After my solo backpacking trip this summer, I am already planning for a longer trip next summer. I would like to do a 100+ mile segment of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in Washington State. The PCT is a 2600 mile trail that runs from the Mexican border into Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. I completed a segment of the PCT with my son Jonathan in 2009 that was both challenging and spectacular.
So when some friends told me about Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, I quickly found an audio copy to listen on my daily commute. I later discovered that it had received plenty of positive reviews from various book critics.
The book is a memoir that describes both Cheryl’s hike on a long segment of the PCT in 1995 and her grief journey after the death of her mother in 1991. Both pieces fascinated me. The hike was primary but her grief reflections were poignant for me because, as a pastor, I often accompany people on their grief journey. And to top it off, Cheryl was from Minnesota when she decided to hike the PCT. The inspirational trail book that sparked her hike was purchase at the same REI store that I have shopped.
First off I must write that Cheryl is very frank and explicit in her language and dismissal of any traditional faith. She does not believe in God or a faith community. Without such faith, her grief became even more devastating and potentially destructive. Her mother had been the center of her life so her death left such a vacant hole. The epitaph on her mother’s tombstone,“I am with you always,” is almost a direct quote of Jesus’ last words in Matthew 28. Cheryl’s hike on the PCT became a literal grief journey as she tried to make sense of her life without her mother’s physical presence. As a Christian, I am thankful for the assurance that God keeps his children safe, even after their death. Because I trust in Jesus, I trust in the resurrection of the dead.
Second, Cheryl is a very funny writer. She admits that she was totally naïve as she started the hike, having never backpacked prior to the trip. She packed way too much gear, waaaay too much. Her description of how she packed her pack the first morning and then tried to lift it from the floor of her motel room is priceless. Over time she learns to lighten her load and to acknowledge her limitations. As I read the book, I was won over by her perseverance and humor. I did not learn anything new regarding the PCT or backpacking, but I did learn to laugh with Cheryl and hopefully at myself as well.
Lord Jesus, give me the grace to be persevere in difficult situations while laughing at myself.