In this episode we examine how deception is used to enhance the drama of nature documentaries, from Disney’s Oscar-winning film White Wilderness, to the incredible footage featured in the BBC’s Planet Earth II. Plus, we own up to some of the production tricks we use to make this podcast. 


Part 3

HumaNature: Hoofprints on the Heart

This week on the show we’re bringing you something a little different, a story from someone else. Caroline Ballard and Micah Schweizer started HumaNature, which is based in Wyoming, and they’re part of the team responsible for bringing us the story of a man, his walk through an unfamiliar culture and an unexpected friendship, in a couple of different ways. 

Jon set out on the longest, toughest walk of his life. But along the way, he met someone who helped carry the weight.

The piece was produced by Erin JonesAnna Rader, and Micah Schweizer and hosted by Caroline BallardHumaNature is a production of Wyoming Public Media.

Seattle Denver Arms (Instrumental) by Loch Lomond is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License. Based on a work at http://needledrop.co/artists/Loch-Lomond


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Molly Donahue, Jimmy Gutierrez, and Logan Shannon.

Special thanks to Phineas Quimby and Dan Barrick this week for being participants in our experiment in radio deception. Also thanks to Cynthia Chris and to Elizabeth White, she and the rest of the folks at Planet Earth have actually put out some behind-the-scenes footage of how they made the iguana snake scene that we reference earlier in the show, and have been really candid about their practices, in case you want to learn more about how they do it.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-844-GO-OTTER (844-466-8837). Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

This week’s episode includes tracks from Mon Plaisir. Check out the Free Music Archive for more tracks from this artist.

Episode 35: Full Disclosure

Nature documentaries and wildlife films transport us to places in the world that still feel wild, but what if the wilderness they present is staged? What if, in order to capture nature’s unvarnished beauty and conflict, filmmakers have to engage in a bit of fakery? In this episode we examine how deception is used to enhance the drama of nature documentaries, from Disney’s Oscar-winning film White Wilderness, to the incredible footage featured in the BBC’s Planet Earth II. Plus, we own up to some of the production tricks we use to make this podcast. 

Nature Documentaries: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

I’d love to say that I’ve never used TV as a parental crutch, but there are days when I’m trying to work from home, or am just plain exhausted, when I’ll do anything to keep my 5-year old son distracted for a solid hour. As a form of dubious justification for letting my flat screen babysit, I’ll put on something “educational”—which usually means choosing something from Netflix’s extensive collection of nature documentaries. The BBC series Life is a household favorite, or the new Planet Earth II. The basic philosophy is that learning about porcupines is more valuable than learning about Pokémon, that watching bats is better than watching Batman.

This behaviour has never been filmed before! Hatchling marine iguanas are attacked by snakes hunting on mass. This clip was taken from the Islands episode of Planet Earth II.

But then again, what’s so inherently valuable about the wildlife programs? Like all TV, the genre varies widely when it comes to quality. There’s the BBC stuff with the incredible “how-did-they-do-that?” shots, but there’s also the now infamous “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives”, a fake documentary that aired as part of Discovery Channel’s 2013 Shark Week.

“The question is not, is wildlife or nature programming educational,” says Cynthia Chris, author of Watching Wildlife.  “The question is, what is it teaching? Is it teaching us factual things that will help us care for and protect the environment? Or is it teaching things that will encourage us to fear and disdain and destroy the environment?”

I can hear you groaning from here. Why does everything involving the environment turn into a finger-wagging message about social responsibility? I hear you. I don’t want to take the fun and wonder out of nature documentaries. That’s what makes them so great! But there are some ways we can watch them a little more thoughtfully even if we’re watching a show about a giant fictional shark.

Teach Younger Kids to Get Savvy: Listen For the Sound of Deception

The best nature documentaries are able to get incredible close-up shots of animals - so close you might wonder, how the heck did producers capture that amazing sound? Sadly, the truth is that they probably didn’t. Wildlife filmmaker and author of Shooting in the Wild Chris Palmer will tell you that when you hear a bird flapping it’s wings, that’s likely sound engineer opening and closing an umbrella. (I suggest that you go try this one immediately.)

We're taking you behind the soundproof doors into the world of Earth Touch's audio experts as they practise the finicky art of Foley & sound design. See exactly what it takes to enhance or recreate nature's diverse sounds and bring a wildlife documentary to life.

