Book Review: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Aron Ralston always prided himself on doing things other people would only dream about. But one day, he found himself in a situation that, for anyone, would only be the stuff of nightmares. Ralston was hiking alone in a remote canyon in Utah when he clambered over an 800 pound boulder. The boulder came loose, he and the rock fell, and when they both came to a rest, the stone had pinned Ralston’s right arm  against the canyon wall. Trapped, in excruciating pain with little food and water and no warm clothing, Ralston knew that his hopes of rescue were slim since he hadn’t left a detailed plan of his trip with anyone. After six hellish days, or 127 hours, Ralston resorted to a desperate act to save his own life. It’s not a spoiler once you see the book cover or if you’ve ever seen the James Franco movie: Ralston cut off his own arm.

Ralston, who was 27 at the time of the 2003 accident, details the entire grueling experience in his book Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Before reading the book, I could only imagine the anguish and despair Ralston went through in his ordeal — the mental and physical struggles as the days went on without rescue. After reading the book, I was amazed at his endurance, his fortitude, his ability to survive.

As Ralston recounts his days of entrapment, he also talks of his many outdoor adventures, from climbing 14,000 foot mountains, in winter, alone, to hiking miles to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in record time. It’s clear he thrived on thrill seeking and pushing limits, and had more than his share of brushes with death. Because I don’t share that “need for speed” and am not exactly an adrenaline junkie (I write, as I sit here eating a candy bar), I had trouble relating to his adventures and struggled with judging him as careless — an accident waiting to happen. Still, many other readers may not be bothered by this and may be inspired or thrilled themselves by his adventures. The chapters on his adventures do contain a lot of technical language about mountain climbing and equipment, which slowed me down; the library’s version of the book includes a glossary. Regardless of what I thought of Ralston’s risk-taking, my curiosity in how he survived pushed me to keep reading and the last few chapters move at breakneck speed. I couldn’t put the book down  until he was safe and sound.

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