I’m still feeling a bit unstable in the old spine. It’s a good day to turn my attention far, far away from my own creaky body and to write a Bookshelf post. Are you a ‘lied about being the outdoor type’ type? Do you like to wrap up in a soft cardie, make a nice cup of tea and sink into a tale of wild adventure while your feet stay lovely and warm on the dogs back?
Great! Me too! (Except for the dog. I have to substitute my kids for that bit.)
Here are a few heart-thumping stories of the awesome powers of nature and the equally impressive human spirit.
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger is a wonderfully written piece of narrative non-fiction about an epic storm that hit the fishing trawler Andrea Gail outside Massachusetts in 1991. Detailed, meticulous and powerful, it’s a thrilling read. Junger’s powers of description tackle life at home in a small port town:
“There are houses in Gloucester where grooves have been worn into the floorboards by women pacing past an upstairs window, looking out to sea.”
and he really gets his teeth into the terrifying powers of a massive storm at sea.
“Unfortunately for Mariners, the total amount of wave energy and storm does not rise linearly with wind speed, but to its fourth power. The seas generated by a 40 knot wind aren’t twice as violence as those from a 20 knot wind, they are seventeen times as violent. The ship’s crew watching the anemometer climb even 10 knots could well be watching their death sentence.”
A great present for outdoorsy types, this book.
(From the 2000 film of the book)
Touching The Void by Joe Simpson describes a terrifying climbing trip gone wrong in Peru. At 21, 000 feet, Simpson fell off an ice ledge and broke his leg. His partner Simon Yates was forced to cut the rope he dangled from, just moments before he too would have died. Over the next three days Simpson struggled down to Base Camp – frostbitten, starving, dragging his leg – and his detailed memories of the journey are compelling and beautifully expressed.
127 Hours: Between A Rock And A Hard Place is another triumph of the mind over the body. Aron Ralston was a full-on mountain-biking, snow-boarding, rock-climbing adventure junkie when he went hiking alone in a remote Utah canyon in 2010. It was all going swimmingly until an 365 kilo boulder trapped his arm against a wall. Over the next six days, Ralston ran out of food and water as he tried to come up with any possible exit plan other than the one that involved than amputating his own arm with a pocketknife. All options failed, and he did, eventually, do the job. He survived. The book follows, hour by hour, his thoughts as he contemplates his past and his terrifying present. It’s a cracking, heart-in-mouth read, as you wait for the inevitable to happen.
Finally, if you like Everest stories (as I do), Into Thin Air is a classic of the genre that tells the tale of the 1997 Mt Everest disaster, when a sudden storm killed eight climbers. It’s a great work of narrative non-fiction by one of the masters of the genre, Jon Krakeur (who also wrote Into The Wild, a book exploring the mysterious tale of young Christopher McCandles escape to, and eventual death in, the remote Alaskan wilderness.)
Also, Alive In The Death Zone by Australian mountaineering legend Lincoln Hall tells the story of his near-death from cerebral oedema at the summit of Everest. The night he spent spend waiting for death and his surreal trip down the mountain the next day make for a fascinating tale. (Hall lost fingers and toes from frostbite after this climb, but survived. He died of mesothelioma in 2008. )
Do you have any adventure tales to share? Hit me!
(P.S: here’s a fantastic interview about ‘extreme medicine’ on the Fresh Air podcast. Dr Kevin Fong explores how humans survive deep sea, outer space and extreme heat.)
If you’re interested, other Bookshelf posts: