Book cover

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Book Review

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? By Mark Sedon, $39.95

Review by Ross Cullen

‘Quite a lot could go wrong’, is a quick response. In fact, sometimes things do go pear-shaped, as Mark Sedon recounts in his breezy, action-filled memoir. Mark has packed a vast amount of adventurous activity into his first 52 years (I guess there is plenty more still to come), and in 218 pages of What Could Possibly Go Wrong? he cheerfully skips his way through scuba diving, mountaineering, big-wall climbing, high altitude expeditions, surfing, skiing, kite surfing, kite skiing, sailing, avalanche control work, guiding and more—have I missed kayaking, rafting, mountain biking, packrafting? If you participate in those outdoor pursuits and tackle difficult objectives in some of the world’s most challenging locations, it is unsurprising that mishaps do occasionally occur.

What role does personality play influencing how someone lives their life? Mark’s book illustrates that he is fairly cheeky, does not lack in chutzpah, is happy to scrabble through sticky situations—sometimes with folded US currency in his hand—and has been involved in a few brushes with authority. That willingness to push boundaries and try new ventures is clearly a core part of his character, but Mark rejects the notion that he is just a risk-lover and through the book he argues he has spent years developing his outdoor activity skills. He has completed a diverse range of courses and qualifications, has acquired a huge amount of experience, and cultivated his judgment and decision-making abilities in difficult circumstances.

But what about his writing and photography? How good are they, and is his book a good read? Pleased that you asked. This review deliberately jumps around from topic to topic, just as What Could Possibly Go Wrong? does in many of its 23 chapters. Mark’s writing style, perhaps abetted by editor Geoff Walker, includes commencing a chapter with a teaser paragraph, then switching back to the initiating parts of a trip or expedition, working through its stages until the dramatic scene introduced in the first paragraph reappears and we get to read how Mark and companions extricated themselves from the situation. There are a broad variety of scenarios involved—as one might expect from the diverse forms of adventure Mark enjoys—including a crevasse, a storm and trapped in a shipping container with no food. Sometimes he gets away with things, but in others he survives with injuries that require hospital care and sometimes lengthy determined efforts at recuperation and recovery of dexterity and fitness.

Did I mention the injuries suffered, the medical emergencies, the blows to his health that Mark has endured? He has a startling list of injury and misadventures, including overconsumption of alcohol, a helicopter crash that included a fatality, an avalanche ride into the depths of a crevasse that cracked a vertebrae, ski-patrolling at Mt Ruapehu during a volcanic eruption, rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament while kite-surfing, suffering a subarchnoid haemorrhage while paragliding, an elevated prostate specific antigen level and subsequent-to-treatment, chronic septicemia and 43°C temperature. There are probably more injuries and illnesses, but that is enough to affirm that yes, sometimes things can go badly wrong!

Let’s be clear, What Could Possibly Go Wrong? is a very good, always interesting read. Mark is a skillful writer who has completed many impressive achievements and entertainingly recounts dozens of colourful, action-filled stories from his four decades of adventures. He is also an able photographer and videographer (Spectre – To The End Of The Earth deservedly won film festival awards), and What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Includes 12 pages of interesting colour photographs covering many of his experiences.

I particularly enjoyed reading the chapters on the Mt Everest and Spectre expeditions, they are two of the longest chapters in the book and allow the author more time to develop the story, which helped me as reader to empathise with the protagonists. If you have not been fortunate enough to climb high on a big mountain where you struggle with altitude, grappling with the inevitable hairy situations that arise when part of a larger group, or haven’t experienced the grandeur, vastness, brutality, utter calmness and solitude of Antarctica, What Could Possibly Go Wrong? provides a clear window into those powerful experiences.

The last word goes to the author and his (mildly paraphrased) philosophy of life. I’m afraid of dying, but I am even more afraid of not living. I think of my risks as calculated. I built up my skills slowly and got better and better. I do admit that a fair amount of luck kept me alive when I was younger. But I wouldn’t give up the memories and experiences for anything. As I get older I still love adventure. It’s through adventure that good health—both mental, and physical—remains part of our life. Get out there today and enjoy it …