Inspiration is often found in the most unlikely of places. When I picked up Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail at the insistence of a dear friend, I thought it would be an intriguing tale of high adventure, and nothing more. A gutsy story of how she survived her solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), making her way from the Mojave Desert in California, up to the Bridge of the Gods on the border between Oregon and Washington – a journey of over 1,100miles, by foot. But, I was wrong. I was inspired by her gut-wrenching story – equally moved to laughter, as I was to tears.
The world is a small place, and I am constantly reminded of this each time I meet a new person and find that we often have shared experiences. Cheryl Strayed, despite having never met her in my life, feels like someone with whom I share a common history. As she describes her early life in Minnesota, her trek along the PCT, and finding her eventual home in Portland, Oregon; I can’t help but mentally take off my bright green Saucony Mirage 3’s and don her rugged hiking boots. I have many memories of these places, having lived in both. I amalgamate these memories with hers into what feels like a shared experience. I find myself feeling cocky right along with her when she first starts out on her journey down the PCT – “What was hiking but walking, after all? I can walk! […]I walk all the time” (Strayed, p. 50) and, I run hundreds of miles a month; this journey along the trail would be easy! But then I feel myself fray right along with her, as she encounters both the physical elements of the PCT as well as the haunting memories from her past.
Although Cheryl and I also have a lot of experiences that we don’t have in common, like her use of heroin or growing up in a broken family, there are many things that we have shared. I myself have climbed Broken Top Mountain, with a gaggle of my best high school friends (Thanks Colleen Godfrey, Lindsay Hallvik, and Mallory Freed for the still cherished memories), and explored the vibrant cities of Minneapolis and Portland. I have skied the mountain slopes of Mt. Bachelor (thank you Heidi Peyton and my lovely husband Cole), run along mountain trails in Southern California (Dennis Barker, or more adoringly D-Dawg, thank you), gazed at the magnificent beauty of Mt. Hood from the windows of Timberline Lodge and felt totally lost in a world that feels too big to comprehend.
I used to think that as I grew older that life would slow down and I would be able to finally grasp this world that feels too big with my two bare hands. But, actually the opposite is true – each year goes by faster and the world has shrunk. Though creating relationships is not my strong suit due to my introverted harrier nature, I have learned to cherish the ones I have. In this world that continues to shrink, that is where I discover more – I continue to learn. When people meet me, I think I am often perceived as standoffish (Thanks DAD!) – but truly I am introspective. I am listening to what you have to say, because it is how I continue to learn. For example, whenever I am visiting my chiropractor Travis McCathie at Northwestern Health Sciences University, I ask him 101 questions because his mad scientist way of thinking is intriguing to me, and his teacher’s patience allows me to do so. I listen, absorb, and take my Saucony clad body out on a run to mull it over.
As my world continues to whiz by and shrink, each of my relationships new and well seasoned allow me to remember to keep learning and testing myself. It is easy to become complacent, settling for “good enough”, but that is not who I want to be. I want to continue to learn and be alive, strap a pair of Saucony Type A’s to my feet and step to the line to race without fear – testing the limits of my human spirit, forming relationships with people that will let me just sit and listen and ask the occasional question because that is where I find inspiration. Which charmingly, is also the beauty of running – it is a time where I can be introspective with the world around me, listen to what it and my body are telling me. Cheryl Strayed’s novel is one written without holding back and has filled me with inspiration anew. Keep pushing and learning because “It [is] my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me” (p. 311).
New Bucket List Item: Hike either the PCT or Appalachian Trail