This is a guest post by writer Ella Mei Yon.
I first read about Cheryl Strayed’s exceptional decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) alone in the Poets & Writers March/April 2012 issue and came away utterly inspired.
Cheryl, at 26 years old, did something I so imagined doing myself –– she created a space where she was seemingly alone in the world and on a singular mission. It was her pilgrimage.
I started her memoir, Wild, a few weeks later initially eager to find out how she came up with the idea, how she executed it and what that journey was actually like, which Strayed tells well.
As exceptional as this journey was (let’s face it, the story is a marketer’s dream), Strayed’s journey went as you might expect for a young, female, non-trained hiker. She packed too much, bought the wrong size boots, struggled to hike the distance she wanted to each day, and encountered men she was wary of and other hikers that were at times her saviors.
If I asked you what you thought a trip like this would be like for a person like Strayed, you would probably say all these things or things very much like these. Though this was constant and at times monotonous, it also reflected the routine nature of her months long hike. Hike, camp, hike, rest, repeat.
As a reader, deviations from this repetition were welcome. I looked forward to the moments when Strayed reflected on her life –– her then recent divorce and abortion, her drug use, her promiscuous affairs, her mother’s death. Through the reflection, I learned more about her and what drove her to the PCT.
The connections she made about her life happened swiftly on the page and in, at times, staggeringly beautiful sentences like this one about her mother, “I put her burnt bones into my mouth and swallowed them whole.” Though I felt she made peace too easily for the trauma she endured.
At the same time, I wondered if the meaning of her journey was in just how routine a pilgrimage could become and how it could still, it its eventual average-ness, change your life as it so clearly did for Strayed.
And maybe that’s how it is when you are alone and in awe of your surroundings ––there’s nothing to distract you from understanding your life and the meaning of what has happened to you.