I’ve been meaning to read this book for quite some time. Exactly nine years after the incident happened, I finally read Aron Ralston’s account of his brush with death in 2003.
If Aron Ralston’s name or face doesn’t seem familiar, his story probably will: the hiker who was trapped in a canyon for six days, who cut his own arm off to survive. (“Oooooh, that guy!”)
The experienced outdoorsman was hiking through a slot canyon in a remote section of Utah when an 800 pound boulder fell on him, pinning his arm against the canyon wall. He would be stuck there for six days… from Saturday until Thursday… until he commits the ultimate act of desperation to save his own life.
The book is an interesting mix of the incident itself and his past experiences in mountain climbing. At first, I got annoyed as the chapters would jump back and forth between his days in the canyon and another previous (usually dangerous) mountain experience. I would think, as another non-stuck-in-the-canyon chapter began… “I just want to find out what happens! Get to the good part already!” (Alright, I know I knew what happened to him in the end all along. But I still wanted to hear the juicy stuff straight from the horse’s mouth.)
But once I really got deep into it, I was glad I knew more about his background. With each risk Ralston took I understood him more. As I read about each one of these risky solo 14,000 foot mountain climbs (in the middle of winter!) I would think, “WHY is he doing this alone!?!? It’s so dangerous!” His recklessness was actually kind of irritating.
But then as he sat there, dehydrated and dying in the canyon, having told NO ONE where he was going or for how long… he said what I had been thinking the whole time:
“I go out looking for adventure and risk, so I can feel alive. But I go out by myself, and I don’t tell someone where I’m going that’s just dumb. If someone knew, if I’d been with someone else, there would probably already be help on the way. Dumb, dumb, dumb.”
He was changed and humbled by the experience. One of the more remarkable things about this whole ordeal was that he had a video camera with him, and essentially recorded his last will and testament. He said his good-byes, his I love you’s, his wishes for cremation and where to spread the ashes.
The amputation was gruesome, but explained in amazing detail that somehow made it seem less barbaric. I suppose when you’re forced to cut off one of your limbs, you remember every single unfortunate detail.
In his recovery, Ralston handles his new way of life with humor. Once he had recovered, he participated in a ski race, taking “…six hours off the time Gareth Roberts and I set in 2003, when I had both my hands. Next year, I’m going to cut off my left arm and see how much faster I can go.”
In the end, it was an incredibly inspiring book. It truly is a testament to how much the human body and human spirit can handle. I can’t wait to see the movie, 127 Hours. Mama Dish actually said she liked the movie better than the book. (Except for the amputation scene, which is obviously more gory on screen than on paper!)
In each of my marathons, I reached a point where I thought to myself, “This is crazy. Why am I voluntarily running 26.2 miles?” But in the end, I always answer my own question. As Ralston says looking for adventure and risk makes him feel alive, the feeling I get when I cross the finish line of a full marathon is just that – I feel deliriously, unbelievably, blissfully alive. I thank God that – so far – it hasn’t cost me a limb. Reading this book made me realize that everyone should find at least one thing that really makes them feel alive… and let nothing – not even an 800 pound boulder… take it away.