Since I was on the Maine Calling Book Club Maine Public Network radio show last week two lingering points have stuck with me.
If you missed the live-call in hour, here’s the link to listen to the 1 hour audio of the show. We discussed Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. “Wild” is now a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon.
I tried to convey two points on the show:
(1) The premise of the book may be over-reaching. On an actual long distance hike where one spends months in the wilderness traversing challenging terrain, in difficult conditions, and often nursing some physical pain, there is often no psychic energy left for one to process the stress, wounds, and psychic scars that we accumulate before we set foot on that trail. In the book ,”Wild”, Strayed devotes just as many pages to relationship/lifestyle issues (mother/daughter, sibling coherence, domestic violence, heroin use, sexual habits, death) as she does conveying the actual walking.
It’s tough to average out 20 miles a day, week after week, month after month. The experience of moving across America on your own two feet on a National Scenic Trail is often so compelling that we find ourselves in a parallel universe where our old shells are dropped like useless antlers, or dwarfed to the size of a speck, as we allow ourselves to experience force of the real Wild world. Like this- “Problems? What problems, I can’t even remember what they were?”
Bill Irwin thru-hiked the AT in 1990, and wrote, “Blind Courage”, one of the best hiking books ever. I just started tearing up just looking at the pictures in my signed copy (with Orient’s foot print) Bill was the first blind person to thru-hike the AT, where he fell thousands of times, despite the aid of Orient, his seeing-eye companion dog. If anyone needed it, Bill is the prime candidate to receive a redemption, but he is surprisingly realistic in his post hike appraisals.
From Bill in the Appalachian Trail Reader: “But it is unrealistic to expect the wilderness to resolve a lot of issues for you, issues you’ve never resolved anywhere else. The answer is not on the Trail. It’s in you.”
(2) Post-hike depression is an under-reported issue about long distance hiking. Irwin was the first writer/hiker I came upon who warned others that it may be dangerous to thru-hike. He does not necessarily recommend the practice to others. He writes that, ” I have even heard of people who have committed suicide because they couldn’t make that return.”
Here’s an an essential post from The New Nomads that details the kind of unexpected troubles that thru-hiking can bring you - ..My Notes on Post Trail Depression. I might have reblogged this entry back in March, but it deserves another look, especially the Reader Comments section.
So did Wild (the book) ring true to you, the walker in the woods?