Jason Wehner poses with the ruins of Machu Picchu in the background. The stop in Peru was the first leg of this three-continent journey.
Adventure of a lifetime:
Wehner risks life and limb globetrotting for reality TV show
by Nathan Arneal
At first the only pounding was coming from his heart thumping in his chest.
The first wave of people went sprinting past, but he held his ground in a small corner where the alley widened out.
Suddenly, the screams started, building to a crescendo, getting closer. Then there was a new pounding, one coming from outside his body this time.
“Oh, man. I really don’t want to be here,” thought Jason Wehner.
But it was too late.
“It’s go time.”
A month ago, Jason Wehner was just a kid from North Bend, Nebraska, who had never even seen the ocean. In fact, he’d never really traveled all at except for a wedding in Mexico.
Now, he’s a man of the world, having visited three different continents over the past few weeks.
It started with a video he posted to the Facebook page of “Adventure” Aaron Carotta auditioning for a spot on the TV show Bucket Wish.
Carotta, an Omaha native, has produced TV shows such as Alive! with Adventure Aaron and Catch and Cook, shows that featured various adventures around the globe.
His latest venture, Bucket Wish, will be appearing on MavTV (DirecTV channel 214, Dish 248) this fall. A Facebook casting call asked viewers to send in videos of themselves and pick one of 13 adventures they wanted to go on.
Wehner, 29, was one of the entrants selected. On Sunday, June 15, Wehner got the call that he would get his bucket wish of running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Oh, and start packing, he was told, we leave Wednesday.
Before partaking in his own adventure, Wehner would accompany Carotta to two other exotic locations as other people fulfilled their bucket wish adventures.
After a few days of acclimating and “vacationing” the group left behind the modern city and skyscrapers of Lima and enter a different world.
As the group ascended to the paragliding site, it was greeted by dozens of wild dogs. The village reminded Wehner of something from the wild west. The houses were make of clay and tin and didn’t have any doors.
“That was a wake up,” Wehner said. “I’m not in Nebraska anymore. This is just weird to even see and it was these people’s everyday life.”
A few days later, Carotta tells the group they are going to climb a mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu, the 15th century Incan ruins perched on a mountain top, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The climbing of Putucusi Mountain started out pretty gradual and easy. Then they came across the first ladder, a handmade wooden ladder that went straight up the mountain side.
“It was probably a solid 100 feet of ladders,” Wehner said. “I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me. We have to climb up these things?’”
Not wanting to be the last one to go, Wehner volunteered to be the first one up the ladder. With no harness or safety line, he headed up the wood ladder. Straight up. The ladder shook. It wasn’t exactly clear what was holding the ladders against the mountain.
“You get halfway up and there are missing rungs,” Wehner said. “I consider myself a decent athlete, and I’m having to jump from one rung to another. It was the scariest thing. I thought I was going to die. I was legitimately upset that we were even doing this.”
After several ladders, they made it to the top, where the view is as breathtaking as the climb was. Then they headed back down the same route.
Back home later on, Wehner saw an article naming the climb one of the ten most dangerous in the world.
When it came to the dinner table, Wehner lost his sense of adventure. While Carotta, host of a show called Catch and Cook, gulped down anything put in front of him, Wehner was a little more picky.
“I don’t like anything,” he said. “It was hard on me. I finally found this lamb and rice deal, and I literally ordered it everywhere we went. I would find it on the menu and I was like, ‘I know how to pronounce that. That’s what I want.’ That’s what I ate the entire time.”
The next stop was across the Atlantic Ocean in Marrakesh, Morocco, where the adventure involved riding camels on the beach and charming cobra snakes. While other people fulfilled their bucket wish, Wehner helped the crew by operating one of the cameras.
The constant bartering and haggling over prices stood out to Wehner.
“Everything is a negotiation,” he said. “They want money for everything. If you take a picture of something, they want money because you took a picture. If you ask directions, they want money for it.”
Agreeing on the price doesn’t always end the bartering. The camel rides were billed as $5. When the ride ended, Wehner was told it would be $20 to get off the camel.
“I was like, ‘No, I’m not giving you $20. I’ll stay on this thing all day. You’re not getting $20.’ That’s how it was in all of Morocco.”
Then it was off to the relative modern luxury of Spain. Two nights before he was to get his bucket wish of running with the bulls, Wehner was out rubbing elbows with the locals at a bar. Once they found out why he was there, the stories started to flow.
