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Photo: COURTESY OF MICKEY GROSMAN - Mickey Grosman celebrates with his adventure team at the Atlantic seashore in Georgetown, Guyana. The men had endured severe disease, leeches and a pirate attack to make their way through the jungle. Grosman filmed ...
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013 9 years ago

Mickey Grosman hacks way out of Amazon

Senior escapes Amazon
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

Orlando resident Mickey Grosman takes a step back in front of the camera as the live broadcast starts. It’s September 2012, nearly a year deep into the Amazon jungle.

Grosman’s team was lucky to have a camera at all. Despite all the dangers of the rainforest —falls, pirates, predators and an unforgiving river — it’s the humidity that killed the other two cameras, working through a constant thin veil of vapor until they failed.

The video signal is rough because of interference from the overhanging trees, but it will have to do.

Thousands of miles away, children watch the pixelated broadcast from Florida Hospital, filled with hope that, one day, they too could embark on the greatest adventure they could imagine — a life free of cancer.

Grosman still remembers the broadcast half a year later.

The throwback explorer had crossed more than 4,000 miles in his Amazon 5000 expedition, a trek through the harsh landscape of South America to inspire cancer patients around the world and raise money for research.

A pirate attack had forced the team northeast toward Guyana, avoiding the Amazon River that had proved too dangerous. But the pirate attack had taken its toll on their supplies, 2,000 miles from the nearest Outdoor World.

Grosman spread the word online with his military computer, and eventually received a care package donated by Pathfinder School LLC. By March 20 – 10 months since the beginning of the expedition – they reached the 4,430-mile mark, well within the borders of Guyana.

Only 300 miles left.

Grosman and company reached the blistering savanna plains south of Georgetown, scattered with 10-foot termite mounds scavenged by roaming anteaters.

The crew eventually reached Rockstone, where Grosman was reunited with former team members Kyle Ver Steeg and Alex Hernandez, ready to join him for the last 100 miles.

Ten days later, the expanded team found themselves wading through neck-deep swamps. Grosman knew that traveling through the murky water filled with leeches would wear down the group. They had to find a way around.

Not too far away was the Essequibo River. If the team could fashion another raft out of the local wood, they could avoid the swamp altogether. After tying together several logs and securing empty gas canisters along the sides, they had a raft that could barely keep six guys and 500 pounds of gear afloat.

The team rode the raft downstream for 30 miles. They were able to dodge the swamp, but nobody noticed early on when Kyle Ver Steeg broke his foot after tripping between two of the logs.

“I didn’t tell anybody, because I didn’t want that to be an issue for the team, so I just walked on it,” Ver Steeg said.

“The only way out of there is to walk out of there, and so I just walked out.”

The team of adventurers pushed forward as Grosman came closer and closer to his ultimate goal.

“At 50 miles, I almost ran,” Grosman said. “They couldn’t catch up.”

After one final sprint, Grosman finally set foot on the sandy beaches of Georgetown on April 10, six days after his 65th birthday.

The culmination of brutal terrain, punishing weather and dangers from both the wild and mankind had finally arrived.

The journey was over, 4,859 miles later.

Hernandez reflected on the moment in silence; his own family had a history with cancer.

“It was pretty powerful for me from the standpoint that my brother’s wife had breast cancer, a friend of mine’s mother had breast cancer, my dad had testicular cancer at one point and I had an uncle with prostate cancer,” Hernandez said. “It’s been so rampant in my family.”

The team broke out into celebration, cracking open bottles of champagne and planting the flags of America, Israel, Ecuador and Guyana into the sand.

“I feel good…I did it,” Grosman said. “There were many times where I said ‘what the heck am I doing here?’”

Even after the completion of the expedition, the Amazon 5000 website continues to accept donations, with more than $28,000 raised thus far.

A documentary is also in the works, tapping into hundreds of hours of film caught in the wild by Grosman’s camera crew.

The journey pushed Grosman to his very limits. He lost 45 pounds during the expedition, survived a deadly fever and lived off the land for 11 months.

Yet his adventurous spirit hungers for more, and a new expedition across the plains of China calls to him. He is currently studying the topography of the land to find a route to take for an expedition set for next year.

“From Tibet to Shanghai, that’s my goal,” Grosman said. “Talk is cheap, no?”

Grosman’s journey through the Amazon is over, but the cause he fought for still remains. Countless people around the world suffer from cancer and they still dare to dream of a life without it. Grosman only hopes that people will be inspired to fight the disease like he fought the Amazon.

“I cannot cure them, but it’s symbolic,” Grosman said. “I will have served one person if they say ‘If Mickey did it like this, I will fight. I won’t give up.’”

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