Since his first glossy assignment for Philadelphia Magazine, Bob Friel has written more than 100 feature stories for major magazines on everything from boat thieves to beach bars, from serial killers to seaweed, from humor to horror, and lots and lots of travel and adventure pieces. He’s also illustrated many of them with his own photos.
The following is a small sample of clips. Where the magazines have published and maintained the stories online, live links will take you to the full text. Sorry for dead links…
I was hooked from the moment I first heard the humpback’s mad keening, the lovesick moans and tremendous shuddering groans that filled the water and vibrated through my chest. Its soulful laments were stronger than any siren’s call.
Before he was suspected of stealing the plane, the kid had been just Colton Harris-Moore, high-school dropout, juvenile delinquent, and petty thief who sometimes left bare footprints at crime scenes. After he climbed out of the Cessna and disappeared in the wilds of Washington State—home of Sasquatch, D.B. Cooper, Twin Peaks, and Twilight—he became Colt, latest in a long line of gutsy outlaws to capture the world’s imagination.
In the stunning and remote wilderness along northern British Columbia’s Highway 16, at least 18 women—by some estimates, many more—have gone missing over the past four decades. After years of investigation, authorities still don’t know if it’s the work of a serial killer or multiple offenders. BOB FRIEL drives into the darkness for answers.
THE MAN WHO STOLE TOO MUCH
A .45 pressed to the back of your head has a way of focusing your thoughts…
“You have to remember not to inhale any of the water that gets into your mask,” he tells me as we suit up for the dive. “The County coroner told us that’s the way this stuff will kill you real quick: Take it in through the nose and it goes right to your brain.”
Nothing like getting your medical advice from a coroner.
I sit beside her. All that remains is a skeleton, but still she’s beautiful. Mineral-rich flood water has left her swathed in a microscopic layer of rock the color of living flesh. It’s a thin veil that provides her bones a serene dignity instead of the stark-white nightmare we normally experience with skulls and skeletons.
If you go to Hedonism and take your clothes off for only one thing, it should be the four-story, wet-and-wild, see-through waterslide that zips right through the nightclub. One caveat: Keep your legs together or you’ll discover that there’s something more uncomfortable than getting water up your nose.
We freeze at the sound and Emiliano signals me to click off my light. Great, now it can see us and we can’t see it. After a moment, we hear a couple more stomps, then rustling foliage and breaking twigs. If this is a jaguar, king of the rainforest, mythical for its silent stalking abilities, this one must be drunk.
It was Apocalypse Now in a minivan: The jungle closed in, humpbacked oxen pulled bamboo carts loaded with coconuts and black-haired children, pigs snuffled around reed huts, women carried water jugs on their heads while the men sat perched atop 50-foot-tall palm trees. And there I was, looking like Dennis Hopper, sweating like Marlon Brando and definitely not smelling like victory.
Corals look like rocks and act like plants, but they’re actually tiny gummy critters that have evolved complex relationships with other life forms so that they can build the world’s largest structures. They’re animals with internal vegetables that produce minerals.
You feel the breath of Kerry’s misty beauty on your face and the spongy greenness of the ground alive underfoot. You smell the rich, sweet smoke of peat fires coming from farmhouses, and the sea scent of kelp freshly washed up on the strand. You hear the cows, calling as they scratch their chins on the tops of fieldstone walls, and the Border collies that take time off from working the sheep to send a bark after your car.
Call them an “indicator,” “keystone” or “umbrella,” no other species is as important to the overall recovery of Puget Sound as the Chinook salmon, which connects to veritably every other aspect of the health and happiness of the Sound’s ecosystem and its residents. From killer whales to cultural practices, water quality to recreational fishing: as go the Chinook, so goes Puget Sound. And the news on Chinook is not good.
In retrospect, pairing former editor in chief Bob Friel with the assignment to “check out some beach bars in the British Virgin Islands” may not have been the smartest move. Friel is a famously exhaustive researcher on such topics. We might also have reconsidered sending along several magazine employees to document his quest, since according to our legal department, we are now contractually obligated to repatriate their bodies, should they ever be found…
It wasn’t the first 12-foot wave that sent Jim soaring into the air. It was the second 12-footer, fast on the heels of the first, which lifted 200-plus pounds of screaming sunglass salesman off his feet and threw him onto the dashboard, giving new insight into the term “flying bridge.”
We normally use the word “sanctuary” to talk about protecting wildlife. Here, a lucky few have found a place that also provides a safe haven for people.
Even without the threat of being drowned, boiled, speared, pummeled or swallowed, the life of an underwater stuntman is no swim in the park. “I guess the craziest thing they ever asked me to do was bite a live tiger shark.”
The lip of the Black Hole is wickedly uneven rock, and as I get my heels right to the edge of the drop, I lose my footing. At this point, my heart yells, “Every body part for itself!” and tries to jump out of my chest…
If it turns out, however, that the exotically hot new exchange student’s hairdo is toxic and that she clones herself incessantly and proceeds to devour the other kids at school, the infatuation segues into a horror movie. That’s about where we are with lionfish.
“In many people’s minds,” he says, “‘eco-resort’ implies sleeping on a cot, bathing in a bucket, reading by flashlight and eating twigs and berries.”
We, however, are lounging on cozy wicker couches, sipping icy cocktails in the bar of Tiamo’s main lodge. And about 50 yards down the sugary white-sand beach, tucked just behind a screen of sea grapes, is my roomy bungalow equipped with an Olympic-sized bed, steaming hot shower and full-zap electricity.
“Oh yeah,” says Alexa, “my girlfriends and I always want to check out the Roche Harbor marina guys.” I stagger away, trying not to faint from holding in my stomach for so long.
Murphy is the perfect pup to test the dog-friendliness of Cannon Beach, Oregon. It’s easy for a hotel, shop, or outdoor cafe to accommodate pocket pooches and handbag hounds, but welcoming a breed that’s a cross between a grizzly bear and a bouncy, pouncy Tigger ― a dog that stretches 6 feet from nose to tail ― takes genuine commitment.
After 10 minutes of fighting a big marlin, all pretense that it’s not a physical strain goes overboard. After 20 minutes, your face contorts into the heart-attack red, jowl-shuddering, snot-blowing grimace of a constipated lumberjack.
Does the English language possess a more beautiful compound noun than “beach bar”?
I think not. Say it with me slowly: “beach…bar.” Each word an idyll, together a paradise. And so utterly Caribbean.
Before Dominica, the toughest hike I’d ever done in the Caribbean involved slogging through the sand to a beach bar for my sixth rum and Coke.
The sum total of my sailing knowledge comes from reading Patrick O’Brian. And though I feel fully prepared to man a cannon, diagnose scurvy or lop off a gammy leg with a galley knife, as far as knowing which line raises the sail and which one rings the dinner bell, I’m not too sure.
He found a site for his dream home on an island always considered “the other side of the tracks,” notable mainly for swarms of no-see-ums locally known as “nippers,” and for its residents who were widely regarded as pirates.
To be in the Exumas without going out on a boat would be like listening to a beauty contest on the radio — not worth the trouble because you’d miss the best parts.
My family is fairly typical — not the Brady Bunch, but scoring on the civilized side of the Partridge Family/Manson Family curve. On vacations, though, travel-stress-induced tempers would make our big Plymouth feel more like a circus car stuffed with edgy, sarcastic clowns.