Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Whoa, this five hour plus audio book absolutely consumed me during a 48 hour period from noon on Feb 9 to noon on Feb 11. Anytime I could squeeze in a little car time or iPod time, I did so. Everything was about my main man Aron Ralston.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story. Man goes canyoneering alone in Utah. Man gets arm stuck under rock. Man had not told anybody where he was going. Man was immobile for 5 days and nearly dies of dehydration. Man breaks ulna and radius and frees himself by cutting through soft tissue of forearm. Man gets home safely and has interview with Tom Brokaw.

This is an amazing story. It works well as an audio book because it’s Ralston himself doing the reading. It’s equal parts re-enactment, memoir, and narration. He starts the book re-enacting his mountain bike trip to the trailhead before his hike into the Utah canyons near Moab. At certain points he breaks from the re-enactment and recalls parts of his life story or adds some detail that explains how he got to this point. Then, in the second half of the book, he narrates the story of his friends and family organizing his rescue. The story bounces back and forth between these perspectives and it never ceased to hold my rapt attention.

During the re-enactment, not only does he explain what he did for just about every minute of his ordeal, but he delves deeply into the thoughts and reflections he had during this time. It’s a little strange that he recalls this level of detail and that his thoughts were so rational and organized. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising though. He is extremely intelligent. He took pictures and video with his free hand, which I am sure he used to jog his memory. Additionally, he is passionate about his outdoor pursuits and very introspective. Therefore, I choose to believe every last detail of the story. Not just because I trust the guy, but also because this story got huge media coverage. We know how the media likes to tear down our heroes (and rightfully so), so we would know by now if these were lies. Man, am I being a little guarded or what after this James Frey vs Oprah ordeal?

I could not stop listening. Usually I only listen to audio books in my car during my commute. But this one flowed over into the weekend and I listened as I worked out and did laundry. Maybe I was so involved because I feel like I have a connection with Ralston. I too once fancied myself an outdoor athlete. Of course, I was a little more fancy and a little less athlete, but I still had a Camelback hydration system like Ralston. Those days have come and gone and I have since sold the Camelback, the waterproof tent, and the sleeping bag rated for subzero temps. However, I still read Backpacker magazine occasionally and I harbor dreams of hiking the Appalachian trail with my wife when we retire (at least parts of it…if there’s a JW Marriott near the trail for my wife…so she can go to the spa).

Ralston is a pretty cool guy. He loves mountain climbing, margaritas, and rock and roll. At age 27, he quit his job at Intel as an engineer and became a mountain guide. He just followed his true calling and it appears to have worked out well for him. It seems like he is well grounded, has a loving family, and has many great friends. He has a good sense of humor also. At one point, while he is contemplating cutting his arm off, he says something like, “hacking off a limb, like living east of the Rocky Mountains, is something I never thought I would do.”

Even if you don’t have an outdoorsy bone in your body, you will love this book. It’s an un-freaking-believable story of survival and perseverance.