Taking on the World Tour With My Co-Author, Alex Honnold
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University’s 20th annual hosting of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World
Tour. Alex Honnold and I were invited as the keynote speakers. I’d hoped the
shindig would partly make up for missing Banff itself last November, when Alone
on the Wall, which we co-wrote, got its official launch. (The Banff organizers affectionately refer
to the North Carolina event as “Boonff.”)
As recently as two weeks before the trip, though, I’d doubted whether I’d be up to
it. I hadn’t flown in an airplane since June; I’d spent only one night away
from home or the hospital in the last eight months; and I was nervous about inflicting
my coughing fits, dried-out voice, and creaky hearing on an audience of any
kind. But my Dana-Farber doctors heartily encouraged the excursion, so I signed
The trip and festival turned out to be the best and most fun thing I’ve done since
I started cancer treatment. Thanks to the radiation, I had to take three
different medicines to avoid rupturing an eardrum on the flights, and I got
pretty exhausted in Boone by each evening, but I revelled in the kind of nonstop
schmoozing I’d loved in Banff itself each November. My friends Matt Hale and
Sarah Keyes came along as my babysitters, armed with a checklist of precautions
from Sharon (my wife). Our hosts could not have been more congenial, and the festival
throngs were jazzed.
Alex and I led an informal talk about climbing and adventure that got pretty lively,
especially after he dissed some of my pronouncements as the curmudgeonly
ravings of an old fogey. The next day I held forth about making a living
writing about adventure. (No longer possible, I argued, in this age of online
blogs—I should talk—and short attention spans.) And Alex and I introduced the
film screenings at gatherings on three successive evenings.
On top of this, we got to climb outdoors at a delightful local crag infelicitously
named The Dump, as well as on the campus indoor climbing wall. Back in our
hotel, Alex hung out with Sarah, Matt, and me, as we traded tall tales about
climbing and the good life. The last time I’d shared such sessions with Alex
was June 2014, when I cornered him in Lander, Wyoming, during the week I needed
to get his story on tape.
I hadn’t done so much talking (let alone public speaking) since Banff a year and
a half ago, and though my mouth got as parched as that of a man crawling across
the desert, I was able to confine my coughing paroxysms to relatively discreet
interludes. During two signings, Alex and I sold more than 250 copies of Alone
on the Wall—my all-time record for one event. I used a Sharpie to inscribe one
fan’s rock shoes, another’s chalk bag, and quite a few T-shirts—routine duties
for Alex, but a novelty for me.
Astonishingly, at the Friday and Saturday evening film shows, I was hailed with standing ovations from the 1,800 patrons who filled the Schaeffer Center. For what? I
wondered, as I grinned manically and held back my tears. For being the
curmudgeonly bard who sang the good old days? For committing young Honnold to
print? Simply for surviving—so far?
It's the official beginning of spring. The days are finally as long as they are
short. I get my feeding tube out on Wednesday. And Utah is only a month away.
What more could a doddering invalid ask?
David Roberts is a Harvard graduate and is the award winning author of 25 books on adventure, mountaineering and exploration. David is a regular guest speaker at the
Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival and was a member of the 2014 book
competition jury. In 2015 he was diagnosed with cancer and is currently
undergoing treatment in Boston, MA.