Wild by Cheryl Strayed is one of my all-time favourite books, so when a copy of Things I Learned from falling landed in my mailbox, I knew before I even began I was going to fly through it. A memoir by New Zealand-born writer Claire Nelson, Things I Learned from Falling is an account of what happened when her lone hike in the Californian desert took a terrifying turn for the worst.
As an expat living in Sydney – and, too, as someone who left London only to find out that life really does go on beyond the confinements of the city – I really related to the parts of the memoir in which Nelson talks about escaping from her busy life in London – a place that appears to have lost direction – in order to undertake a journey of self-discovery in the wilderness. I loved hearing about her trip to Joshua Tree – a place I’ve longed to visit ever since I lived in Los Angeles – and the newfound freedom she uncovered after trading in her job as a writer in London in order to housesit for friends in California.
Soon after arriving in Joshua Tree, Nelson loses her way on the trail to the Lost Palms Oasis and falls 25 feet, landing on the rocks and subsequently smashing her pelvis. Unable to move and with no signal on her phone to communicate with the outside world she waits, trying to survive as long as possible in the hope that someone will notice she has gone and somehow find her despite being miles from the trail. What follows is an uncomfortable and gripping read, in which Nelson does what she can to stay hydrated and shield her skin from the scorching desert sun – and I read in wonder about the determination she cultivated as a result of the life threatening accident which brought her journey to California into sharp focus.
A beautifully written account of loneliness, longing, adversity and resilience, Nelson mixes the jeopardy of being stranded in a desert with reflections on the unravelling of an outwardly successful and exciting life.
A beautifully written story of four days of survival against the odds Nelson’s book is storytelling at its finest – taught and fast-paced, yet also powerful and poignant. A must read for anyone who has ever felt in any way lost.
About Things I Learned from Falling
An inspirational and gripping first-person account of determination, adversity and survival against the odds.
Last year, Claire Nelson made international headlines. She was in her thirties and was beginning to burn out – her hectic London life of work and social activity and striving to do more and do better in the big city was frenetic and stressful. Although she was surrounded by people all of the time, she felt increasingly lonely.
When the anxiety she felt finally brought her to breaking point, Claire decided to take some time off and travelled to Joshua Tree Park in California to hike and clear her head. What happened next was something she could never have anticipated.
While hiking, Claire fell 30 feet, gravely injuring herself and she lay alone in the desert – mistakenly miles off any trail, without a cell phone signal, fighting for her life. She lay there for four days until she was miraculously rescued – the doctors saying she had only hours to live when she was eventually found.
In Things I Learned from Falling Claire tells her incredible story and what it taught her about loneliness, anxiety and transformation and how to survive it all.
About Claire Nelson
Claire Nelson is a New Zealander who’s spent more than a decade in London working in food and travel journalism. Her writing has appeared in titles including Westjet, Delicious, ELLE, Lodestars Anthology and Jamie Oliver. After recovering from her accident in California, she spent a year living in Vancouver, Canada, where she wrote this, her first book. Claire, her boots and her hiking stick are now back in London.
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