Ralston: Divine intervention or a bloody strong will?
American adventurer Aron Ralston is just about to fly home, after a whirlwind visit of considerably less than 127 hours to promote the Oscar-nominated film 127 hours, which recounts his amazing survival story.
Ralston, you’ll recall, is the guy who got wedged by a boulder in a Utah canyon in 2003, and cut his own arm in sheer, gruesome desperation after five days with almost no food or water. So dehydrated was he, his pee literally turned black.
In countless interviews over the years, and again this week, Ralston has used words like “epiphany” and “euphoric moment” to describe the instant he decided to self-amputate. It’s hardly the overtly god-bothering language which some American athletes use. All the same, I’m convinced he experienced a “god moment”. Let me explain.
Excuse me for putting myself in this story, but two hours ago, I did something no journalist should do. I arranged a chat with Aron through his publicist, got him on the phone, said “hi”, then DIDN’T interview him.
I first met Aron six and half years ago when I worked at The Canberra Times, when he was out here to promote his book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. I didn’t use my allotted 15 minute interview slot that day either.
Instead, I pretty much said “lemme guess, you’re being shunted between publicists and interviews and not seeing the real Australia. Am I right?”
Go on, he said.
“How would you like to hire a car, drive six hours or so to the Snowy Mountains and climb Australia’s highest mountain Mt Kosciuszko?”
Long story short, we met in Thredbo, stayed in a great apartment (thanks Thredbo) and had two days of late spring bushwalking in the Snowies. And the Sunday Canberra Times got a pretty decent lead.
Aron’s Dad Larry particularly enjoyed the drive from Wodonga to Thredbo, and his lunch stop in the town of Corryong, which reminded him of 1950s America.
Again and again, he remarked how it was like a trip back in time. If you’re reading this and you’re from Corryong, please take that as a compliment, because Larry Ralston meant it that way.
Our two days in the Snowies were wet, and we watched a lot of cricket between bushwalks. Someone made a century – I can’t remember who – but Aron stood and cheered like a true blue fan after I explained the significance of the milestone.
We also had a night on the Bundy. Urgh. That all came about because the photographer on the trip, Jodie, was from Bundaberg and demanded the visitors sample her home tipple.
But back to Aron and that moment in the Utah Canyon.
For five days, he tried to rig up one kind of contraption or another with ropes and assorted climbing doo-dats, but all to no avail. With a degree in mechanical engineering, this was a logical course of action.
Only when he gave up, in despair, and said “nup, can’t do it, I’m screwed” did the answer come to him.
Here’s what happened next. Rather than try to move the rock himself, he realised the answer was to let the rock move him.
Using the weight of the rock against his trapped body, he was able to break his own bones. This was vital, as his knife was too blunt to cut through solid, unfractured bone.
But once the bones were broken, no problemo. An artery or two to snip, a spot of cartilage to hack through, and freedom!
The moment Ralston decided to stop trying to find the solution himself, which he describes as “euphoric” and “an epiphany”, was, I believe, spookily similar to the moment of succumbing to a higher power which mid-life religious converts experience.
As mentioned, the last thing Ralston does is bang on about Jesus or God or anything like that, but if you comb through his book, and indeed if you spend a couple of days with the guy, you cannot help thinking that what he had was a “God moment”.
There’s a really interesting, and equally famous counter to all of this in Joe Simpson, who survived an equally arduous ordeal which was chronicled in the film Touching the Void.
At the bottom of a crevasse in the Peruvian Andes, his rope cut and his hopes for survival almost nil, Simpson abandoned God, reasoning his only chance was to get the hell out of there himself.
Two adventurers, two completely different spiritual roads to survival. Ralston’s story sounds an awful lot like divine intervention to me. But there’s an equally good case he just has a bloody strong will.
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