"Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?"
Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
Friday night I stayed up for hours reading this book. A book I had been meaning to read for months. It captivated me much like Into the Wild did this summer. There is something about these tales of ordinary people going off into the wilderness that so deeply intrigues, enthralls and excites me, and millions of others. I think it speaks to a primal part of our being, that has been so dampened down by modern society, but still exists somewhere inside. To live off the land, to be one with the earth, wind and sky. Oh the exquisite romantic grandeur of it all! As I was reading, my mind was spinning with ideas (fantasies?) of planning an excursion like this.
Strayed's writing in this book is so lovely, so descriptive and also so real. She's honest and public about her past which I think helps the reader empathize with her along the way. After her mother's untimely death, Cheryl's life unraveled and she became "the girl with the hole in her heart". In attempts to fill that hole, she 'strayed' away from herself, her marriage and her life in destructive ways. It was only when she stumbled upon a guide book about a thing called the Pacific Crest Trail that something inside her lit up and hinted at a way for her to find her way back to herself.
Although she read the guide book and made many trips to REI to purchase and consult with backpackers, she herself had no long distance hiking experience. But her mind was determined, and I think in the end that is largely what makes one successful in any life endeavor. Preparation, knowledge, and intelligence are certainly nice to have, but even they can only take you so far. Grit, determination, heart and the desire to not give up, is what will ultimately bring you to the finish line. True in running, true in life. In fact many times, there is no way to prepare for what lies ahead. Often there is no 'right' time to take a chance, to go all in.
For most of my life, I've lived a very stable existence. I was a huge nerd, always getting good grades in school, graduating with highest honors from college, and securing a boring/stable job upon exiting. The American Dream. Although it wasn't. At a time when most of my family and friends have now settled comfortably into married family life, I am craving just the opposite. I regret not having studied abroad in college (immensely) or pursued a more adventurous path in my 20's. Hindsight is always 20/20. I suppose if I had not lived through what I now see as the repressive, stifling corporate career era of my life, I would not have known that I craved something different. I certainly do not live a life of luxury by modern standards, however I look around my rented 1 BR apartment and there is so much 'stuff' I feel I no longer need. Recently, I find myself often fantasizing about selling off my personal belongings (sofa, bed, kitchen table, clothing - what are these things anyway but replaceable pieces of wood, wool and plastic?) and traveling until I find a new place, a new start.
I was catching up with a friend last week and she mentioned that it seems I've lost some of the momentum I gained last year. Last year was a freeing year for me in many ways. Many of the invisible chains I felt tied down by, were suddenly cut. I had grand plans, big dreams and ideas, and although I realized some smaller ones, I never made solid plans to live out some of those wild dreams. She also mentioned that it seems Baltimore is no longer serving me, a feeling that has been echoing inside of me for some time now. 10 years I've spent in this city. And I've done a lot of growing in that time. There are some places here that each time I pass, elicit an emotional sting, briefer now than in years past, but it's still there. And this is why I long for a new environment. Not just for the climate but for the chance to build brand new memories from scratch. Just as Strayed longed for, a place where there are no ghosts.
The idea of spending a month, maybe more on the PCT is WILD indeed. I am no stranger to being alone, most days I am alone, and I actually enjoy experiencing nature in solitude. I mean, hello, I often go hiking alone, with no supplies, get lost, and then somehow find my way out! The 'safety' of living a live unexplored is slowly becoming more scary to me than what would happen if I set out on my own somewhere. For many months, I had been focusing on recovering from my layoff last year. Finding my bearings, and being able to sustain myself economically again. But, in doing so, I've learned it is possible to live without many of the things I thought I needed.
In preparing for her 3 month long hike, Strayed sold off most of her possessions, as the hike would symbolize the beginning of a new life for her. In fact, most of her belongings were then new items she purchased for the hike, all of which she somehow managed to fit into a giant backpack she lovingly called 'Monster'. She says in the book:
"I was amazed that what I need to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it. That I could bear the unbearable."
I let that sink in for bit. Once you get rid of all the extraneous, material crap in your life, its true there may still be a large load to carry, but perhaps we are all given what we can bear??
I realize there are still many things I need to let go of in this place and time in my life, in order to move forward, but at some point, I've just got to GO. The momentum I had upon recovering from last year's storm cannot be taken for granted. I know there are more pages to my story and it is up to me to write them...
Have you read Wild?
Have you ever been on a solo excursion like this? Would you want to?