“They had me a little freaked out,” Wehner said. “They said, ‘Have you seen these bulls?’ I said, ‘No, but we have bulls back home.’ They started showing me pictures and I started to wonder what I was getting into.”
The following day, Sunday, the crew went to Pamplona for the opening of the Festival of San Fermin, a week-long party highlighted by the running of the bulls. With VIP passes, Wehner and the Bucket Wish crew got to stand on the stage as thousands of people partied and danced around them.
Monday morning, Wehner was up at 5 a.m. in order to get in position by 8.
Carotta showed Wehner where along the half-mile route to start. Don’t be the first one into the colosseum at the end before the bulls get there, Carotta told him. People will boo and throw things at you.
From the starting point, Wehner walked down the route. At 150 meters, he passed “Dead Man’s Corner,” an abrupt turn that sends the charging bulls skidding into the wall, sometimes smashing human runners. That’s where most of the deaths happen.
Wehner kept going.
He found a spot about 400 meters from the colosseum finish where the alleyway widened. He figure that would give him a safe corner to crouch in while the first bulls passed. He planned to wait for a gap, then join the fray, hoping he would be able to outrun the bulls behind him.
As he waited for the cannon shot that signalled the start of the run, his palms got sweaty. His heart rate increased.
The cannon boomed. People started sprinting down the alley. Wehner waited.
Suddenly the first two bulls exploded past Wehner as he crouched in his corner. That was when his plan changed.
“Right when I saw them, I was like, ‘Those things are huge, and they are flying,’” Wehner said. “There is no way you could outrun one of those on a dead sprint. It’s not possible. So my whole plan goes out the window. I was thinking, ‘Yeah I should be faster than these things.’ Not going to happen. Nope.”
After four bulls pass, Wehner took a deep breath and started his own charge down the alley. As soon as he did, two more bulls come barrelling around the corner. He was committed now.
Wehner quickly learned the biggest danger wasn’t the bulls, it was the people around him.
“Beforehand everybody is good buddies and you’re laughing and everything,” Wehner said. “Then the cannon goes off and everyone’s switch flips. It’s literally every man for himself. You see people pushing each other down. I am a bigger guy, and I was getting slammed into the wall because people were just panicking.”
After a short while, the runner next to Wehner gets hurled into the air.
“The guy next to me gets launched,” he said. “We’re going side-by-side and I just see him go up in the air. Of course, you don’t turn around to see what happened. You just go.”
Wehner made it into the final bull ring without incident. There a crowd of 20,000 was waiting, cheering each runner as he entered the colosseum. A feeling of euphoria swept over the kid from North Bend. Runners were exchanging high fives and hugs, reveling in their common victory.
But it wasn't over yet. The bulls were slowly released from the ring one by one. In the meantime, danger persists.
As Wehner watched, one man in his mid-40s got trampled. People rushed to help him, but he was completely limp.
“I thought he was dead,” Wehner said. “That guy just... he’s dead.”
Paramedics run out, grabbed him by the hands and feet and threw him over the fence out of the ring.
“Yep, he’s dead,” Wehner thought.
Wehner was standing near the outer fence when he found himself staring eye-to-eye with a bull six feet away.
The bull made a move toward Wehner, and he jumped over the fence as quickly as he could.
“I was done,” he said. “That was the end for me, which was fine. I’d had enough.”
That night he went out on the town. Carotta told everyone they met that Wehner had run with the bulls that morning.
“It was instant celebrity status,” Wehner said. “People wanted pictures with me. They were coming up and giving me hugs. These random people were taking pictures. That’s the way it was the rest of the trip.”
Of course, having TV cameras following him around didn’t hurt either.
Wehner returned safely back to Nebraska July 10 after 23 days of adventure. He now can say he survived the trip of a lifetime and gained a little perspective along the way.
“You take for granted everyday life here,” he said. “The electricity. The air conditioning. Just all of it. We have it pretty easy here, at least compared to the places we were.”
Wehner doesn’t know when his episode of Bucket Wish will air. Carotta told him it may be held for the season finale.
“I’m really excited to see the final product,” Wehner said. “I’ve seen the pictures and the random footage we took. I want to see how it all comes together now. It seems like we were getting crappy footage, but they were really happy with everything. It looked nothing like a TV show to me.”
Now that Wehner’s appetite for travel has been whet, he is looking forward to his next adventure. Will it include a rematch against the bulls of Pamplona?
“I would never do it again,” he said. “You couldn’t pay me. It’s great to say I did it, but I wouldn’t do it again.”
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