Reading Wild: Parts 1 & 2.
Note: I’ll post again once I finish Parts 3 & 4. This is not so much about the book, Wild, but about what it feels like to read it.
Backpacking. With as much as I love walking and hiking and camping, I’ve only gone backpacking twice in my life. The first time was when I was fourteen, and my much-older sister and her husband took my younger brother and I for a weekend trip where we hiked up to Little Yosemite Valley. I absolutely loved it. But didn’t go again until a year after I was married (mumblemumble years ago), and my husband took me to Grizzly Lake in the Trinity Alps. He’s backpacked there before, and wanted me to see it. I’ve always wanted to do another pack trip, but then we had kids and were always broke (equipment costs money) and time goes by and now I’m fifty-four and thinking about what it would be like to hit the trail. Any trail.
As soon as I started reading Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild, I was scared. Why? Because I understood all too well the desire to start walking and just keep going. I also knew that as much as I would want to, if I waited till I was finished reading it to write anything about it, I wouldn’t be able to. I’d be overwhelmed, just I have with several other books I’ve read in the past couple of years that I’ve wanted to write about, and haven’t.
I picked up a copy of Wild after one of Cheryl’s readings, at the Wilton Library here in Connecticut. I’d felt odd lining up to get my Rumpus “Write Like A Motherfucker” mug signed rather than one of her books. In case you’ve been under a rock, or off hiking the PCT and don’t know, Cheryl is also Dear Sugar, and has another book out now, Tiny Little Things, a compilation of sorts of her Dear Sugar columns. She read from both that night. Later, in bed, I started reading Wild.
First off, it felt a bit odd to be reading a book with the Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 sticker on it. I think I may have read a couple others (OBC picks) over the years, though not because of that. In fact my contrary nature probably has had me bypass books I’d otherwise have liked because of that. But, I settled down and read the Prologue and its closing sentence–”To keep walking”–made me keep going.
Part 1 chronicles what brought Cheryl to the Pacific Crest Trail. Basically the shattering of her life. While reading it, I couldn’t help but think of my own daughters lives, of my own life at that age. Then she hits the trail. I grew up in California, went to college where I studied geology, got married, birthed both my daughters. I know a lot of it’s terrain. Just looking at the included map of the trail, I knew that this book might take me places I’ve been before.
There’s a scene where Cheryl unloads her pack in the motel room before her trek begins, piling everything on the bed to consider and repack. What does one need to survive? I know that ever since that trip when I was fourteen, I’ve played a mental game with myself where I figure what I would take with me, what would be needed, if I just had to go. Not necessarily what I could just carry. It’s an interesting exercise.
As I got to the last chapter in Part 2, “The Only Girl in the Woods,” I realized what it is about this book that is already getting to me. It’s about finding the “true version” of oneself. Which is, for most of us, a lifelong journey. I’m getting closer now, but I’m fifty-four, and feel the urge to hurry up.
The other thing that I got was the whole “only girl” thing. Cheryl writes about “interacting with men in the even-keeled indifference that being one of the guys entails.” For her it was foreign: “Suppressing those powers gave me a gloomy twinge in the gut.” She felt she had to “sexually neutralize” the men she met on the trail by becoming “one of them.” I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the course of my life in activities that entailed being one of the few women. Getting a Geology degree in the late seventies required a 6-week summer field course where I was one of five women, only four of them students, the fifth was the cook. Practicing archery for years with mostly men. Helping to band geese with our State’s DEEP as a volunteer. I’ve gotten real good at being “one of the guys.” But for me it feels good, natural, and I tend to be more comfortable, more “myself” in a group of guys than I do in a group of women. Which is strange, considering. This is something I would have loved to sit down and talk with Cheryl about, though of course I haven’t finished the book, so this could just be my take on things as they stand at the point of the book I’m in.
Before she heads off on the next part, she drops off items that it was decided she didn’t need. Something was missing though.
Last lines of Part 3: “Later, as I walked the road back to the campground, I realized what it was: the fat roll of condoms. Every last one was gone.”