read Wild earlier this year after skimming over an article about “Books You Should Read before They Become Movies.” It’s the memoir of a woman who goes through a small lifetime’s-worth of turmoil before she turns thirty and then sets off on a 1,100 mile journey of self-discovery along the Pacific Crest Trail. I was in a dire search for a good read but really had no idea what kind of impact this book would have on me. Upon turning the last page, a new fire of wanderlust had been ignited, and I began to plan my own trek.
So the question arises: what is it about books like this that make us want to strap on our boots and find ourselves? Is it the desire to not only survive the way our ancestors did but also gain considerable self-awareness after completing a similar journey? Is it an innate longing to get out of the day-to-day and do something we can talk about for the rest of our lives? Or, is it just the simple idea of being completely enveloped in the alluring wild without protection of the modern world?
For me, it’s all three, but it’s also a hunger to have something raw to say. In her book, Strayed writes:
“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”
It is difficult to come up with something, to use that word again, raw to say these days because we are working with about 200,000 years of words, ideas, expressions, and meanings. So much of what we do feels like a carbon copy; another layer of material on an already-occupied page. To go on such a journey would surely turn the page to a new, incomplete one waiting to be filled. Perhaps not a revelation that turns into an international best-seller and a movie, but maybe one that you can carry in your own words and in the stories you tell. These stories spark inspiration, and inspiration sparks action. For me, finding that means pushing myself to my limitless edge. My edge does not meet a limit; it meets the moment when I can take a deep breath and know that I found what I was looking for, something that is constantly changing.
Maybe that’s the beauty in setting off on a hike like Cheryl Strayed did – the ambiguity of it all. It is a completely different journey for each person that takes it: some spiritual, some purely physical, and some that would just like to “witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets.” Meaning is much more difficult to land on when you’re searching for it. Somehow the end of a hike is more resolved, more meaningful, more conclusive if you did not go into it trying to find something.
Lindsay Lewis is a 20 something living in Austin, Texas. She has backpacked through South America and traveled to several countries in Africa and Central America. Aside from traveling, Lindsay enjoys getting dirt under her nails, seeing some good live music, photography, and being outdoors.