A lion tearing into a freshly killed antelope? That’s a someone cracking some fresh celery in half.

Not everything is totally faked, but footage shot in slow motion or sped up through time-lapse photography doesn’t capture audio at all, which means that whatever you’re hearing was at least captured separately and added in post-production. Sometimes, sounds are even created that don’t exist in nature at all. Frank Scheuring is a sound mixer and editor, and president of Capital Post Production. He also worked on the first Planet Earth series. He says that if you see something, you expect to hear something too. “A jellyfish probably isn’t going to make a sound at all, but if there’s no sound there, it’s less believable. It’s really just enhancing reality, and trying to bring [the viewer] into the environment.”

Dave Birch, audio manager at Earth Touch explains the art of foley.

Once you accept the truth that most nature documentary sound effects aren’t authentic, it can be a pretty big mood-killer. Is NOTHING real? But once you get used to the idea, it can make for an interesting game: try guessing if the sound you’re hearing is fake or not fake. Underwater scene? Fake. Slow-motion? Fake. Teeny tiny bird? Probably fake.

If you really want to get into it with kids, collect some household items, turn the TV to mute, and try making your own sound effects!

Introduce the Idea That They Aren’t Getting the Whole Story

Even the most reputable nature documentaries often steer away from issues like climate change, or deforestation, implicitly depicting the wild places of the world as pristine or untouched by human influence. That’s part of what makes them so beautiful: there’s a dignity to the elegance of the natural world it that feels timeless.

But it’s also pretty misleading, and both filmmakers and environmental philosophers have argued it’s counter-productive.

“It’s important that films carry a conservation message, and part of that message should be that people are not separate from nature,” says Chris Palmer. Palmer specializes in IMAX films, and says that getting those pristine shots we love is getting increasingly harder to do. “It’s hard to get a shot without a boat in the background, without a car in the background, without smoke, you know - there’s signs of people everywhere.”

This behaviour has never been filmed before! Hatchling marine iguanas are attacked by snakes hunting on mass. This footage was filmed for the Islands episode of Planet Earth II.

One interesting way to enhance the educational opportunity of a nature documentary is to have a map or globe handy while you’re watching. Occasionally pause the film to look up places featured in the program. How big is this island of seemingly un-fragmented wilderness? How close is the nearest human settlement? How might your impression of the scene change if you knew there was a safari tour bus just off-screen? Look out for “behind-the-scenes” videos that help illustrate how programs were shot and produced. It’s strange to see camera people, but it gives you a better sense of how filmmakers use their craft to get the desired reaction from the viewer.

A behind the scenes look at the snake/iguana scene, which reveals that the filming was - for the most part - continuous, and that the behavior being filmed is very real… Even if the sound is not.

TV shows like Nat Geo’s “World’s Weirdest” or “72 Cutest Animals” are a fun way for kids to learn about animal behaviors, and tend to feature rare or bizarre creatures that can really capture the imagination. The pangolin, which looks like a cross between an anteater and an armadillo, is arguably worth its appearance on Nat Geo’s “World’s Weirdest” series, but the fact that the pangolin is the most trafficked animal in the world goes unmentioned. According to the African Wildlife Foundation, some 100,000 pangolin are slaughtered every year for their scales. Two species of pangolin are listed as critically endangered.

This begs an important question for parents: is it enough that these programs build wonder for the natural world or must they also put a spotlight on pangolin poaching? I tend to think a light touch on the bad news is the best approach. Research has shown that exposing children to calamities beyond their control when they’re too young may actually cause them to become fearful and even more disconnected from the natural world. But by remaining alert to what is left out of these documentaries, it can help you to connect the dots once your kid is ready.

As They Get Older, Teach Them About How Things Have Changed!

Some of the “classic” wildlife documentaries of the past are just as dramatic as anything you’ll see on the BBC, but not always in the ways you might expect. Jacque Costeau is remembered as a charismatic oceanographer, explorer, and co-inventor of the aqualung. He is also celebrated as an early conservationist who believed in protecting the quality and life of our oceans. Frankly though, his films are hilariously cheesy for modern audiences, filled with pulpy adventure narration and unnecessary shots of Cousteau’s bare-chested crew lazing about his vessel. Aside from the claymation fish, Wes Anderson’s film The Life Aquatic is actually a pretty good recreation.

