Debra Goes Mild with Cheryl Strayed

"Wild"

“Wild”

In the past couple of weeks, I have read the memoir “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed and seen the movie version of it starring Reese Witherspoon.  My reaction to both the book and the movie was a constant oscillation between “Strayed is amazing!” and “Strayed is batshit crazy!”

Strayed’s memoir is about a period in her early twenties after her mother died suddenly of cancer at the age of 45.  Reeling with grief, Strayed’s life started to unravel with her self-destructive behavior.  She became promiscuous, used heroin, and divorced her kind and loving husband while on her downward spiral.

Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed

One day, Ms. Strayed, who had never done an overnight hiking trip in her life, decided it would be a good idea to hike 1000 or so miles of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself.  “Wild” is her account of both her downward spiral and the hiking trip that helped her recover from her grief.

“Wild” is not a hiking guide or a self-help book.  It is a memoir, a work of literature.  Strayed writes beautifully and honestly about the beauty of the landscape she traversed, but also, frequently about the physical pain she endured.  Her backpack, which she affectionately called “Monster,” was way, way too heavy for her.  Not only was it difficult to walk with such a burden on her back, but it left her seriously bruised and blistered.  Even worse were her feet.  I don’t know if this is common for long-distance hikers, but her feet were in constant agony and she lost six toenails by the end of the trip.

Nonetheless, her book was inspiring to me.  I have done a little bit of hiking I my life, but not a great deal.  And I certainly do not enjoy pain.  But what she wrote about the healing effects of strenuous outdoor activity makes sense to me:

“I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back.  And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it.  That I could bear the unbearable.  These realizations about my physical, material life couldn’t help but spill over into the emotional and spiritual realm.  That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding.  It had begun to occur to me that perhaps it was okay that I hadn’t spent my days on the trail pondering the sorrows of my life, that perhaps by being forced to focus on my physical suffering some of my emotional suffering would fade away.  By the end of that second week, I realized that since I’d begun my hike, I hadn’t shed a single tear.” (92)

Strayed suggests that there is something about strenuous effort or—to be more blunt—physical pain in the wilderness that can make a person stronger, not just physically, but also emotionally.  Whereas heroin and sex were attempts to get outside of herself, Strayed realized on her hike that she need to stay inside herself in order to heal.

“But walking along a path I carved myself. . . was the opposite of using heroin. . . Uncertain as I was as I pushed forward, I felt right in my pushing, as if the effort itself meant something.  That perhaps being amidst the undesecrated beauty of the wilderness meant I too could be undesecrated, regardless of what I’d lost or what had been taken from me, regardless of the regrettable things I’d done to others or myself or the regrettable things that had been done to me.  Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.”

So I am now inspired by Strayed to experience more of the strenuous outdoor life.  Yet, I still think hiking 1100 miles by oneself is crazy.  I’m not interested in doing anything like that.  However, I would like to get out into nature more often than I normally do.  So here is my compromise, my very Mild response to Strayed’s “Wild” adventure.

Strayed hiked a total of approximately 1100 miles.  My goal is to do 1100 miles this summer, by combining biking and hiking.  I pledge to hike a total of 100 miles and bike a total of 1000 miles this year.  I am no Cheryl Strayed, so these miles will be cumulative, not all at once.

I live in Minnesota, so I can’t really get outside until probably late April, when the snow melts and the temperatures are regularly above freezing.  Because of the generally crappy climate I live in, I henceforth declare the spinning classes can count toward my mileage.

I will update my blog periodically about my progress, so stay tuned!

 

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13 thoughts on “Debra Goes Mild with Cheryl Strayed

  1. Pingback: 1100 Mile Challenge Report | BOOKING IT

  2. Pingback: My 1100 Mile Cheryl Strayed-Inspired Pledge | BOOKING IT

  3. This is such a great book, I agree! My constant though while reading it was “I would not survive that. I would literally die.”, yet I have vowed to walk the Camino de Santiago (over here in Europe, way less rough but still a long hike) next summer. Let’s hope I don’t actually die.

    B x

  4. Pingback: Theo Decker Needs Cheryl Strayed | BOOKING IT

  5. I think it is great to get out in nature and I find nature to be very healing. I too read the book Wild. I thought Strayed showed a pattern of high risk behavior in her life. The Heroine use which could have resulted in a serious addiction or disease for example. I found myself almost yelling at the book I thought her that foolish. I am all for women accomplishing things but we are not superwomen. She almost killed herself several times through her ignorance and carelessness. I came out of reading her book thinking she was very lucky she was not killed. I think it is great to hike and be outdoorsy but it is very prudent and sensible to hike with a partner and make sure you know what you are doing. The experiences I have had in nature have taught me that we must respect the power of nature.

    • Deborah; Speaking as someone who is too afraid to go on a short day hike by myself in a state park, i completely agree with you! Strayed was not only brave (and batshit crazy), she was also very lucky that nothing terrible happened to her on her hike.

  6. I think it has to do with endorphins, blood pumping, oxygen intake, flow and absorption , muscles pushing, And if you’re outside with the trees and blue sky and stuff it can be spiritual. (Yup – I need to do a bit more.)

  7. Yes, what is it about strenuous activity that can heal in a number of ways?! I always know when i need to exercise, to release energy, emotion,or even to facilitate thinking. I wish all people could experience this.

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