It’s not that Cheryl Strayed hiked 1,100 miles, a trip chronicled in her book, Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s that she did it alone. She chose to be alone. No cell phone. No hiking partner. No thin string connecting her to rescue. What I admire is not the hike because I think many of us could do the hike. I admire that she wasn’t afraid to be afraid.
In a scene that will stick with me for a long time, she stops to take her boots off and rest her really messed up, blistered, damaged feet. One of her boots falls off the side of the mountain into a forest of trees below. Her decision to then throw the other boot off the side and make her way in duct-taped flip-flops pretty much tells her whole story. That’s her deal – to just keep going. My deal would be to look for a guy.
Decades of feminism that started with the unpleasantness of unshaven armpits and legs in the 70’s and now manifests in history lessons for younger colleagues haven’t gotten me to the point where I could be alone on the trail in the mountains with no boots and just keep going. I want to be that person. I want to not be afraid of being afraid. Instead, I’ve got my little internal crone of a reflex to look around for a male face every time the motor stops running, the tire goes flat, or I am emotionally out of gas and witless. It’s not clear to me how to change a reflex that sprouted when I was wearing anklets and saddle shoes and dresses with sashes that tied in a bow in the back. If the picture on the TV went fuzzy, it wasn’t my mother who climbed up on the roof to adjust the antenna. Is there a reprogramming camp where I could go for a week and emerge with Cheryl Strayed’s balls?
If I can’t be Cheryl Strayed, maybe I could be her mother. Well, not her mother, but beloved and revered like her mother. And forgiven. Her mother wasn’t perfect and their relationship wasn’t perfect. But it was unconditional. Strayed doesn’t seem to carry around a long cash register receipt of complaints and missteps, miscommunication and bungled opportunities. She chose to consider those things just context for the unconditional love she had for her mother and her mother for her. Their connection superseded all the wrongs that might have happened between them like progress on the hike superseded the loss of the boots. It’s another version of not being afraid to be afraid, if you think about it. It’s another form of magic for mothers and daughters to get to that place in their relationship. A reprogramming camp for that would have lines winding around the globe.
Ah, so much to think about, so little time. Maybe I should take a long hike.
Reposting this piece from June 21, 2012. After all, the movie, Wild, is about to be released.