Cheryl Strayed on going Wild


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First aired on Q (13/9/12)


This has been a banner year for Cheryl Strayed. She's now an accomplished writer, popular advice columnist and the 44-year-old mother of two wonderful children. But her life looked a whole lot different in 1995. At 26, she was unemployed, recently divorced and grieving over the death of her mother. She was at rock bottom and decided that the best way to climb back to the top would be to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a 1,100-mile path that connects Mexico to Canada through California. This experience became the basis for Strayed's memoir, Wild, the book that made Strayed an Oprah-approved author and a household name.

When Strayed first thought about hiking the PCT, she was working as a waitress in Minneapolis and trying to figure out her next step. "I knew that I was suffering. I knew that I was making bad choices for myself and I knew that I needed to find a way out of it." She had been outdoorsy growing up -- her family home had been a wilderness cabin with no electricity or running water -- but didn't consider herself an outdoors woman. That all changed when she went to an adventure shop to buy a shovel. Standing in line, she noticed a guide book about the PCT and on a whim, picked it up. "When I started reading that book, something inside of me opened," she told Q host Jian Ghomeshi. "Sometimes we move in a direction and we feel things opening. We don't know where we are going, but we feel that it may be the right direction. I had that feeling."

Strayed began prepping for her hike, arranging care packages and buying equipment. However, nothing could really prepare her for what she experienced, emotionally and physically, during her 100-day hike. "I really pictured myself in this cinematic, picturesque, Hollywood way, sitting on these mountainsides, looking at sunsets, weeping," she said. Some of that happened. But the journey was much more arduous and physically taxing than Strayed had expected. "It was, 'How am I going to lift this pack that is way too heavy?...How do I get water? Where do I camp tonight?'" Strayed felt she was "cast into the physical realm" and got to have "this primal human experience" that, thanks to modern conveniences, we don't experience enough in contemporary times. "On the trail I got to have this very ancient human experience."

The hike changed Strayed, just as she hoped it would. And, despite the difficulties, the lack of preparedness and the dangers she faced on the trail (including hunters and bears), she recommends "journeying," whether it's hiking the PCT or sailing solo around the world, to everyone. "Journeying can give us something. It takes us out of our regular life and allows us to see ourselves from a distance," she said. "There is such a mythic tradition of people journeying. When I was writing I was really conscious of that hero's journey, where the hero goes off into the darkness and finds something new."

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