Can I pay my respects to Cheryl Strayed's Wild? I won't be the first, after all -- the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) has associated itself with Strayed and her extraordinary non-fiction memoir.
I've read the book, seen Strayed speak at UC Santa Barbara, and last fall walked the same first 90 miles or so through the Mojave Desert and into the start of the Sierras on Section F of the PCT that she did at the start of her trip. She got off to a harrowing start. I'm section hiking the trail (not through hiking as she did) and it hasn't been as difficult for me as it was for her but I confess I'm a fan of Wild.
So maybe it's interesting to contrast my real-life experience on the trail with her dramatic telling. The irony is that though her story -- both of her life and of her time on the trail -- is more dramatic than most of ours, her story has an everywoman/everyman aspect, in that like most women she knew nothing about backpacking the PCT when she started, but she went ahead and did it anyhow, which most women (or men) would have the sense to not do.
But because Strayed didn't know what the hell she was doing, as she freely admits, she was kind of wonderfully dumb about it. To be blunt. This gives her story the drama of the sincere naif -- in some glorious/awful sense, the story of youth versus experience. At the start of what the PCTA calls Section F of the PCT, she writes:
I stood by the silent highway after [her ride] drove away. Small clouds of dust blew in swirling gusts beneath the glaring noon sky. I was at an elevation of nearly 3,800 feet, surrounded in all directions by beige, barren-looking mountains dotted with clusters of sagebrush, Joshua trees, and waist-high chaparral. I was standing at the western edge of the Moajve Desert and at the southern foot of the Sierra Nevada, the vast mountain range that stretched north for more than four hundred miles to Lassen Volcanic National Park, where it connected with the Cascade Range, which extended from northern California all theway through Oregon and Washington and beyond the Canadian border. Those two mountain ranges would be my world for the next three months; their crest, my home. On a fence post beyond the ditch I spied a palm-sized metal blaze that said PACIFIC CREST TRAIL.
I was here. I could begin at last.
It's wonderful, and it's a little portentuous. Here's a picture of that scene I took this fall, on an incongruously rainy fall day in the Mojave, but nonetheless this is what that trail looks like to start.