Thereâ€™s nothing like a true story of adventure to expand your worldview and help put lifeâ€™s weightiest concepts, like life, death, and second chances into perspective. Maybe youâ€™re not quite ready to climb the fourteenth-highest mountain in the world, complete a fifty-mile race virtually barefoot, or sail in a transatlantic race, but you can start by reading true accounts of people who have attempted these missions and more. The authors featured here have taken enormous risks and challenged themselves in varying degrees by choice or necessity, and sometimes both. With insight into what might drive them, â€śAdrift" author Steven Callahan writes: â€śThere is a magnificent intensity in life that comes when we are not in control but are only reacting, living, surviving.â€ť
â€śInto the Wildâ€ť by Jon Krakauer
Christopher McCandless, also known as Alexander Supertramp, a nickname he bestowed upon himself, was a bit of an oddball looking to shed his life of privilege and trade it for a nomadic existence. After donating his savings and possessions to charity at age twenty-four, McCandless hitchhiked into the Alaskan wilderness with nothing but a rifle, a roughly thirty-pound backpack (which held a ten-pound bag of rice, the only food he had packed), and no compass or watch. Nobody knew of his plans. McCandless, in search of solitude, and the chance to â€ślive off the land for a few monthsâ€ť outside the confines of mainstream civilization, did so for about twelve weeks before making a minute but serious mistake that would ultimately cost him his life. While foraging for food, he mistook poisonous wild sweet pea for harmless wild potato, ending his adventure in an abandoned bus beside the Stampede Trail where he had spent much of his trip. In the year after his death, Jon Krakauer published a 9,000-word article about McCandless in Outside magazine. Haunted by McCandlessâ€™ story, he researched it further, elaborating on the piece and including accounts of his own wilderness adventures to create â€śInto the Wild,â€ť eventually turned into a movie directed by Sean Penn and starring Emile Hirsch.
Â â€śAdrift: Seventy Six Days Lost at Seaâ€ť by Steven Callahan
Shortly after he began sailing at age twelve, Steven Callahan was inspired by the book â€śTinkerbelleâ€ť by Robert Manry, an account of Manryâ€™s sailing his thirteen-and-a-half foot boat across the Atlantic in seventy-eight days, a record when he did it in 1965. By the spring of 1981, then a seasoned boat builder and designer, Callahan was ready to follow in Manryâ€™s wake. Set asail on the Napoleon Solo, a small twenty-one foot cruiser he built, Callahan sailed from Newport to Bermuda, then onto England with a companion. Next he set out on sailing solo from the U.K. to the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, with a final destination of Antigua. Before he could arrive, he set a record of his own, spending seventy-six days adrift at sea on a life raft named Rubber Ducky III (too small for stretching out; he had to curl up to sleep) after his beloved Napoleon Solo was struck during a tumultuous night at sea. Callahan captures his arduous journey in â€śAdrift,â€ť recounting his constant repairing and repumping of Rubber Ducky and his struggle to catch dorado and triggerfish with a spear salvaged from his long-lost boat. He contemplates the mistakes that led him astray while occasionally reciting the mantra â€śYouâ€™re doing the best you canâ€ť for assurance and hope. Though Callahan takes pride in being â€śable to hang in thereâ€ť and survive, being labeled a hero still makes him uneasy.
â€śForget Me Notâ€ť by Jennifer Lowe-Anker
There was never a dull moment in the lives of romantic partners Alex and Jennifer Lowe (now Lowe-Anker), both voracious mountain and ice climbers, ambitious travelers, and general lovers of the outdoors. Alex, who made a living of their shared passionÂ --Â he was considered one of the greatest modern climbersÂ --Â tragically died in an avalanche on the Himalayan mountain Shishapangma in 1999, leaving behind Jenni and their three young sons. Â â€śForget Me Notâ€ť is the story of life before and in the wake of Alexâ€™s death, told through letters from Alex, and memories and reflections of Jenniâ€™s. The book takes an unexpected twist when Conrad AnkerÂ --Â Alexâ€™s best friend, longtime climbing partner, and also survivor of the very avalanche that killed Alex Â Â --Â and Jenni slowly become romantically involved, eventually marrying. (Conrad has since adopted Jenniâ€™s sons, as well.) This book is ambitious in its exploration of Alexâ€™s insatiable hunger for exhilarating yet dicey expeditions, Jenniâ€™s struggle to cope with the massive loss of her original life partner, and the complex love triangle that ensued in the face of tragedy.Â
â€śBetween a Rock and a Hard Placeâ€ť by Aron Ralston
You may know Aron Ralstonâ€™s story, or at least a version of it, from Danny Boyleâ€™s major motion picture 127 Hours starring James Franco (as Ralston). The book is a more time-consuming yet worthy investment. On a seemingly ordinary Saturday afternoon, Ralston, an experienced mountaineer and outdoorsman, went hiking in Blue John Canyon in Utahâ€™s Canyonlands National Park, and (like McCandless), didnâ€™t tell anyone where he was headed. After departing from new friends he met en route that morning, Ralston was all alone a few hours later when he became trapped by an 800-pound boulder that came loose, pinning his right hand and forearm against the canyon wall. A determined Ralston, as a last hope for escape, eventually self-amputated his right arm just below the elbow with the dull blade on the multi-use tool he had with him. Shortly after hiking out of the canyon, Ralston was picked up by a rescue helicopter and flown to a nearby hospital. â€śBetween a Rock and a Hard Placeâ€ť flashes back and forth between Ralstonâ€™s early forays into outdoor life to his nearly unfathomable struggle to stay alive over six excruciating days. There are perhaps no better examples of the lengths weâ€™ll go to in order to survive.
â€śBorn to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race theÂ World Has Never Seenâ€ť by Christopher McDougall
â€śBorn to Runâ€ť begins in Mexicoâ€™s Sierra Madre as runner, author, and journalist Christopher McDougall searches for Caballo Blanco (â€śWhite Horseâ€ť), a kindred spirit of the ancient tribe of the Tarahumara, a Native American people renowned for their ability to run long distances in â€śbarefootâ€ť running sandals. After meeting, Blanco shares with McDougall his plan to recruit some of the worldâ€™s best ultrarunners to compete against the top Tarahumara runners in Copper Canyons, the Tarahumaraâ€™s turf, on a 50-mile ultra marathon course. What comes next is a litany of charactersÂ --Â Barefoot Ted, Scott Jurek, and the Tarahumaras, naturallyÂ --Â who prepare to participate in the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon. Among them is McDougall himself, a dedicated runner who is no stranger to injury, yet still trains for nine months with the help of his coach Eric Orton. McDougall surprises himself with his physical stamina and willpower as he makes his way, slow but steady, ending in a trance so intense he canâ€™t remember crossing the 50-mile race finish line.