Books Two courageous men recount their physical and spiritual struggles on the road to self-discovery

July 09, 2000

It's Not about the Bike: My Journey Back to Life
By Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins
G.P. Putnam's Sons, $24.95

Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest
By Beck Weathers with Stephen G. Michaud
Villard Books, $24.95

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.

COLOR PHOTO: G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS COLOR PHOTO: VILLARD BOOKS

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