The first step to any goal is finding a little inspiration.
I spoke recently about letting a book change you. Here are two books that did just that and prompted my New Year’s resolution to go backpacking.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Here is the Amazon summary:
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
I read this book in August 2015 while in Alaska. Strayed was on a journey to find herself and – although I didn’t know it at the time – in just one month, I would be too.
Maybe it was dog sledding on a glacier, canoeing through icy waters, or playing I-Spy bald eagle edition, but something about the Alaskan tundra coupled with Strayed’s memoir spoke to me.
A drug-addicted divorcée turned accomplished author and adventurer, Strayed taught me one key lesson: We are not the sum of our past. Although in many ways ill-advised (she did just pack up and hike on a whim), I admire Strayed’s tenacity. Without experience or training, Strayed harnessed her fierce determination to conquer a goal: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT. I think there is much to be said for a person, especially a woman, who does not let prior experiences, level of education, fear of the unknown, or the support of another define her.
In addition to making a mental note to be more prepared than Strayed, reading Wild also introduced me to the potential dangers of trekking it alone. As a solo female on the PCT, Strayed found herself once in a haunting situation. After realizing that her safety was in danger due to the unwanted advances of a drunken fisherman, Strayed wrote this powerful passage:
I walked and I walked, my mind shifting into a primal gear that was void of anything but forward motion, and I walked until walking became unbearable, until I believed I couldn’t walk even one more step.
And then I ran.
It was this that convinced me to always hike with a buddy. Strayed’s frightening situation displays one important benefit of not going it alone (another key benefit being less weight to carry in your pack).
Ultimately, I would highly recommend this book. Whether looking for trekking tips for your upcoming hike or just hoping to go on an adventure from the safety of your own bed, Wild is a great read.
Side note, I disliked the movie. I felt that they over-emphasized the wrong moments of Strayed’s hike, so don’t base your perception of the book solely off the movie.
Feeling inspired by Strayed’s work, I spent six months mulling over the idea of going backpacking myself. Finally sure of my decision to do it, I started researching and trying on backpacks in February. Two months later, I had purchased a pack and a pair of hiking boots. My intention was clear: go on a three-day trip the summer before my MBA program would start…and take an expert with me.
Well, an expert can be hard to find, especially if you have prerequisites about not only their backpacking skills, but also their personality (I don’t want to backpack with someone I find annoying!). Referring back to the lesson I mentioned in my post on letting a book change you, I decided that the best way to bring an expert along on the trail would be through research.
Behind Wild, the second book I consulted was AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, and you can read my review of that here.
Both books taught me two key lessons: it is going to take money and it is going to take guts. Miller especially stressed the insane amount of gear a hiker goes through. Here is what the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has to say on the subject:
Most hikers spend an average of about $1,000 a month during the hike itself. Disciplined, frugal hikers willing to forego motels, restaurants, and other amenities can get away with less; those who like to stay in motels and eat at restaurants when they have the opportunity can easily spend much more. A new set of backpacking gear runs $1,200 to $2,000 or more. Lightweight gear is usually more expensive, but many hikers ending up purchasing smaller packs and lighter gear along the Trail, replacing their initial purchases of heavier gear. Doing extensive research ahead of time can pay off.
Through Strayed, I learned most about the effects of hiking on your body. With hurt knees and ankles, loss of weight, blisters and bruises, and missing toe nails, it is not for the faint of heart. Despite this, I still want to hike. My plan is to start with a short weekender and work up to longer thru-hikes, like the PCT or AT.
From learning about what gear to take, how much to prep, and how fulfilling the experience is, both of these books have truly put me in the backpacking spirit. A hike would be a great test of physical strength and determination, one that I believe would boost body confidence immensely. It would also allow me to connect to nature on a deeper level (I currently do not depend on natural streams for my water supply) and it would increase the space between myself and the online world. I know it would be tough, but I am hoping to find, like Strayed and Miller, that the most gratifying experiences are often the most demanding.
Who knew a reading a book could inspire so much?
What changes or actions has a book inspired you to make? Let us know below.