Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed


I am reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. A friend loaned it (thank you!) and I'm a third of the way through after beginning yesterday. It's good. It makes me want to go for a hike. Right now my schedule doesn't permit such an adventure. That doesn't mean I won't go for a hike at some point, but for now, instead of looking forward, I'm looking back to a trip I took in 2000.

I worked in Providence, RI and was stuck on the same kinds of worries I face even today: that I wasn't accomplishing enough and needed a challenge. I was tired and my writing was leading me somewhere I didn't understand. I didn't know what I was doing, what I was supposed to do.

Years before friends had taken up Tuckerman and Huntington Ravine to the summit of Mount Washington. I loved it. That was the first real hike I had ever taken and it thrilled me in a way that I hadn't imagined.

In Providence, my mind turned toward New Hampshire and Mount Washington. I bought the White Mountain Guide and read all the warnings, smiling at how many ways the thing said, "you're going to die up there."

The trip I planned was a solo trip in every sense. Drive out of Providence at three in the morning, park at Pinkham Notch, hike up, hike down, drive home by eleven. My wife wasn't thrilled with the idea. She read the guidebook too and believed every warning. I explained that it was Mount Washington, a veritable highway of a trail, jammed with hikers. I wouldn't be alone for very long even in early October.

I drove to the mountain, checked in, bought a wool hat because it was the one thing I forgot to bring, and I hiked. I passed lots of people on Tuckerman, then made the turn onto Huntington and things got quiet. I met four guys at one point but lost them soon after. I had lunch on the same rock I had eaten atop as a little kid. I looked down toward Pinkham Notch and marveled at how far I had come.

As I approached the summit, clouds blew in and soon I was inside them. In the summit house, I changed into dry clothes, ate, and packed my bag. I skipped down Tuckerman toward Pinkham Notch. I began in mist, then walked through the falling rain, and finally reached the cover of trees and then the car.

By the time I drove back to Providence, I was too ecstatic to be tired. I was thrilled at what I had done by myself. All of which is to say that I get why Cheryl Strayed hiked so much of the Pacific Crest Trail alone. There is nothing quite like doing something on your own, accomplishing something that others don't understand. I imagine that's how it must feel to complete a draft of a novel, compile a book of poetry.

I'm not sure if that's the feeling I could have from rebuilding the front steps of my house or remodeling the kitchen. But since I'm not likely to drive to Mount Washington or fly out to the Pacific Crest Trail, I'll have to find a challenge here to climb over. There's no guidebook, but still I hear that "I'm going to die up there" and fear has kept me down  too long. I suppose now is as good a time as any to get started.

One step. Then another. One word, another, and another. Write on.