Hollywood loves a grueling survival story. When Aron Ralston got trapped under a boulder for 127 hours, Hollywood leaped at the chance to turn his ordeal into a creatively titled feature film starring the Green Goblin. But there is no shortage of extraordinary tales of human endurance out there just waiting to be made into Oscar-baiting movie scripts, such as ...
5 Douglas Mawson's Antarctic Hell
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"The 17th time's a charm! Come on, boys!"
On December 14, 1912, Mawson and his two colleagues, Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz, were returning to base after successfully not dying for a few days. It was apparently one day more than the Antarctic will allow: Tragedy quickly remedied that oversight when Ninnis fell into a crevasse, dragging their sledge, their supplies, and most of their dogs down with him. They were around 310 miles from home.
In order to get back to base, Mawson and Mertz were going to have to trudge through a lifeless ice desert without shelter and only a third of the food required to make the journey -- not to mention the omnipresent threat of shape-shifting aliens and Kurt Russell's disembodied mullet.
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Or Wilford Brimley's diabeetus.
After running out of food, they contemplated eating their dogs, which would force them to carry their own sledge. Hunger soon put an end to that philosophical quandary. Eventually, Mertz died from cold and exhaustion, leaving Mawson to soldier on alone. Still, the horror of the Antarctic wasteland can't defeat a man who grew up in Australia. Suffering conjunctivitis and frostbite so bad that his skin, his hair, and the soles of his feet began to fall off, Mawson trudged onward.
Then, unbelievably (or perhaps totally believably), Mawson's sledge got wedged in the snow and he also fell into a crevasse, where he was left "dangling helplessly above the abyss, with his sledge behind him edging towards the lip." After pulling himself up from a frozen grave and surviving 32 days in the harshest environment on the planet, Mawson finally reached his hut ... where he was told that he would have to wait 10 more months in Antarctica because the ship that was meant to take him back home had sailed off only a few hours earlier, believing him dead.
"We hung around as long as we could, but the Mad Men season premiere is tonight."
Still, before settling down to the most well-deserved nap in the history of mankind, Mawson thought to send his fiancee back home a telegram consisting of the most badass understatement ever uttered: "Deeply regret delay only just managed to reach hut."
Dang. We know you paid by the letter, but seriously: How expensive were telegrams back in the day?
4 The Marathon Runner Who Got Lost in the Sahara
The Marathon des Sables is considered by many to be the toughest foot race on the planet. It's a six-day, 156-mile marathon held in the Sahara Desert in southern Morocco, where only the most insane runners compete.
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Even Hidalgo thinks it's crazy.
Enter Mauro Prosperi, a Sicilian policeman and Olympic pentathlete who decided to wager his life on this race, because what else was he going to do in Italy? Eat amazing food and bone beautiful women in the sunshine? Please: Jogging up an infinite sand dune sounds like way more fun.
Four days into the race, Prosperi had worked his way up to seventh place when a sandstorm arose. The rules of the race state that whenever a storm hits, runners are supposed to stop and wait for assistance, but Prosperi decided to screw that noise right in its decibel hole. He'd been to the beach before; a little sand never hurt anybody. He wrapped a scarf around his head and kept on running. Through a sandstorm.
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"It's nature's exfoliator!"
When the storm died down six hours later, Prosperi found that trudging through the desert blind and disoriented had sent him so far off course that the flare gun he fired was seen by nobody but himself.
Completely alone in one of the world's largest and most inhospitable deserts, Prosperi had no choice but to keep on walking, even resorting to peeing in his water bottle to preserve fluid. Eventually he stumbled upon an abandoned shrine, but rather than get encouraged by this holy place, he made the reasonable decision to rip the heads off two bats, drink their blood, and slit his wrists. We have to assume that the shrine was to Dio and Prosperi had tried to go out in the most metal way imaginable to appease His Holy Diver-ness.
"Let us now proclaim the mysteries of faith." *Eruption*
Miraculously, Prosperi was so dehydrated that his blood had actually thickened to the point where his cut wrists were unable to bleed out. When he awoke with nothing but a couple of bitchin' scars and a headache, he felt a renewed confidence and decided to fight for life -- although it seems like death had pretty clearly rejected his advances, so what were his options, really? For the next five days, Prosperi continued to push through the Sahara, eating lizards and scorpions and drinking the dew off leaves until he stumbled upon a group of nomads, who informed him that he was now in Algeria, 130 miles from where he was supposed to be.
So how did he live with his newfound zest for life? Prosperi went ahead and applied for the same marathon two years later. He was turned down. So he applied again. This time, having already secured the blessing of Dio, which grants a +2 to Acts of Courageous Insanity, Prosperi made it through unscathed.
"This Urine-Soaked Headband of the Owl should stop me from getting lost again."