Saturday, October 9, 2021

Blog Tour - Through Dangerous Doors: A Life at Risk by Robert Charles Lee

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Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Through Dangerous Doors: A Life at Risk by Robert Charles Lee. This blog tour was organized by Lola's Blog Tours. On my stop, I have an excerpt from the book as well as an interesting guest post from the author. Be sure to visit the other stops on the tour for more content. Enjoy!
Through Dangerous Doors book cover
Title: Through Dangerous Doors: A Life at Risk
Author: Robert Charles Lee
Publisher: E.L. Marker
Publication Date: June 15th 2021
Print Length: 220 pages
Genre: Memoir

In a life defined by risk, Robert Charles Lee experiences a poor and free-ranging childhood in the racist South of the 1960s. After his father dies, the family grows dysfunctional. As a result, teen-age Robert seeks sanity and solace by rock climbing solo and driving cars fast. He wins a scholarship and graduates from university, but still seeks to escape the South.

Moving to Alaska and the Western US, Robert works in a series of dangerous and brutal jobs. He meets and marries Linda, who enjoys climbing and skiing difficult mountains as much as he does. Simultaneously, Robert trains in the science of risk to become a respected professional risk scientist.

Robert shares his remarkable story as he guides the reader through a series of dangerous but rewarding doors, culminating in a vivid journey of adventure and risk.

I’m a tired, cold, wet sponge. My co-workers are losers, addicts, and criminals who work hard, nonetheless. Most are always stoned on some- thing. I’m encased in rubber from head to toe, with wool underneath. The smell of wet vegetation permeates everything. It’s always raining, and never warm. I’m in virgin wilderness, moss-covered primordial forest never seen by humans. The streams are choked with salmon during spawning. Some days, I see a dozen or so nine-foot-plus Alaskan brown bears, thousand-pound monsters who have never seen humans and who’re afraid of absolutely nothing. They can kill with one swipe of their eight-inch wide paws, armed with claws like curved daggers. I carry a bolt-action rifle chambered for .375 H&H Magnum 300 grain bullets for bear defense. I’m reluctant, but I slosh through the door to woods work.

|Upon arrival in Ketchikan, I was told no logging jobs were available. Many people who work for or with the US Forest Service refer to the agency as the Forest Circus. The logger I spoke to explained he hadn’t won an expected Circus contract, and he’d had to lay off workers. This put me in a bit of a sticky wicket, as I had no return ticket and little money. If this had happened later in life when I was more confident, I would’ve wrested a return ticket out of the man. My life, however, would’ve proceeded in a completely different direction, so I’m glad I didn’t wrest anything.

The lack of logging jobs was actually a fortunate turn, as logging is particularly dangerous. I flew back to Juneau, where there were other jobs. I worked for a few months for minimum wage in a Forest Circus visitor’s center at Mendenhall Glacier, a stop for busloads of well-heeled cruise ship tourists. I couldn’t afford rent. I’d expected to live in a logging camp, but I was able to use temporary government housing in Juneau.

The only people who lived in Juneau seemed to be those who didn’t fit in anywhere else. Fishermen and loggers came into town and blew their entire paychecks drinking and whoring. The town smelled like fishy moss, or mossy fish. Bald eagles dumpster-dove, competing with the ravens. It felt like time travel back to a wilder era.

Tiring of cleaning up tourist trash and actual crap, I capitalized on a forestry course I took at State, and switched to a surveying job. Surveying in those conditions wasn’t any more pleasant than logging, but at least the work itself was easier and a bit safer. Survey crews laid out the boundaries of future logging areas in virgin wilderness with compasses and chains (long tape measures). This was way before Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Once logged, the areas are called clear-cuts. All marketable trees are felled, then skidded down to the ocean and floated to mills. Surveying was my introduction to woods work.

The crew flew from town to the field camps in small float planes, flown by crazy-ass bush pilots whose idea of fun was diving toward and buzzing whales, mere feet above the waves. The camps looked like sets from the Robert Altman movie M.A.S.H. Miserable workers living in miserable canvas tents in miserable, sopping wet forest. We suffered from gastrointestinal illness much of the time, due to fecal contamination or camp crud. It was difficult to obtain fresh food except for fish.

