Because I know the universe works in funny ways, I was not at all surprised that on the day before I finished reading WILD, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about how she hiked 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, I found myself sitting at my mother’s yard sale in weather that gave me flashbacks to the time I camped with a bunch of ninth-graders for three nights on the Appalachian Trail when it was 34 degrees and rainy for most of the trip.
As my mom and I sat there, hoping strangers would purchase the dozens of blue and white plates she’d been collecting for 50 years, the wind blew from 20-30 miles per hour, and every 45 minutes or so, a squall would come up, pelting us enough to leave small puddles on the plates. Because it was Memorial Day weekend and in principle should have been at least 80 degrees and sunny, I had brought only a light fleece jacket and a windbreaker. I dug a hat out of my trunk and wished I’d brought a hooded parka like my mother. I stomped my feet and tried to distract myself from the cold by attempting to impress customers with unusual facts about the plates: “These two are from the 1876 World’s Fair in Paris; this is from Dresden, probably also the 1800s….” The wind was unrelenting, and our visitors sounded like a revolving door of “So much for global warming,” “I thought it was supposed to be summer,” and “I guess it’s still winter, huh?” Most wore shorts and sweatshirts. None stayed for very long.
As brutal as the conditions were, though, I couldn’t complain. Unlike Cheryl Strayed, who decided to undertake this outrageous journey to deal with the loss of her mother, my toenails weren’t falling off. Also, unlike Cheryl, whose backpack was so heavy that it caused patches of her skin to resemble “tree bark or plucked dead chicken flesh,” at the end of the day, I didn’t have to pitch a tent and change from a sweaty, stinky tee shirt into a dry, stinky tee shirt. I didn’t have to eat dried food and live in the wilderness mostly alone for three months. I didn’t have to dodge rattlesnakes and bears while trying not to twist my ankle. I didn’t have to fantasize endlessly about Snapple lemonade.
In short, unlike Cheryl, who was incredibly brave and who went on to write a beautiful, moving book about her experiences, I simply went home and took a long, hot shower. Then I curled up in bed and read about how it would feel to walk from California to Oregon. In the end, I wept tears of joy. Then, vicariously drained, I took a nap.