Friday, May 9, 2014


by Cheryl Strayed

I love to walk. I try to walk at least 45 minutes every morning. But this is just walking around. It's not going anywhere. It's walking to wake up, get some movement on and have some quiet thinking time. Making a hike is another thing altogether. 

There is no going home at day's end on a hike. There is only more walking. There is sleeping, washing and cooking outdoors. There is only the place you came from, the place you are in and the place you will be in next. Even if that place is just the next step. Taking a long hike can be catalyst of change. It's about growth, confronting pain and fears, learning self-sufficiency, and learning persistence. 

Many years ago, some friends and I hiked a few days on the AT in the Shenandoah National Park in VA. It was only a few days, but I've always wanted to do more. I'm pretty out of shape now, even with my daily walk (no pack and usually pretty flat terrain), but I'm only 55. I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there my age doing long hikes.

Instead of hiking, I'm dreaming about hiking. I'm arm-chair hiking. As in, reading about other people who have done big hikes. A friend, in fact, is just about to start the trek to Santiago de Compostela. I read a book about that trail, too. I'm so jealous! So, instead of actually starting a hike, I read this book, Wild, about a woman who walked part of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The author had messed up her life a bit. She needed to dry out; literally, from some heroin. She was outdoorsy, had nothing else pressing to do, so decided to jump on this hike as an attempt at, well, not salvation, but salvage. In fitting dramatic style, she hadn't done all her homework to get prepared, so there are some painful lessons, such as not actually packing her supplies in her backpack until the very last minute, then realizing it was way too heavy.

Cheryl embarked on this hike as a way of dealing with the grief of losing her mother. She spent a few years directionless and self-destructive because she didn't deal well with her mother's death. Initially, I wasn't very charitable concerning her grief for her Mom. I wanted her to grow up and move on. Most of us love our mothers and some we miss more than others, but really, heroin!? 

Then I began to listen and try to understand the depth of the dependence Cheryl had for her mother. I lost my mother when I was in my fifties, with my own children grown. She lost hers in her early twenties when she hadn't yet made the separation into adulthood. Age and level of independence has a lot to do with our readiness to deal with the death of a parent, so I became less critical as I continued to read Wild. She needed this hike and the hike worked it's magical therapy on her.

None of the mother issues have much to do with trail hiking for most of us, but I think everyone who sets out of a journey on a trail for months with only a backpack (and re-supply boxes) is in some ways trying to heal from something or trying to put their lives in order for the next challenge. It was an enjoyable book on the whole. I may read some more about through hiking, and someday I may get off my butt and do some.