It's easy to forget how ludicrously terrifying the natural world can be, and how very small we are in the face of it. When confronted with the grand, humbling, massive and occasionally deadly power of our planet, what can one measly little human being do? Run? Cry? Not these people. These people saw all the might and majesty of Mother Nature laid out before them and said: "Eh. Pretty sure I can take the bitch."
5. The Eternal Lightning Fields
In Venezuela, just above the mouth of the Catatumbo River, a lightning storm has been raging for at least two centuries. I know that sounds like science fiction, or some hackneyed fantasy villain's lair -- but it's real. For 160 nights out of the year, the Catatumbo lightning strikes for 10 straight hours, at a rate of nearly 300 strikes per hour. Short of trees growing in the shape of a human skull or a good ol' screaming bog, that is the single best way Nature knows to tell you a place is cursed.
And it's fucking populated!
Thousands and thousands of people swung by the Earth's only eternal storm, plunked down their packs and said, "Welp: Looks like as good a place as any to settle down and raise some kids." But simply living beneath an electric sky wasn't nearly hardcore enough for the owner of this shack:
He didn't just buy property in the Lightning District; he moved out into the water, constructed a tiny hovel in the middle of that giant bathtub with God's old toaster perched permanently above it and then built himself a metal roof.
I don't know who the owner of the world's least insurable home is, but I know where you can find him: standing on his front porch with thimbles on both of his middle fingers, drunkenly flipping off the gods.
4. The Storm of the Century
It seems like we, as a global culture, only recently came to understand just how terrifying and destructive the ocean could be. Sure, we were aware of how serious ocean-based disasters were objectively -- but subjectively, a lot of us didn't really take it to heart. We failed to grasp that the ocean is like the Earth's Wite-Out: a tide that occasionally, almost casually, washes whole countries away. I think that's because we didn't have the right visuals, but that all changed with the recent tsunamis and their extensive video coverage. Now we finally understand the ocean, and the horrible destruction of which it is capable.
Well, some of us do, anyway. Others see the unleashed potential of countless billions of tons of surging water and think, "Man, wouldn't it be funny if I rode that?"
In late 2004, Cornwall, England, suffered through several record-breaking storms: 70 mile an hour winds, flooding, waves so large they crashed over the promenade -- but the vast and bottomless rage of Nature is nothing when compared with human boredom. So here's some dudes surfing it:
Look at the size of that breaking wave in relation to the surfers. They're so insignificant that the ocean didn't even mean to kill them; that's just how Poseidon steps on ants. To think you could possibly survive (much less ride) something like that takes not only a complete misunderstanding of physics, but a total failure to grasp the basic concept of scale itself. That's the biggest storm the world could throw at you, and you tragically mistook it for a vehicle. But holy shit, you're doing it! You're reall-
Oh. Yeah, I guess that's about how you'd expect things to turn o-
Jesus, dude. That looks like a frog getting hit by a truck. It looks like it actually went worse than I initially thought, and I initially thought you'd wipe out so hard that you'd literally cease to exist in the annals of human history.
I never imagined your leg would bend like that, though; that's messed up.
3. The Nyiragongo Volcano
Volcanoes are pop culture shorthand for evil. Need to signify somebody's an evil badass? Volcano lair. Need to smelt up some corrupting rings? Volcano forge. Got too many virgins lying around and Waste Management Services refuses to do curbside pickup? Volcano sacrifice. It's perhaps the single most terrifying landmark on the planet. Here's a guy casually strolling across one.
"H-hello? I'm trying to get to the Jamba Juice on Hawthorne, is this ...? Shit. I am literally as lost as anybody could ever be."
That's an expedition member walking on freshly cooled lava in the Nyiragongo volcano. But don't worry, the ground isn't actually glowing like hellfire itself -- that's just an optical illusion. The ambient red light is merely the reflection of the giant lake of still-molten lava just out of frame. The photographer described being inside the volcano as "a constant, low frequency rumble -- like being inside a giant subwoofer."
