Things I Learned From Falling
When Claire Nelson set out on a hike in California in 2018, she was exhilarated at the chance to worship at the only altar she knew: the great outdoors. Nelson, then 35, had spent years working in London at a food magazine. Worn out by depression and insomnia, she sought solace in the Joshua Tree national park. After setting off for the trail, she doubled back to get a hiking stick just in case. That decision almost certainly saved her life, as Nelson describes in her nail-biting memoir. A couple of hours into the hike she came to a boulder stack. She’d been warned the trail involved some ‘scrambling’ so she dutifully climbed up. Catastrophe struck at the top. Her footing gave way and she fell about 20ft, landing with a ‘sharp crack’ on her back. Her pelvis shattered. She couldn’t move. She looked on a map and realised she wasn’t even close to the trail: she must have taken a wrong turn. The chances of her being rescued were vanishingly slim. The book describes the four days and three nights she spent in the wild. Anger at her own stupidity was soon overtaken by abject terror: of death, obviously, but also of snakes and birds of prey. The accident forced her to reflect on her life and see the richness of it. Looking back, her biggest regret was all the time she’d spent ‘p***ing about on the internet’. After sunset, the desert dropped to below freezing, while during the day temperatures soared. One night, mice nuzzled up and carried away her last morsel of food: a bagel. Finally, a search helicopter spotted her waving the plastic bag she had tied to the end of her hiking stick. She was rescued. The fall prompted Nelson – pictured, left, in hospital – to treasure what she had: family, loving friends, a busy life. Nearly dying was traumatic but it taught her to live.