Reading Wild: Parts 3 & 4.
“Alone wasn’t a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in that world, occupying it in a way I never had before.”
Reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is proving to be a trip. Maybe it’s because, even though I’ve never hiked any of the Pacific Crest Trail, the country and landscape is familiar to me from my years in California and Oregon. Maybe because I’m feeling unsettled, restless, and lonely. Maybe because at times the author travels to a location that throws me splat! back into some memory.
In the front of the book, a map of the western states shows the dashed line of the Pacific Crest Trail, with Cheryl’s hike inked-in solid. A dotted line shows where she bypassed the trail due to record snow pack. A few towns are marked on the map, dots that at first I did not know if they were just for reference or if they would figure in this journey. They do, and I was transported back to them.
When Cheryl and some other hikers decide to bypass the trail from Trail Pass to Sierra City due to the snow, they descend to a campground and hitchhike into Lone Pine. Thirty-three years ago, Lone Pine was the town where we geology summer field students went to take showers, do laundry, buy a lunch counter meal, and get drunk at the Last Chance Saloon. Alas, the saloon is no longer, or at least not under that name, though the town looks pretty much the same as it did then (judging from Google Images).
That summer was a pivotal one for me. Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time. At least Cheryl seems to be aware that her PCT journey is one of great import to her life. And she writes about it with such scalpel-like honesty that I find myself feeling ashamed at how cautious I am in my own writing. So far.
She writes: “I did not so much look like a woman who had spent the past tree weeks backpacking in the wilderness as I did like a woman who had been the victim of a violent and bizarre crime.” Her descriptions of what her backpack, nicknamed “Monster,” does to her body, is at times cringe-worthy. Her “blisters and rashes, inflamed welts and dark scabs where my skin had been broken open” makes it clear that she is hiking the PCT as a punishment of sorts.
When I got to the part that she’d read aloud at the Wilton Public Library, the passage about “Jimmy Carter,” the reporter for the Hobo Times, took me back to that place. A room filled with seemingly comfortable folks. I was alone, having not bothered to ask any friends if they wanted to join me. Sometimes we need to do things by ourselves. I think that’s the main thing I’m getting from this book. Me, who’s never lived “alone” and who’s terrified of loneliness, is longing to do something all by myself.
Is Cheryl’s trek an escape? In a way, yes. At least it seems that way to me. An attempt. In a way I’m envious. I sure wouldn’t have done anything like that at the age she was. No, I was playing it safe. But as I read Wild, I’m along for the hike. It will be interesting to see where this takes us. [note: I didn't have internet this past weekend - I was camping - so I couldn't post this. I finished the book and will write that up today sometime.]
Here’s Reading Wild: Parts 1 & 2