And yet, watching someone known for being a pioneer conservationist, Cousteau reflected the values of his day. One scene from the Academy award winning documentary The Silent World is especially shocking: Cousteau’s ship strikes a young whale, injuring it badly. The crew decides to end the whale’s misery (their words) by shooting it in the head. The now deceased whale’s blood attracts a number of sharks, who start shredding it to bits. It’s already a gruesome scene, but escalates to new levels of horror when Cousteau’s crew start “avenging” the whale (even though they were the ones that killed it) by hooking sharks onto the boat and butchering them with axes. The scene lasts several minutes, and is narrated by Cousteau himself without a hint of irony.

(Now that I think about it,  this scene is pretty graphic, so it might be best to do this exercise once your kids are teenagers.)

The Silent World “Whale and Shark scene” 

As abhorrent as this scene is now, it tells you a lot about how much our understanding of the natural world has changed in the last century. This film was shot before the famous “Save the Whales” campaign, before the establishment of the EPA, even before the founding of the Humane Society of the United States. Even for an ardent conservationist like Cousteau, sharks were viewed as killers and so the world was considered to be better off without them.

When nature documentaries during this era weren’t killing animals on screen for entertainment, they were sometimes doing it behind the scenes as part of film production. Disney’s True Life Adventure series is one of the worst culprits, which you’ll discover in Bob McKeown’s excellent documentary on the subject for the CBC’s The Fifth Estate. For older kids and adults looking to pull the curtain back on early nature documentary production, this is a must watch.

This is Bob McKeown’s original documentary on animal cruelty in Hollywood for the 5th Estate, which includes his investigation into White Wilderness.

Final Thoughts: Are Nature Documentaries a Form of Journalism... or Entertainment?

Examining the natural world is, in part, the vocation of scientists and conservationists, and so there is a distinctly empirical flavor to nature documentaries. As opposed to non-fiction films that focus on contentious social or political issues, nature - it would seem - is simple, even in all of its evolutionary complexity. But nature documentaries, rooted in science as they may appear, are not bound by the same ethical considerations that science or journalism are.

I asked Chris Palmer, do wildlife filmmakers see themselves as journalists or entertainers?  “A bit of both,” he told me. “They have to be entertainers. If they don’t entertain their audience the ratings and box office numbers will be low, they won’t get rehired, and their career will be in tatters.” On the other hand, Palmer says, to call something a documentary is to claim that the work is accurate, truthful, and was responsibly produced. “The bottom line is that their are no rules; each filmmaker approaches this challenge in their own individual way.”

Elizabeth White, one of the producers for the new BBC series Planet Earth II, says that their filmmakers receive ethics training - something Palmer has openly advocated for. When I asked her how she sees herself, she said, “as a scientist and filmmaker who is trying to engage audiences through wildlife storytelling.”  

By teaching your kids what’s real and what’s not when they watch nature documentaries, you’ll be equipping them to see the world with a healthy dose of skepticism. And preparing them to enter a world that won’t cleanly delineate between facts and fiction for them.

Also… if you do this right, they shouldn’t believe the megalodons are still alive.

Here's a handy flow chart to help you watch documentaries with a careful eye. | credit: logan shannon


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Taylor Quimby and Sam Evans-Brown, with help from, Maureen McMurray, Molly Donahue, and Jimmy Gutierrez. Logan Shannon was our digital producer.

A big thanks to Chris Palmer and Bob McKeown - more than thirty years on, Cruel Camera is still an amazing piece of journalism. A few years ago, they did an update on the show, and interviewed David Attenborough, and looked at how much has changed in wildlife filmmaking since the 80s.

Thanks also to Cynthia Chris. Her book Watching Wildlife traces more of the history of the wildlife genre, and digs into some really thorny philosophical questions about how we use animals as a proxy to reinforce cultural norms. We didn’t have time to get into it here, but it’s some heady stuff.

And special thanks to Elizabeth White and the BBC. She and the folks at Planet Earth have actually put out some behind-the-scenes footage of how they made the iguana snake scene, and some other amazing moments from the series. They’ve been really candid about their practices, so we’re not the only ones that are big on disclosure.

