I believe it would be fair to preface this post by saying: I’ve never officially been camping. While I did attend summer camp during the warmer months of my adolescence, this version was more cabin than tent, more dining hall than hunt-and-gather. Up until this past summer during a trip to Boulder, Colorado, I had never even really been on a serious hike. By “serious” I mean trekking up a mountainside in higher altitude than I’d ever experienced in footwear that I later learned was not up to the challenge of what "trekking" truly entails. Trekking, it turns out, is an uphill battle in both directions.

In addition to these new excursions of mine, I also recently read through Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail. The premise under which I began this life-changing book (I believe both hers and mine) was something along the lines of indifference, or at least a hope for indifference, towards what I believed Nature to be, to ask of all of us and to require of me. I assumed (and you know what’s been said about that) that my desire to go back out into the wilderness would be thoroughly squelched through Strayed’s account and her slew of trials along the trail, including what prompted her to venture out in the first place: the sudden death of her mother, the crumbling of her marriage and the idea of intentional alone-ness. There is also the disheartening fact that the story begins with her describing what it’s been like to lose her toenails and one of her boots as she helplessly watches it tumble over the side of a cliff.

“The universe, I'd learned, was never, ever kidding. It would take whatever it wanted and it would never give it back.”

In my own timeline with Nature, following sometime after carefree childhood adventures that often lasted from dawn to dusk, I found myself in a backwards retreat, often generalizing large systems of the literal outside world to be both messy and unnerving, a thing that only interrupted and inconvenienced the rest of me. Nature as a whole was forgotten, deeply unappreciated, ignored and starved for my previous rapture, my attention. If I stopped long enough to remember my fascination, it was often overcome by fear, a fear that I know now was deeply rooted in being wholly insignificant, entirely swallowed by a system whose intricate form and function could do without the addition of me, of my useless defiance, of my nothingness. 

Despite my departure and my stubbornness, I found Strayed’s account of the Wild and her experience in it to be deeply moving and the conclusions she drew, despite the levels on which we could not connect, to be startlingly appropriate to many areas of my own life. While I anticipated a strong sense of discouragement to arise or an idea that Nature was strictly dominant and unforgiving, I instead found solace in Strayed’s healing process, in her solitude, in the unexpected goodness she encountered, in her wandering, in her times of desperation, in her examination of self and what her place truly was in this world. If there was ever a more accurate place to ask that question than in the depths of the wilderness, I have never known it.

The question was not so much will I continue on but rather in which direction will I go? 

One of my favorite of Strayed’s revelations is one I experienced myself during one of my (much shorter, though I can't say less life-altering) excursions in the Rockies. I distinctly remember catching my breath, or what was left of it, and lowering myself onto one of the many jagged boulders surrounding the uphill path to rest, to collect myself, to decide what happened next. My body felt like a foreign place, like it had tricked me into believing in capabilities I didn’t have, in skills I had yet to master. I felt crushed, broken down, bewildered and despite the accurate trail markings, utterly and entirely lost. On this hike over (and under and over again) the mountains, I faced a decision that I later described as a battle of body and soul. The question was not so much will I continue on but rather in which direction will I go? It was a turning point, both literally and figuratively, to realize that either you will go up or you will go down, but either way the choice remains to go. As I read Strayed’s words shared below, I was reminded and humbled that we shared a similar experience within Nature, to carefully choose our direction, to forge ahead, to carry on:

“The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the thing that was so profound to me that summer—and yet also, like most things, so very simple—was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay. As I clung to the chaparral that day, attempting to patch up my bleeding finger, terrified by every sound that the bull was coming back, I considered my options. There were only two and they were essentially the same. I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go.”

To follow Cheryl’s ongoing journey, go here. Wild is available in all major bookstores, through her website and on Amazon.com.


Helen Williams is the Community Love Director at Holstee. She is passionate about cooking and writing which pair well together on her vegetarian food blog, green girl eats. She's strives, every day, to be less sorry

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