Drifting On A Headwind (A Book Review)

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An Uncommon Adventure

An Uncommon Adventure

Many of us had romantic dreams of traveling the world, and of having uncommon adventures. Jim Harlan did it, with often little more than the clothes on his back and a natural mechanical ability.

He and his brother left Northern California with a few hundred dollars and a Rambler with vinyl kitchen chairs bolted to the floorboard for seats; the car was sound, except for a missing rear window, a minor detail. Living by their wits, the boys survived Baja and Mexico in a series of adventures and misadventures, but as the summer came to an end, they were broke in Southern Mexico without enough money to get home.

Jim’s brother was due to start college in a few weeks and walked out on the road to hitch hike North. Determined to press on with no money, Jim drove on through to Central America, completely unaware of the internal wars waging in Nicaragua and El Salvador. He was captured by rebels and government troops, but with a quick wit and a bravado that bordered between bravery and insanity, Jim managed to keep moving.

Using his mechanical aptitude, Jim managed to keep gasoline in the Rambler, food in his belly, and out of the local jails, most of the time. One of his intermittent jobs was as an unlicensed airplane mechanic. In Costa Rica, he parlayed his newly acquired aeronautical mechanic skills into becoming an unlicensed pilot for a fledgling airline.

Flying as a copilot, he watched the left seat pilot attempt a landing with the wind, instead of against the wind, during a mission to take out some park rangers from a remote location in a jungle. It was a short grass runway; the plane stalled and they crashed the six-seater in the middle of the runway.

Elephants in Thailand

Elephants in Thailand

In an isolated jungle with daily monsoon rainstorms, they had no way to move the wreck; consequently, a rescue plane couldn’t land. With little hope of ever getting out of the jungle, Jim and a psychotic professor tried the impossible: traversing out of this unexplored and deserted jungle. After many harrowing experiences, they made it to a road and parted company.

Jim drifted into the Caribbean and learned to scuba dive, and after a few misadventures with smugglers, became a ship’s engine room mechanic and sailed into Southeast Asia. He saw the aftermath of our little war in Indo-China and traveled through Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma on an elephant and by riverboat. He lived with the peasants and survived because of their kindness.There were several instances of being caught up in regional wars and trying to avoid both sides.images

He somehow survived Asia and caught another berth as a mechanic on a commercial boat and headed for Africa and the coastal islands. In Africa, he became deathly ill; a Masai widow in Kenya took him in and kept him alive in a mud hut, while he struggled to survive a fever.

When he left, she gave him a piece of red cloth with some writing in Swahili, it read: “You Get What You Give.”

Now, Jim operates an adventure travel agency out of LA. I know Jim and believe it is the Swahili proverb that directs his life and business; throughout the book, it is obvious that Jim would not have survived without the kindness and generosity of the common people of the many countries he visited.images

We all too often associate national identities with the scoundrels in charge, men who are but pale shadows of the former diplomats and statesmen they pretend to emulate. It is these posers and criminal types who steal and ruin national identities. The real cultural identity exists in the everyday interactions with the common people, most of whom are quick with a smile and a helping hand.

Yes, we can go on an elephant safari in Thailand or dive with sharks in the Caribbean, but it is the interaction with the everyday people that will teach us about the different countries. Jim Harlan has illustrated that point well in the story of his adventures while becoming a man. It is one of those books that is hard to put down, and you are saddened when you are reading the last chapter because the book has ended too soon.

It Is The People that define a country, not the thugs who govern

It Is The People that define a country, not the thugs who govern

A professional horseman for over 40 years, Skook continues to work with horses. He is in an ongoing educational program, learning life's lessons from one of the world's greatest instructors, the horse. Skook has finished an historical novel that traces a mitochondrial line of DNA from 50,000 years ago to the present. The book Fifty-Thousand Years is awaiting me to finish a final proofread and it should be sent to the formatter in a matter of days. I am still working, so it is not easy to devote the time I need to finish the project. The cover is a beautiful wok of art. I would put it up here if I could figure out how to make it work.

8 Responses to “Drifting On A Headwind (A Book Review)”

  1. 1



    So glad to see something from you!! I’m having my wife order the book for me now. As you can well guess, I know anything you highly recommend is well worth looking into reading wise. I’m looking forward to it.

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    Joe, I am sure you will enjoy the book, despite the fact that horses aren’t mentioned. Like me, I think you will be amazed at the complicated and dangerous situations Jim found himself, but at the end, I was overwhelmed by the fact that without the gracious helping hand of complete strangers, Jim would no longer be with us.

    I was left in a deep state of contemplation, regarding how the will of the people can be so much different than the jackals running the government, and of how we tend to stereotype people by the greed and corruption of the men in charge or by the criminals or military types who keep whole populations living in stark terror.

    In our own country, we have would be tyrants who are frustrated with their inability to sell the public on issues like Global Warming and Obama Care, they figure imprisonment or death would be a suitable method to impose their will on we the people. No one can deny the intent of some of these people, they haven’t been shy about voicing their opinions. It is when these maniacal types achieve power, that the people live in fear, and a culture, along with society itself is debased and destroyed to suit the whims of tyrants.

    It has happened all over the world and continues to happen today. Many of us watch our own government with its domestic spying apparatus observing the public and subverting the IRS and the EPA into into politically controlled bureaus to punish and stifle dissent.

    While we feel sorry for the majority of the people in the world who live under oppression, our own form of political tyranny is taking root here in America. Moderate Democrats see it as a political tool, and since it is for the public good, in their opinion, they rationalize, “What harm will there be?”

    The harm is the loss of freedom, the destruction of our culture and society, so that a political party can insure power. It is time to put the binders on tyranny and corruption in the US. Term limits are absolutely essential to begin the process. We must eliminate this elite class of parasites who govern through incompetence and graft. They accomplish nothing and live a life of royalty.

  3. 3


    @Skook: Well said my friend!! I couldn’t have put it better and it should be a “word to the wise” for anyone with common sense. Our entire way of life is being taken away from us and at least in my America, we cannot and will not stand for that.

  4. 4

    James Raider


    Skook, you’ve underlined a great message that is too often forgotten as we observe from afar the ruthless thugs who govern most of the 200-odd countries on this Earth.

    I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit a great many very different countries and always found that away from the bright lights of the elites, spending time in the general population was always a refreshing experience.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  5. 5

    Gemma B.

    Please avoid all elephant activity in Thailand, see here in these video why;



    There are many national parks across whole Thailand where elephants can be seen in wild, like in Khao Yai, Kaeng Krachan, Kui Buri national parks;




  6. 6


    Thank you Gemma, I watched the first two links in their entirety.

    I met a man in Aspen who was making films to protect the African elephant, but I had no idea the Asian elephant was imperiled. Although I have never been to Thailand, I have been under the impression that the Thai handlers loved their animals, much like some of the men who actually work with horses come to love their best animals.

    One of the fascinating things about writing these essays is the amount of learning a writer accumulates after the work is done.

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