I assume he then added, "... made out of liquid fire."
I assume he then added a little bit of pee.
2. Truck-Hurling Tornado
I sincerely hope "Don't fuck with tornadoes" is not new and helpful information to any of you readers. We've all seen Twister, and though we know that they were exaggerating a little bit with the special effects -- whole, intact houses and boats don't really whirl about cartoonishly thousands of feet in the air -- it's still a pretty scary phenomenon. As it turns out, however, Twister was actually a tastefully understated flick. Here's an actual tornado in Dallas, Texas, whipping full-size big rigs thousands of feet in the air like a giant invisible toddler throwing a tantrum.
That just doesn't look real. It looks like a physics glitch in a video game. It's like the cosmos turned on Hacks; like somebody forgot to CGI in Godzilla.
But this is an article about people braving the fury of the natural world -- tiny little Davids spitting in the eye of Mother Nature's Goliath. So where's the human element here? Well, you have to look closely at that video again, at about 1:25, on the lower right:
And you'll see a little white car cruising by -- not even speeding, mind you -- just moseying along Main Street. Now turn your gaze a few inches up and to the left, and observe a fucking semi hurtling through the air. Sure, there are other cars later in the clip, but they're much farther out and might not be aware that traffic conditions are currently "in the sky." Really look at the angles of that screencap with the white car again; this isn't somebody caught unaware. They can clearly see the 18-wheeler that just took these broken wings and learned to fly again ... and they do not care. They do not give one lonely shit that somebody just up and reversed gravity on them. They're going to goddamn Blockbuster, come hell or high trailer.
Holy shit, did they just ... did they just signal?
1. A Fall from Space
For anybody who's ever stopped to really consider it, the mere existence of space -- with its fathomless depths and incomprehensible scale -- is enough to trigger a fire hose of existential fear vomit. I once saw a diagram of the actual distance between Earth and the moon and spent an hour hiding beneath my bed. In contrast, here's Joseph Kittinger, gleefully jumping the bitch:
Kittinger was part of Project Excelsior, an experiment to study extreme high altitude bailouts. The project involved an open gondola suspended by helium balloons that brought Kittinger up over 100,000 (not a typo; one hundred thousand) feet in the air. That's 19 miles, straight up. In a previous, lower altitude jump, his limbs generated G-forces more than 20 times that of Earth's gravity. Once he left the gondola, it took him nearly 15 minutes to hit the ground. He broke the speed of sound ... with his torso. That image of the distant curve of the Earth up there at the start of this entry? That's not taken from the space station. That was Joseph Kittinger's helmet cam.
"Haha, I'ma git you, Earth!"
I went skydiving once. They had me crawl out onto the wing of a shaky little prop plane, wind howling and ripping at my clothes, and when I was far enough out, the instructor said: "Now, let go." To which I answered: "Fuck you." Joseph Kittinger went up in a tiny balloon, and when he reached space, somebody said, "Now, step out there and try to aim for the planet." And he said, "Sure thing!"
I've actually pinpointed it: The bravest nanosecond in human history. Those are his white boots up top, just leaving the platform.
It takes enormous balls to even get on that vehicle -- what is, essentially, a rickety little basket with no handrails, tied to a bunch of balloons. It takes even bigger balls to voluntarily ride that son of a bitch higher than air goes. It takes balls of incomprehensible proportions -- balls whose non-Euclidean geometry simply cannot exist on our earthly plane -- to look down at a planet so far below you that you can actually make out the shape of continents, then step outside for a stroll.
Those kinds of balls do exist, but only in an alternate dimension, parallel to ours but wholly separate, of which we mere mortals can comprehend only the smallest piece. The avatar of that vast dimension comprised entirely of great and majestic testicles has a name, but it cannot be pronounced by the human tongue. So you can just call him "Joe."