i finished maria coffey's book, "explorers of the infinite," yesterday. it was the 4th and last of my "christmas present" books, so to speak. i've been a bit remiss in writing them up, but will try to post quick reviews of the other 3 later this week. i'd saved this one for last since it dealt with the outdoors in general and endurance athletes in specific. the subtitle, "the secret spiritual lives of extreme athletes - and what they reveal about near-death experiences, psychic communications, and touching the beyond," gave me pause, not just to catch my breath after that monstrously long string of words, but because the subject matter seemed so "out there."
maria coffey's boyfriend died on an expedition to mount everest. she herself almost drowned in the riptides off the shores of morrocco. the unusual experiences that surrounded those two events in her life lead to exploration of the spiritual and paranormal experiences reported by some seekers of the extreme - mountaineers, swimmers, ultra-runners, and cyclists. however, while she does, in fact, touch on other sports, the large bulk of the material in her book focused on mountain climbing.
there is a brief, fleeting, mention of phillipe petit, and high wire walking - to kick off the chapter on "fear." it also includes the stories of kristen ulmer an extreme free style skier and her need to take extreme risks. the chapter on suffering brings up lance armstrong and his now famous answer to the question of what "pleasure" he took from all the long hours of riding. "i didn't do it for pleasure. i did it for pain. ... in fact, if i didn't suffer, i feel cheated. (emphasis added)" this chapter also had, appropriately(?), the most extended material on ultrarunning!
but then there a return to discuss marshall ulrich's experiences at badwater (a 135 mile extreme ultramarathon) later in the book. she wrote this before he completed his run across the united state last fall. at that point in the book, however, the ulrich material is in the context of "out of body" experiences and hallucinations. that may be what happens when one reaches the extreme edge, and ventures beyond it? but, before venturing too far out of ones own body, there is the couple, who after 5 hours of walking found themselves immersed as part and parcel of a herd of porcupine caribou. "for a brief suspended moment, we moved in unison, heartbeats and footsteps mingling while we inhaled each others breaths."
the real paranormal business, interestingly, seemed to take place on mountains - and the higher the climb, the more extreme the experiences. to her great credit, she includes counterbalancing skeptics - who provide the rationale (if available) possibility to explain the unexplainable. even venturing into a discussion of quantum mechanics. phew! while i don't doubt the sincerity of the the experiences recounted - i'm definitely in the skeptic camp. enlightenment and spiritual growth is one thing, wholesale abandonment the laws of physics is quite another.
still, i found it an enjoyable read. if you're a believer in the paranormal, this book is a must. but even if your a skeptic, it's still interesting. in fact, here is an interview with maria coffey where she is asked about the book, in the context of her adventure travels business.