Excerpt from Chapter 1: The Fall – August 4, 2003

“So this is how it ends.” The thought resounds through my shaken body. I have not blacked out: I remember the seconds of the free-fall with brutal clarity. I took a single step, just one more step in hundreds of thousands of steady paces along the trail. Suddenly, without warning, I was falling. I saw the harsh slab of rock rushing up towards me from 60 feet below. There was no bouncing, no sliding, no scrambling. No trees reached out their branches to offer me a handhold. No cushioning undergrowth slowed my plunge. There was no way to stop my descent, nothing to grab onto, no time to shift position, no action that could alter my fate as I plummeted through the air.

This was it. I was going to die. No gentle, easy passing into some brighter place. No life flashing gloriously before my eyes. No ecstatic freedom in my uncontrolled flight. Just this abrupt, thoughtless termination of life. I felt bitter disappointment at all that was lost to me. My mind screamed out in frustration against my own impotence, and my world went gray around me. I did not even have time to pray.

I hit the rock.

I’m alive. I had not expected it to be so.

Reeling with the shock of the impact, I struggle to sit up. I begin to assess the damage. There is blood on the rock around me. My blood. I feel my face. A front tooth has snapped off. My nose is smashed. One wrist resists bending, and several fingers stick out at odd angles. None of them appear to be broken. I look piece by piece at the rest of my body, patting it gently with my hands as though to assure myself that I am all still here. There is a 10-inch long oozing scrape on my right thigh. Multiple bruises and cuts cover the rest of my body. My left hip brings excruciating pain when I attempt to shift it. My own bone protrudes through the skin below my right knee, with muscle and sinew exposed to the air and flesh shredded around it. Both legs are useless: limp as last night’s ramen. I cannot move either one so much as an inch.

I appraise my situation. I am seriously injured. I cannot walk, crawl, or even stand up. I am in the most remote area of Kings Canyon National Park, deep in the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada. I am at least 25 grueling miles from the nearest trailhead. I have not seen a soul for two days. Only a handful of people hike in this valley each season, the rangers told me. I had lost the overgrown path shortly before I fell, so I am off trail. Even if hikers do pass by, they will not see me. My friends and family do not expect me back for five or six more days, so they will not yet post a search. I am utterly alone in an untraveled portion of the backcountry. My chances for survival are grim. But I am still alive.

-Excerpt from Angels in the Wilderness by Amy Racina