About seven weeks ago, my boyfriend and I returned from a 6-day trek into the wilderness of West Texas.
The town we stayed in had a population of 349 people (coming from Houston, a town of more than 2 million people, this was pretty wild all on its own)!
Our goal was to hike the tallest mountain peak in Texas (you can read this post to find out how well that went!)
Our other goal was to reconnect to our wild insides – the parts of us that still remembered how to live simply, how to breathe in and breathe out, how to allow our jaws to drop open in wonder at the vast natural beauty around us, how to sip coffee in the morning without simultaneously building the day’s to-do lists in our heads.
One night we decided to browse through the DVDs at the sweet rental casa where we were staying. We came across a film called “Wild” and popped it into the DVD player.
As it turned out, the main character in the film, Cheryl Strayed, had recently experienced some tragedy and decided to “hike it off” – literally. For her first-ever hiking adventure, Cheryl chose to tackle the PCT, or Pacific Coast Trail.
The PCT took Cheryl from California to Oregon and then across the “Bridge of the Gods” into Washington State. A young 20-something, she had just lost her mother very suddenly to cancer and then lost her husband with nearly equal suddenness to divorce. She had never hiked or camped before.
Her pack, which her PCT trail-mates quickly nicknamed “Monster,” was so heavy she couldn’t even move it at first, much less strap it to her back and stand up.
I am reliably fascinated by these kinds of stories. For instance, in the movie The Way, a bereaved father decides to hike through a Pyrenees trail called “The Way of St. James” as a tribute to his recently deceased son.
Of course, in Wild, Cheryl hikes the PCT, and cites similar circumstances as her inspiration to do so.
On a lighter note, The Big Year chronicles three avid birdwatchers, each with his own deeply personal reason for pursuing a “big year” trek of counting rare bird species around the world.
I have never hiked the Pyrenees or the PCT, and the only bird I can reliably identify (and count) is the one living with me in my casa.
But there have been many times when I have woken up one day, only to realize I had reached my limit of how many days I could go on living the way I had been living and feeling the way I had been feeling.
When these days come, there is no arguing with them. And until they come, there is no rushing them.
When they come, they feel like a flash flood, or an avalanche, or a tornado ripping through me, removing certain things I don’t have the strength to release on my own, rearranging my time and my priorities, streamlining my relationships, and always ultimately leaving me in better shape than when they found me.
Not everyone can up and quit their job and book a one-way ticket to India like I did in 1997. Not everyone can spend a decade working odd jobs and couch-hopping between relatives and exes and friends, all the while feeling like the real self they are trying to find is still just one step ahead of them.
Not everyone will be okay with changing careers again and again and again, hoping to one day find that one single perfect fit.
But I do believe that all of us, each in our own way, take these journeys.
Whether we hike in boots or heels, whether the summits we tackle are made of rock and dirt or concrete and metal, and whether what drives us is tucked away inside or plain for all to see, this just feels like a huge part of what it means to be “us,” to be alive.
In this way, as she has been for so many, Cheryl Strayed has become a mentor to me, reminding me that I am always just a little bit stronger and braver and wiser than I think I am, and when I really need to know that I can do it (whatever “it” is), I will.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever taken (or wanted to take) a long journey of some kind to find deeper meaning or purpose in life? Do you have any heroes or mentors who have done this that you look up to? What do you admire most? What have these mentors taught you about dealing with challenges and being alive?