The manliest man there ever was

You know how sometimes you get the sense that a person’s name was his destiny, that he went into some profession, or did some thing in particular, just because of his name? Like Larry Page and pageviews. Library Investigations Officer, Mr. Bookman. I can’t think of other specific examples off the top of my head, but I come across one of these a few times a year, and I have no doubt you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you don’t, you’ll get the idea from the rest of this post.

I read The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism on my Wednesday flight from Chicago to Seattle, and came across my favorite example of a name turned destiny. For the purposes of this post, ignore the part where there are two people involved. Rogers doesn’t matter. Maybe he would be relevant had he gone on to become a pirate (jolly rogers and all that), but for now, focus on Manly and this tale of his incredibly manly feats:

The Death Valley ’49ers, of 1849, the desert’s most famous lost pioneers, had neither golden thread nor bread crumbs, but they did have a map promising a shortcut through the desert, via the Walker Pass, taking five hundred miles off their journey from Salt Lake City to California, where the Gold Rush was in full swing. The phrase “I know a shortcut” should strike fear in the heart of any serious walker.

The ’49ers started out as part of an expedition led by Captain Jefferson Hunt, under the auspices of the Mojave San Joaquin Company, known as the Mojave Sand Walking Company, a name that gives me pleasure every time I think of it, although this started out as a wagon train rather than a walking expedition.

Hunt’s progress was too slow for some, and there were various splits and regroupings, some temporary and some permanent, before a faction known as the Bennett-Arcane party, following the dubious shortcut map, at last found themselves lost, stranded, exhausted, and helpless in the heart of what is now Death Valley.

Two of the younger, fitter men — William Manly and John Rogers — decided they would simply walk out of the valley on foot, cross the Panamint Range, get help, and return to rescue the survivors, if any. This, incredibly, they did, although Manly confessed in print that it had crossed his mind never to return for the others.

In any case, Manly and Rogers did the right thing. They walked 250 miles from Death Valley to the San Fernando Valley, here they obtained supplies, along with two horses and a mule. They were intending to ride at least part of the way back, but both horses died en route, so it turned into another walking expedition. Once they’d saved the people left behind, they all had to walk the route once again.

Manly eventually wrote his account of events in the book titled Death Valley in ’49. It is the story of his life as well as the story of the ’49ers, and parts of it read like a primer on the pains of walking and adverse walking conditions. He writes: “Walking began to get pretty tiresome. Great blisters would come on our feet, and, tender as they were, it was a great relief off our boots and go barefoot for a while when the ground was favorable.” “This valley was very sandy and hard to walk over.” “All the way had been hill and very tiresome walking.” “At times we walked in the bed of the stream in order to make more headway, but my lameness increased and we had to go very slow indeed.”

Why yes I did just type up 444 words out of a book. But for those of you keeping score at home, Manly walked about 750 miles through the desert. He left no accounts of bear-wrestling, but we can sort of just assume.

And it is my sincere hope that the pain the ’49ers feel walking off the field this Sunday will exceed anything Manly ever felt in 1849. Go Hawks.

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