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-844-GO-OTTER (844-466-8837). Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

Music this week from Mon Plaisir. Check out the Free Music Archive for more tracks from this artist.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder

Outside/In is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

S02|E04: There's No "i" in Team

When you walk a trail in the woods, have you ever wondered, how did this get here? Who carved this path? Chances are a team of hardscrabble men and women worked tirelessly to make sure the paths you follow blend right into the landscape. This week we find out why one such trail crew, known as the 'TFC', is the stuff of legend. Also, running and completing a marathon is an amazing achievement that is the culmination of many hours of hard mental and physical training. But can you really claim you finished when you collapse just a few yards from the finish, or is that cheating. And we'll finish it off with a heartwarming story of the ultimate gesture of sportsmanship from a place called Ushuaia, Argentina known as the "End of the World". 

Note: This is an hour-long broadcast version of our show made especially for the radio. This show is made up of stories subscribers to the podcast have already heard so it won't show up in your podcast feed. If you'd like to hear us on the airwaves instead of just in your earbuds, consider asking your local public radio station to air the show! We're currently offering up our seasons for FREE! And if you'd like to support the work that we do, consider supporting NHPR, the NPR member station for the great state of New Hampshire, and the entity that pays our bills. Thanks!

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Part 1

Anothah Boston Cheat

Ari Ofsevit is a guy from Boston fueled by an intense, nerdy love for sports. The day after running this year’s Boston Marathon, his face was all over the cover of the Boston Globe and on all of the network news channels, but on the internet, people were accusing him of cheating. This is Ari’s story.


Part 2

WTF is TFC?

When you walk a trail in the woods, have you ever wondered, how did this get here? Who carved this path? Was this stone staircase always like this? Nope. Chances are a team of hardscrabble men and women worked tirelessly to make sure the paths you follow blend right into the landscape. In this story, we find out why one such trail crew, known as the 'TFC', is the stuff of legend.


Part 3

Don't Cheer For Me Argentina

In 2008, our host, Sam Evans-Brown, won the biggest ski race in Argentina, the Marchablanca. For him that was the whole story, but for the skier on the second step of the podiuma former Olympian named Martin Bianchithat race marked a major turning point in his life. 

Check out the highlights from the 2016 Marchablanca: 


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Molly Donahue, Jimmy Gutierrez, and Logan Shannon.

Special thanks to Martin Bianchi for giving Sam the big win and the opportunity to be a bus graphic celebrity in Argentina. Also thanks to Luis Antonio Perez for playing the part of Martin in our story; Weldon Johnson, former Yale runner and the co-founder of Let's Run; and former TFC members Kyle Peckham, Natalie Beittel, who are assembling a book of stories from the crew, and Barbara Whiton of the Trail Crew Association. Thanks as well to Rob Burbank of the AMC and Cristine Bailey of the National Forest Service, for setting up our day out on the trail.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-603-223-2448. Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

This week’s episode includes tracks from Blue Dot Sessions, Podington Bear, and Tyler Gibbon. Check out the Free Music Archive for more tracks from these artists.

Episode 11: Anothah Boston Cheat

Ari Ofsevit is a guy from Boston fueled by an intense, nerdy love for sports. The day after running this year’s Boston Marathon, his face was all over the cover of the Boston Globe and on all of the network news channels, but on the internet, people were accusing him of cheating. This is Ari’s story.

The Boston Marathon, has a long, well-documented history of cheaters.

Of course, there was that most famous of marathon cheaters, Rosie Ruiz, who hitched a ride on Boston subway 10 miles into the race. But cheaters abound: there’s this armchair investigator who claims to have found at least 47 people who cheated back in 2015 by taking someone else’s bib, or by taking short-cuts in their qualifying marathon. There’s also the thriving online marketplace, where people say they’d be willing to spend as much as $5,000 dollars to get their hands on someone else’s starting number.

And this year, once again, a high profile Boston marathon finish is being called into question.

The racer in question is Ari Ofsevit. And he’s a friend of mine.

After the race, I was very surprised to see Ari was all over the internet.

I was then doubly shocked to learn that beneath every story written about Ari and in a forum of a website called Let’s Run internet  commenters were calling for him to be disqualified.

When Runner’s World noticed the online muck that was swriling around Ari’s story whenever it was posted, they stirred the pot, posting a second article about the reaction to the first article, inviting readers to “engage” on the question.

“So, there are people who say you cheated,” I said to Ari, when I interviewed him.

