#3. Gunther "The Ocean Walker" Pluschow
As Cracked has previously explained, flying a plane during World War I was about as safe and as pleasant as piloting a chest of drawers down a mine shaft.
So German pilot Gunther Pluschow's situation was already not the best. But then he and the other Germans in the Chinese city of Tsingtao were surrounded by British forces who wanted the city for themselves. The city was about to fall when Pluschow was given a bag full of secret documents and told to fly his already badly damaged plane through a wall of anti-aircraft fire and over countryside swarming with enemy troops. So, yeah, his chances weren't good.
But Pluschow somehow avoided death and flew 155 miles before mercifully crash-landing in a rice paddy. After setting his plane on fire (though there is a good chance that thing was on fire long before it landed, if our knowledge of early military aviation is anything to go on), he set off on foot.
For freaking Germany. He was in China.
Marco Polo ain't shit.
He made it to the nearest Chinese town. Then, after repeated close calls with pursuing officials, he sailed to the Chinese capital, Nanking. There, he talked a woman into getting him a Swiss passport and a ticket ... to San Francisco.
Having made it to the other side of the planet, but still not all that close to Germany, he and his secret documents entered the USA (and this was at a time when illegal immigration was even more illegal than it is now). By now a lot of people were looking for him, as his travels seemed suspicious even to his own government. He dodged his pursuers and took a train to New York. He then boarded a boat headed for neutral Italy. Pluschow probably thought he was home free.
That thought evaporated when the ship unexpectedly sailed into dock at Gibraltar. He was arrested by the (possibly snooty) British officials and set to a POW camp at Donnington, in the south of England.
They had to add a whole extra guard shift to keep watch over his jawline.
Well, hell, that actually got him closer to home than he'd ever been -- the English Channel had to have looked like a trickling stream to the man. Needless to say, he escaped (the only German to do so in the whole of World War I) and boarded a final ship to Holland. Then it was simply a matter of sneaking across the Dutch-German border, having taken such a roundabout trip home that he must have felt like he booked the tickets on Orbitz.
#2. Frank Bessac Fights an Uphill Battle
In the summer of 1949, while studying anthropology in Inner Mongolia, Frank Bessac realized that the communists were taking over the area and he had to get the hell out. But he wasn't just any old expat scientist caught in the cold. He'd been a commando during World War II, rescuing American pilots shot down over enemy territory. Also, he'd been a member of the OSS, the forerunner to the CIA. There may have been easy options out, but if anyone relished a trek across hundreds of miles of hostile territory, it was this not-quite-so-nerdy researcher.
He joined forces with few other guys, including a U.S. CIA agent named Mackiernan. They set out for Tibet, which was still independent in those days and normally off-limits to foreigners. But that's OK, Mackiernan radioed ahead to the State Department to say, hey, let the Tibetans know we're coming and not to shoot us at the border.
Keep that in mind.
For now, separating them from Tibet was, for starters, a stretch of desert the locals referred to as "White Death." No problem with the right maps. Too bad theirs were hardly any use, with lakes and mountains all scrambled, and possibly hand-written notes like "there are lions" to complete their confusion.
We turn left at the sea serpent.
Despite thin air and a permanent lack of water, they made it as far as the mountains bordering Tibet when winter struck. So they set up camp and waited for the duration of the winter. They were saved from going insane from sheer boredom by the books Mackiernan had on him. How many times can you read War and Peace in a row? Bessac read it three times that winter.
The mountains finally became passable in March. Mind you, it was still freezing cold, and their fires were fed with little more than yak dung (they'd long ago used up their books for toilet paper).
"MORE YAK POOOOOOP!"
Late in April, they reached the first Tibetan nomad village. Freedom! Members of the group put their hands up and approached the Tibetan guards.
The guards opened fire, killing all except Bessac and another man, who survived with severe wounds.
Yeah, the Tibetans hadn't gotten the message that their guests were coming. The guards took Bessac and the other survivor prisoner and retreated toward the city of Lhasa with their captives and the heads of their dead friends.
Tibet isn't all adorable monks and man-llamas.
Halfway to town, they met a group of messengers delivering the papers to the border that would have granted Bessac and his refugees entrance to Tibet and free passage to Lhasa. Yup, after six months of grueling marches, the group was massacred because the couriers were five days late.
Bessac was offered a gun to shoot the captain of the guard -- and declined. He also intervened when the patrol later was court-martialed and sentenced to mutilation, achieving a downgrade to whipping.
Which, depending on the whipper, isn't that bad of a punishment.
He got blessed by the young Dalai Lama before the final bit -- a 300-mile mule ride across the Himalayas to India, bringing the total up to 1,800 miles. Altogether, overcoming the various obstacles along the way took him almost a full year.
#1. Hugh Glass Returns From the Dead and Crawls to Safety
When suddenly confronted with an enraged grizzly bear, the best an average person will hope for is to die without shitting himself. But it's 1823, and former pirate and all-round frontiersdude Hugh Glass is not an average person. He made it out of his bear attack better than the bear -- he took the beast down with a knife. Though a couple of volleys of rifle fire may have played a minor role.
Judging by this picture, extremely minor.
Despite winning the fight, Glass had been ripped to shit. No, really, wizards couldn't have fixed this guy. Somehow he continued to live despite having a broken leg, a hole in his throat that would bubble with blood when he breathed and exposed freaking ribs.
The main group of frontiersmen he was with left him, leaving behind two guys named James Bridger and John Fitzgerald with instructions to bury Glass when he finally died. After two days of being worried they would get attacked by Arikara Indians, Bridger and Fitzgerald decided to just dump the guy in a shallow grave 200 miles from friendly territory and leave with all his equipment. The guy who fought a bear and won.
Psht. There's no way that bear weighed more than 700 or 800 pounds.
When Glass regained consciousness, he hauled his broken mess of a body out of his own grave, scraped the infection out of his wounds, set his broken leg and started crawling toward the nearest outpost, a French trapper outpost called Fort Kiowa. Sustained by a fairly reasonable desire to brutally murder Bridger and Fitzgerald, Glass headed toward the Cheyenne River, around 100 miles east of his gravesite. He crawled the whole way. It took him six weeks.
So what? We were able to beat every Final Fantasy game with just six weeks and a bucket of Mountain Dew.
After successfully avoiding vengeful Arikara war parties, wolves and bears, while surviving on berries, roots, rotting carcasses and honest-to-God rattlesnakes, Glass made it to the river. A Sioux hunting party came upon the living man-corpse and helped him fashion some branches into a crude raft, which he sailed to Fort Kiowa and safety. As soon as he recovered, Glass set out to hunt down Bridger and Fitzgerald. When he finally found them, he ... forgave them. But only after he got his rifle back.
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