#3. A Forest Shaped Like a Guitar
Argentine Pedro Martin Ureta was a "bohemian revolutionary," which apparently used to mean something back in the day, but now is just a polite way to refer to shiftless teenagers wearing Che Guevara shirts that they bought from Hot Topic. Eventually, Ureta met a lovely young woman named Graciela Yraizoz, and she tamed his wild heart -- although no woman could tame his wild pants.
What else can you do with a man who rides dogs to herd horses?
The pair were soon married and settled on a farm in the pampas. One day Yraizoz was flying over her property when she got the mad idea of crafting the whole thing into the shape of a guitar -- her favorite instrument. Although her husband liked the idea, he reasonably assumed she was operating on Manic Pixie Dream Girl logic and would soon forget the ambitious project to teach butterflies how to wear tiny hats or something.
But then his beloved Graciela suffered a brain aneurysm, and, well ... did you know sea otters hold hands so they don't drift apart?
Filled with regret from dismissing the (arguably ridiculous sounding) whims of his late wife, Ureta set about making amends by planting over 7,000 trees in the shape of a musical instrument.
He didn't accomplish this with anything as utilitarian and cold-hearted as drafting instruments and farm equipment, though -- what kind of story would that be? No, Ureta enlisted the help of the four children he and Graciela had together. They all lined up about 3 meters apart, planted a tree wherever they stood, and repeated the process nearly 2,000 times. Ureta used cypress trees to form the hole and body of the guitar, eucalyptus to create its strings, and heartwarming devotion to make us look like a bunch of pansies for crying in the office right now.
#2. A Motorcycle from Scrap (While Dying in the Middle of the Desert)
Alastair Miller/Rex Features via The Daily Mail
The most unrealistic scene in the Iron Man movies -- besides the force blasts, flying humanoid robots, and women turning down Robert Downey Jr. -- is the fact that Tony Stark manages to build a fully functional piece of advanced technology with a bunch of random parts while trapped in a cave in the middle of the desert.
We think that's totally unrealistic crap.
But Emile Leray politely disagrees with that sentiment.
When Leray's car broke down in the Sahara Desert, he had two choices: die from heat exhaustion, or die from heat exhaustion without any pants on (when bereft of any other options, we always have the choice of doing it sans pants. Remember that, if nothing else).
Emile Leray/Rex Features via The Daily Mail
"But keep the banana hammock. A true survivor keeps their sense of propriety, even at the edge of death." -Bear Grylls
Leray chose option C: disassemble the car with his bare hands and some jury-rigged tools, then use the parts to construct a functioning motorcycle that he would ride out of the desert. Kind of sounds like he was already succumbing to that heat exhaustion, doesn't it? That's like being stranded on a sinking life raft in the middle of the ocean, then turning to your fellow survivors and proposing to build an outboard motor out of kelp and passing seabirds.
The only difference being that Leray actually pulled off his fever dream:
Because he had no tools, Leray had to use scrap metal from his busted car to drill any holes and secure the parts together. Eventually he managed to fit the wheel arm on a chassis, mount the gearbox and engine at the center, and strap the battery and gas tank down wherever he could find a place, and off he went.
The motorcycle, which could even drive in reverse (so that's one up on normal motorcycles) wouldn't win any beauty contests outside of a steampunk convention, but it drove reliably enough to get Leray out of the desert and save his life. If you want your very own replica of Leray's motorcycle, you can totally have one: just break down in a lifeless wasteland and escape using only old MacGyver episodes and your formidable engineering prowess. If you can't find one or both of those things, you could always take off your pants and die of exposure!
#1. An Entire Freakin' Jungle
Will McMaster via Kickstarter
When Jadav "Molai" Payeng was 16 years old, he came across a swarm of dead snakes (flock? Bundle? We're not sure what you call a lot of dead snakes, aside from "a relief") on an abandoned sandbar. They had died from the lack of cover and exposure to the sun. Payeng asked the Indian forest department to plant trees on the sandbar, but as you may remember from the mountain pass entry, the Indian government ain't much for that whole "doin' stuff about things" business. If Payeng wanted results, he would have to provide them. And so he did. But rather than throw charity events or try to raise awareness with a clever PR campaign, Payeng did things the old-school way: He moved onto the sandbar, where he planted a variety of tree life by hand.
Thirty years later, Molai Woods (named for Payeng, who literally created them) is likely the biggest river forest in the world, and home to not only thousands upon thousands of sheltering trees and other plant life, but animals, too -- apes, elephants, deer, even endangered species like tigers and rhinoceroses make their homes in Molai Woods.
Not to mention the endangered Hare Krishna.
In roughly three decades, Payeng created an entire ecosystem from scratch. In three decades, all we've managed to create is a butt-shaped dent in the couch. Way to ruin the curve for the rest of us, buddy.
Related Reading: Lone heroes have accomplished other acts of greatness: like this glorious soul who tricked China into building a giant penis. Follow up with the greatest one man armies and one man rampages in the history of war. If you're still hungry for inspiration, look at the most impressive things accomplished by one person and marvel at the lone man who built a real castle.