When the author Cheryl Strayed’s mother was diagnosed of cancer that sneaked on a person with healthy habits, she thought it must be her town docs who didn’t know much. While the docs gave the mom a year, she died in 49 days.
Cheryl had imagined a family with her as the substitute mother which didn’t work. After that her whole family came unglued, she was untethered but for her marriage which she pulled out of to ‘gather(ed) up inside of me’ through a hike on the Pacific crest trail.
The mode of walking she chose needs a comment. Her journey is halfway between a pilgrimage like ‘The Santiago’ but there is no one to stamp to validate that you went through all the stops and a road trip like ‘Going back to Bisbee’ by Richard Shelton where the landscape plays a major part with its detailed history. Here the author turns herself into the place that she delves into. Its said that driving is by muscle memory once you learn it but walking being the most natural act, frees your mind to do the thinking. But in the wild, solo the mind also fuels its fears. In this tug of war, what helped the author was the books she carried with her.
On the hike she wonders about the hardness of PCT vs the recent events in her life and thinks that ‘Perhaps the impulse to purchase the PCT guidebook months before had been a primal grab for a cure, for the thread of my life that had been severed’.
The way she begins her hike with an oversized pack that she is unable to lift is hilarious.
She comes across as a person with ‘should have read the guide’ seems ill prepared for the PCT hike. But after one day on the trail she feels experienced. Her hiking pace doubles in a couple of weeks. Her way of confronting the wild animals is calling out their names.
This act of strength is something that everyone applauds while at the same time they wonder about the parents who would let their daughter go it alone in the wild like this. This subject being broached up frequently by the fellow hikers, she has to find the coordinates of her family ties.
She wanted to do the hike alone and turned down company during the hike. She wanted full responsibility of her survival on the trail. Yet, the vastness amazing her also left her lonely. At stop points she was always glad to have company and meet up with other PCT
The author chose ‘Bridge of the Gods’ as her destination. Bridge which is a symbol for transformation.
‘The bull, I acknowledged grimly, could be in either direction, since I hadn’t seen where he’d run once I closed my eyes. I could only choose between the bull that would take me back and the bull that would take me forward.
And so I walked on.’
We are now in the mountains
and they are in us ..
John Muir, My First summer in the Sierra