Their Stories are familiar enough from other books and from television accounts; their "journeys" are not. It's no accident that both of these adventurers—Beck Weathers, the mountain climber, and Lance Armstrong, the cyclist—use the word journey in the subtitles of their memoirs. Coincidentally, though they took different routes back from devastating physical afflictions (Weathers from hypothermic coma, Armstrong from cancer), they ended up in the same place, snug in the arms of their loved ones.
Weathers's trip to hearth and home is much the more psychologically complex. In Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer's best-selling account of the 1996 Mount Everest expeditions that left eight climbers dead, Weathers, a Dallas pathologist, is portrayed as garrulous and opinionated. That he is. But before Everest, he was also obsessive, insecure, socially remote, given to bouts of depression, and such an absentee husband and father that his marriage had all but disintegrated. Only in risking his life climbing mountains, it seems, could he find relief from his emotional maladies. But this dangerous hobby alienated him further from his family.
Everest was the ultimate test, and it nearly killed him. In fact, as the title declares, Weathers was left for dead, apparently frozen stiff. His revival and rescue are the stuff of mountaineering legend. Weathers was so frostbitten that both his hands had to be amputated. He also lost his nose.
He may not have had all his parts, but, he tells us, he came back a more complete human being, one who was finally capable of giving and accepting love. "While the story of what occurred during those few days on Everest clearly is of interest," he writes, "the story of what happened when I got back home and had to rebuild my life—redefine who I was—became the story for me."
Weathers writes with humor of his ordeal, but so many passages by his wife, children and friends dam the narrative flow. And while Weathers's climbing sprees before Everest are interesting enough, he might have spared us a couple of sleepless nights on the frozen slopes.
Armstrong's story is even more familiar—the cycling champ who was stricken with cancer at the top of his game and recovered to win the most grueling of all races, the Tour de France. As the title promises, his book is about the cyclist more than the cycling, and Armstrong painstakingly, perhaps too painstakingly, takes us through the arduous treatment that led to his remarkable recovery. Returning to the bike trails after all this, he says, was not nearly as important as finding happiness with his wife and child.
It took poor Weathers a lot longer to get to that place.