To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes
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“When a Georgetown physics professor saw his existence becoming mundane, he actually did something about it. This exciting, moving memoir documents his quest to climb the highest mountains and surf every ocean on earth” (Entertainment Weekly “Must List”).
In 1997, a Georgetown University physics professor set out to scale the highest peak of every continent and surf every ocean. Over the next 12 years, every escape from death brought him closer to life.
necessary height, I pause for a breath, then I lean back on the rope, pull my feet in, and let go. I swing free, into the darkness, penduluming to the right. I rise up and over the ledge and drop my feet down on the flat, firm surface. Done. I’ll get some rest tonight. I can relax now, reflect. The superstar of El Cap, Warren Harding, no doubt faced a moment like this. To succeed, he had to shrug off crises without concern. His team members had dropped out, his equipment was nearing failure,
FBI, the president of Indonesia, and senator after senator after senator. When the full impact of Patsy’s success finally settled into my thinking, I again did something I never thought I would do. I dug through my sock drawer. I was searching for the amulet the Lama had given me on my way up Mount Everest. I didn’t dig through the drawer out of a sense of nostalgia. I wasn’t trying to recall the challenges I had faced. Instead, I was digging to get some perspective. There, sitting in the
walked up to us, picking us out of the crowd. He said something like: “Sakey? Elito?” That was close enough to Francis Slakey and Gina Eppolito. “Yes,” we both responded. He waved his hand for us to follow him and we walked past the crowd and onto the plane. No ticket ever exchanged hands, just as the Fixer had promised. He pointed us to a couple of seats near the front and then turned and walked off the plane. On our return to the U.S., Gina and I exchanged wedding rings. She had worked
activity. A metaphor helps make the point. If you see a collection of ants, whether thick and dense or in a narrow line transporting bits of leaves back to the hill, you can be sure of one thing: they are all female. Every one of them. And if you see a collection that’s swarming around a hapless cat-erpillar, tearing at its puffy casing—the kind of ants that when enlarged under a microscope appear armored, as if plates of steel have been grafted onto their body in a foundry—then those are
twin girls: Zaida and Kinley. No doubt the day will come when I will cut brownies with Zaida, my mother’s namesake, or perhaps spin a prayer wheel with Kinley, the Lama’s namesake. As I bend over the water fountain I feel a tap on my shoulder. I pull out the earphones and turn around to see a friend. “Slake, what are you training for now?” My answer is immediate: “For whatever comes next.” ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Rob Weisbach showed me that I had a story to tell, Priscilla Painton helped me to