Ari responded with an exasperated snort.

With cheating you have to have intent,” he said, “People were saying things like, he shouldn’t have accepted the aid from those guys. Well you know, I didn’t have the opportunity to say that because my brain was not functioning.”

Today's episode of Outside/In (which I encourage you to listen to, instead of reading… I promise, it’s better) is the story of my friend Ari, his fifteen minutes of fame, and the bigger question: what’s a race like the Boston Marathon for? 

What Happened?

If you want to hear this story straight from the horse’s mouth, with an impressive dose of profanity mixed in, you can read Ari’s account of why he thinks he collapsed just before the finish line of the race. What’s below is my abridged account.

His preparation for the marathon the day before was pretty reasonable - despite making a transcontinental flight the morning before the race. Ari hydrated, he slept in his own bed, and he woke up before his alarm.

And that day, Marathon Monday, was gorgeous weather, 65 degrees and sunny. (Though Ari, who hates running when it’s hot, calls it “sneaky warm”.)

The first 17 miles Ari felt great and was on track to beat 3 hours. He says he was drinking every water stop. But as the race wears on he started to slow down, though he said it was nothing unusual.

“Most people are going to feel lousy on those hills,” he said.

He’s slowing down: from 6 and half minute mile pace, to 7 minute mile pace… to mile 26 when he’s up to nearly an 8 minute mile.

But he turned the corner onto Boylston street, and then end was in sight.

“I remember thinking, “Alright legs, go,” Ari said. That thought was the last thing he remembers before waking up in the intensive care unit four hours later.

Did he finish?

Ari got to within 200 feet of the finishing line before collapsing with a body temperature of 108.8 degrees. At this temperature, doctors told him he had a 30-minute clock ticking toward organ failure and brain injury.

ari did pretty well... right up until the very end of the race

ari did pretty well... right up until the very end of the race

Two runners helped him across the finish line. And first responders dumped him into a tub of ice. This actually led to an over-correction, and when they sent him off to the hospital he was actually hypothermic: his body temperature had dropped to 84 degrees.

Ari didn’t break the 3-hour mark, but he did get a time: a  very respectable 3  hours and 3 minutes. You can find his name, and his time on the results. He finished in 1848th place - and like all finishers, he got a medal.

Once his story started to hit the media, first on the cover of the Boston Globe, and then later on the network TV channels, certain parts of the running community started grousing.

“To me, it would have been considered, he should have been a DNF,” Jay Curry told me. DNF is runner-speak for “Did Not Finish”.

Curry is an an OR nurse, a cyclist and a triathlete. He’s never done the Boston Marathon, but he has done ironman triathlons: that’s where you have to run a marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112. I found him through a Facebook comment he left underneath one of the articles about Ari.

“It kind of takes away from the sport, if anybody can just pick him up and carry him across the line  or I could jump on a bus and say, Jeez, I’m kinda tired right now, I’ve got two miles to go I’ll just call a taxi and take a taxi to the finish line and be considered a finisher.

Jay says he has no ill-will toward Ari, and doesn’t think he deliberately cheated. But he’s steadfast. Ari did not finish. And Jay’s not alone. For every 10 people who celebrate his finish as a story about good sportsmanship and community - there are one or two that say, nice story, but he should be disqualified.

Albert Shank a Spanish teacher and marathoner from Arizona is another.

“You’re toeing the line running the same exact course at the same time as these elite runners from Kenya, and Ethiopia, and the United States and all over the world, and I think you should be subjected to the same rules as they are,” Shank told me in a phone interview.

When it comes to this question of whether he deserves to be considered a finisher, there’s a legitimate point being made. If Ari had been in first place, he definitely would have been disqualified. This actually happened in the Olympic marathon in 1908. Dorando Pietri, an Italian, had to be helped to his feet by the course umpires when he collapsed five times in the last 400 meters. The second place finisher -- an American -- protested, and Pietri lost his gold medal.

Ari has done a lot of races... a lot of races.

Ari has done a lot of races... a lot of races.

What's a race for, anyway?

But there’s a big difference between an Olympic athlete , and Ari Ofsevit. Hell, there’s a big difference between the front of the Boston Marathon and Ari Ofsevit.

