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#BookRiffs: Deep Survival

I don't expect to actually review books here, but I thought I would write a little bit periodically about books that I've read and what I've taken from them. Laurence Gonzales's DEEP SURVIVAL is this week's instalment.

Boy, I sure dug this book. I picked it up at Armchair Books in Whistler on a ski trip with my brother, shortly after climbing Vancouver Island's Golden Hinde last fall.

That climb had affected me more than I'd anticipated it would. After a tough two-day hike into the wilderness with two friends, I decided to tackle the summit of the mountain alone when they decided to stay at base camp and relax.

In hindsight, it was probably a pretty dumb decision, and fraught with plenty of risk. I scared the shit out of myself, anyway, and my friends, and the whole experience put survival in my mind.

The blurb from Sebastian Junger didn't hurt, either. I'm a huge fan of his writing, and of Jon Krakauer, with whose work this book shares some similarities. If you're looking for stories about people putting themselves into extreme situations, and examinations as to why they live or die, this is the book for you.

It also made me rethink certain aspects of my Golden Hinde ascent. For instance, I'd set a drop-dead time when I promised myself I would turn back from my climb and start the return to base camp. But when I was on the mountain, that time came and went, and I didn't turn back. I pressed forward, exhausted, up a mountain that was at the extreme limit of my ability.

Gonzales writes a lot about the need for adaptability; to observe on the fly that our situation has changed, however subtly, and to make corrections to our plans and behaviour to reflect these changes.

I was determined to make the peak for a couple of reasons: pride; and the incorrect information that I'd have cell service when I reached the top. From a purely results-based standpoint, I made the correct choice in continuing upward, and I'm proud of what I accomplished, but certainly in similar circumstances moving forward, I'll keep Gonzales' writing in mind.

Gonzales also observes of survivors some things that are echoed in another book I'll riff on later: Viktor Frankl's essential MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING.

Namely, he talks about how survivors tend to keep their sense of humour about them, even at the worst of times, and how they are paradoxically able to enjoy the beauty of the world around them, even as it's threatening to kill them.

Survivors stay busy after disaster strikes: they set goals and work projects, they focus their minds on taking care of others around them. They celebrate their successes, and they remember to be grateful for what they do have.

Survivors are resilient. And though I'm loathe to compare a sudden relationship breakup with a life-threatening disaster like those Gonzales describes in his book, that didn't stop me from applying some of what he has written to my own life.

I set goals and stay busy to keep my mind from dwelling on the loneliness, for instance. I celebrate when I reach a goal, and when things go right.

I try to stay conscious of my many blessings, and to look at the world through a lens of gratitude and optimism.

And I've tried to keep a sense of humour.

Lucy helps, too. Gonzales doesn't write about her, but I'm pretty sure if he met her, he would.

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