Do you ever read a nonfiction they-beat-the-odds survival story (or watch the movie) and think, “yeah, I wouldn’t have survived.” Because I do. If I ever find myself on a raft in the middle of the ocean, everyone just forget about me because I’m not surviving.
This is why I find these stories so fascinating. And why my most recent read, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing quickly became a top favorite of mine. As a lover of WWII nonfiction, I’ve read a good deal of survival war stories, but I’ve never read one like Endurance.
What I found so amazing about this book isn’t that they just survived, but their tendency to find something good through the entire experience. Whether that was a peek at the sun, or the stability of the ice–the smallest things would give them the motivation to keep working.
Even after reading it I’m still astonished that all the men actually survived. Every step of progress they gained they were pushed and beaten for.
The British ship Endurance set sail in 1914 toward the South Atlantic. After getting trapped in ice flows, they spent a good year waiting for a chance to get free. But in October 2015 the ice crushed the ship and the crew was forced to make camp on the ice. They spent five month as castaways on unpredictable drifting ice packs.
Once they had a chance to get in their “lifeboats” they spent treacherous days at sea in too-small boats and somehow managed to stay together and make it to an island. But still no relief–the island was uninhabited and the only place they could get on land was where they were open to harsh winds that would tear their tents and other supplies.
From there six men traveled in one boat over 900 miles to reach an island that was used by whalers. Somehow they made it, but when they landed it was on the opposite side of the island where people were. The boat was no longer fit to survive even the trip around the island. So, Shackleton and two other men decided to cross the island. An island that many said was impossible to cross. An island only one team has ever crossed since, and they were experienced climbers.
But the three men did it. They rescued the other three men, then after a few failed attempts were able to save the other men left at the first island.
Is it unfair of me to say that people who could survive this amount of cold, wet, and uncertainty is very few and far between?
Which is why I think it’s so important to read these stories of people who against all odds, survived. But notice one thing many survival stories have in common: they don’t complain. They don’t cry, “why me.” They do their part even if survival is unsure.
These men on Shackleton’s journey were never dry and hardly had enough food to eat, but still did their part. Still rowed when their hands were covered in blisters, still fought nature when they had no strength.
We live in a special 21st century bubble, and I’m not saying amazing feats haven’t happened this century or even this decade, but It’s always a good reminder to remember the will of the people who came before us–not for us to feel less of a person, but to be inspired to be more.
The men on this journey faced freezing weather while never being comfortably dry, at times on the brink of no food supply, having to kill their dogs, having sores on their hands and feet and constant worry of frostbite…and yet their biggest devastation was when they ran out of tobacco.