We flew to the survey line most days in Vietnam-era Bell Huey helicopters, piloted by freaky Vietnam vets who were usually drunk or stoned. Decapitation during loading was a concern for tall people like me. Crosswinds off the glaciers above the forest zone pummeled the aircraft. The helicopters pitched and yawed wildly once they took off and rose above the treetops. None of us ate breakfast before going to work. The pilots yelled at us in our headsets to shut up so they could concentrate in such conditions.

The pilots often landed in muskeg, as these were the only open areas. Few things were more unpleasant than stepping out into a bog and sinking down, OTT or over-the-top of our knee-high rubber boots, into the cold peaty water. Then we’d have to take off our helmets and reeking, fireproof onesies with the rotor screaming in our ears.

I was concerned about some of the workers carrying rifles. Many had never hunted or even fired a weapon, yet the government handed them powerful firearms used to hunt the largest game on Earth. Training for shooting a charging bear, dodging-and-weaving through thick forest, consisted of the crew chief setting up a stationary cardboard box fifty feet away and instructing the shooter to fire away. Fortunately, nobody on my crew ever shot a bear or human. Capsaicin bear spray, a much more effective defensive weapon, had yet to be invented.

Much of the work involved just making it through the day without getting killed by ursine monsters or other means, or going rain insane. Everybody had different coping mechanisms. Being in a stoned state made the work less pleasant for me, as the days seemed much too long, and I tended to focus on my physical misery. I’d wait until I was in the tent at night to light up. I felt overwhelming relief lying stoned next to a glowing wood stove in a dry tent.

Working in such unpleasant surroundings, with many unpleasant people, required a simultaneous mix of inward retreat and congeniality. I’d done plenty of hard work before this, but not at such a high level of wretchedness.

There were, however, occasional moments of transcendence. As long as I accepted the suffering, there were fine rewards: Spawning female salmon leaping over dams of their dead and rotting sisters who didn’t make it. A gigantic brownie, sitting on his haunches eating caviar from the gravid belly of a salmon he’d just snagged and ripped open with a single claw. Impromptu sight-seeing tours over pristine fjords, provided by the heli pilots when they had extra fuel. Keeping my shit together while hiking, camping, and tripping on psychedelics on my days off; lever-action Guide Gun on my pack or next to my sleeping bag, loaded for big bear. Hikes along wild beaches choked with giant driftwood, making way for the occasional lumbering bear. Glorious views of the Juneau Icefield and the coastline, achieved by bushwhacking (trail-less hiking through bush, which whacks the bushwhacker) and scrambling (easy, un-roped rock climbing) up unclimbed and unnamed peaks on rare, precipitation-free off days. My first aurora borealis, witnessed on a rare clear night from the deck of a ferry plying between islands, miles from any shore lights. It was astounding. A yellow-green corona originating from overhead like divine rays of love, an LSD trip without drugs.
Robert Charles Lee author picture
Robert Charles Lee is a retired risk scientist with over twenty-five years of academic and applied risk analysis, decision analysis, and risk management experience. He and his wife Linda have climbed hundreds of technical and non-technical mountain, rock, ice, and canyon routes, and hiked thousands of miles in several countries. Lee is also an avid musician and photographer.

- What made you want to be a risk taker?

This is a good but hard question, as I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t attracted to risk and risk management. I think my early childhood lifestyle and my father’s influence set me up for living a risky life. Some of my earliest memories involve risky activities my father enjoyed, such as hunting and riding horses.

Later on, I made conscious decisions with regard to particular risky activities, such as rock climbing. These were probably influenced and limited by my physical and mental abilities, but also by the limited economic opportunities I had as a kid. For example, I could rock climb by myself as soon as I could drive and go to the mountains, but I had to wait until much later to learn how to ski - until I had enough money to do so. Other external influences were also important. For example, I was a teen during the heyday of “muscle cars”, which tempted me to drive fast!

There are probably many people who choose to become risk takers at various points in their lives, but I’ve always been one. I can’t imagine not living a risky life.

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