“I understand that there are folks out there in the world that, a rule is a rule is a rule, and I get it… god bless ‘em for feeling that way,” said Dave McGillivray, the race director of the Boston Marathon, one of the people who very well could have disqualified Ari.

The rules are that runners accepting aid from others “may” be disqualified, not that they “shall” be disqualified. Typically, the routine is that another competitor submits a complaint, which the race jury considers. In Ari’s case, there was no complaint… at least no official, not-in-an-internet-comment-section complaint.

“It was a gallant effort, and I feel he earned the medal. Let’s move on,” said McGillivray.

In reality, there are two races going on in Boston, with two different sets of rules. One of those races -- the elite field -- is really only about who is fastest. The other, is mostly just a community building event. One that would be totally ruined if you militantly disqualified thousands of people who did things like take water from someone other than an officially sanctioned water-stop.

Some of the complaints circle around the prestigiousness of the Boston Marathon. It’s really a tough to race qualify for, and so many people register that in 2016 more than 4,500 people who made the official qualifying time still got turned away.

Because he finished, Ari will likely qualify for next year’s marathon and he could be taking a spot from a runner who finished the race on his own two feet.

Take it up with Meb

So who gets the final word? I’m going to give it to Meb.

Meb Keflezighi -- olympic silver medalist, winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon, and general goodwill ambassador for the sport of long-distance running --  actually tweeted a photo of the guys carrying Ari across the finish. That tweet was above, but here it is again.

You’ll notice, Meb didn’t write #ObviousDQ.

 

 

 

S01|E03: Nurture vs. Nature

Tyler Armstrong is 12-years-old. He loves video games, laser tag, and he wants to become the youngest person to summit Mount Everest. In this episode, Outside/In poses an ethical question: how young is too young to climb Mount Everest? Plus, what to expect when you're expecting a child...and a gold medal at the Nordic World Ski Championships. And a father wages a 17-year-long battle against the Department of Environmental Services over a dock. 

Listen to the full episode:

Photo Credit: Phobus via flickr

Photo Credit: Phobus via flickr

The Young Man of the Mountain

What did you want to do when you were 12? Play video games? Hang out with your friends at the mall? Go swimming in a lake? Tyler Armstrong is 12 and he want to earn the title of youngest person to climb Mt. Everest.


Bye bye toes, see you in a few months. Sure hope I remembered to put my skate boots on!

A photo posted by Kikkan Randall (@kikkanimal) on

Training While Pregnant

We’re in the middle of a bit of a shift when it comes to what’s considered a healthy amount of physical activity for women during pregnancy. Doctors say you can keep doing a lot of things you did before you were pregnant, pretty far into term. But culturally, we’re not quite caught up to the latest scientific understanding.

We talked to elite athlete Kikkan Randall about her experience training while she was pregnant. We also spoke to 3-time Olympic medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar who wrote the guidelines that NCAA schools are supposed to follow on how not to discriminate against pregnant student-athletes.


IMG_1445.JPG

Pier Pressure

In 1998, Forrest Quimby spent thousands of dollars building one of the most beautiful, elaborate docks on his lake. There was just one problem – it was illegal.

In this story, we hear about Quimby’s seventeen-year battle with the NH Department of Environmental Services, and find out why small-scale environmental regulations are so hard to enforce.


Illustration: Sara Plourde

Illustration: Sara Plourde

Ask Sam

Whether he likes it or not, Sam has become the go-to source for all of our questions, from showing him photos of birds we want him to identify, to plants that look weird, to what kind of wax we should use on our skis. And we're not alone - everyone has questions for Sam. We went to a bar and recorded a few and asked him to answer. 

If you have questions for Sam, leave him a message on the Ask Sam hotline: 603-223-2448


Outside/In was produced this week by: 

Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Logan Shannon & Molly Donahue

Theme music by Breakmaster Cylinder | Additional music by Uncanny Valleys

Photos of Sam are by Greta Rybus unless otherwise noted.

Episode 8: The Young Man of the Mountain

An Everest Ethics Question

Tyler Armstrong is 12 years old. He likes to play laser tag.  He’s learning to play guitar. And this spring he's heading to China, where he will attempt to summit the world's highest mountain. In this episode, an ethical debate: how young is too young to climb Mount Everest?

Tyler Armstrong talks to a local news station last year about his Everest climb.

Explore Everest from the comfort of your living room, with this interactive guide.