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Prof. Hike: The Instinctive 127 Hours

Why Aron Ralston's survival required more than a multi-tool
Could not thinking too hard help you survive like Ralston? (Chuck Zlotnick)

3) Daydream Away

Interspersed throughout the book and the movie are Ralston’s daydreams about water, food, past loves, previous adventures, and his family. With nothing else to do, remembering became his primary recreational activity. And unlike his “Oh my God, I’m gonna die!” thoughts, casual daydreaming actually helped him stay focused and alive. In fact, it took visions of his yet-to-be-conceived son—a blond three-year-old boy in a red polo short—to propel the delirious Ralston to finally break his arm bones and slice through the flesh. The purpose of dreaming is to organize our memories—to determine which ones to keep, which to discard, and which mean the most to us. In stressful situations, daydreams naturally occupy our brain with warm, positive, and encouraging images.

I’ve never tried to amputate my arm, but I’m a pro at daydreaming. Ten years ago I worked on a sheep farm in the Borders region of Scotland. My job was to care for 400 pregnant ewes and deliver their newborn lambs. But when the sheep we’re giving birth, I spent most of my 16-hour days standing around letting my mind wander. Like Ralston, I relived past memories, dissected old conversations, and vowed—given the chance—to fix the mistakes I’d made. By the time my two weeks on the farm finished up, I didn’t feel reborn like Ralston, but I did sort out a lot of personal history.

Is survival instinctive or learned? Or what lessons did you discover in 127 Hours? Post a comment, or send an email to

—Jason Stevenson

idiot's guide to backpacking and hikingJason Stevenson is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Backpacking and Hiking

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