Sometimes I have to laugh at my pretensions. Yesterday I half-jokingly told my sister I was thinking of walking up to Seattle to visit her, a mere 2,500 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. She, like almost everyone else to whom I have talked about my dream of hiking the PCT, mentioned Cheryl Strayed’s book.
I’d never heard of the book before the idea of hiking the PCT took hold of me and I started telling people about my dream, and I must admit, I was disappointed to discover how much of a bestseller Strayed’s book was. I’d planned to keep a journal of my adventure, posting it to my blog when I reached the major towns along the way (El Cajon, Idyllwild, Big Bear, Aqua Dulce, Tehachapi, Kennedy Meadows, Mammoth Lakes, South Lake Tahoe, Sierra City, Chester, Burney, Mount Shasta, Etna, Ashland and White Pass). And perhaps, someday publish it as a book. A bestselling book, of course.
But, as I told my sister, since Strayed’s book is already published, on bestseller lists, with a movie about to come out, my book would merely seem a “me too,” as if I were as if I were riding on her coattails.
And here is where I had to laugh at myself. What does her book and her success have to do with me? I have never written a single word about my journey because, of course, there is no journey. I haven’t walked a single step on my way to Seattle. I don’t know if I will ever walk a single step. (I have hiked approximately 14 1/2 miles of the trail, but I wasn’t going anywhere, just walking with a group of Saturday hikers.) Unlike Strayed, I am not a young woman. I don’t know if my body or any parts thereof would hold up to such a grueling feet. (I know that’s a misspelling, but I kept the typo because . . . how perfect!) Even if I were to hike to Seattle or at least a part of the way, I don’t know if the story of my travels would lend themselves to a book — you need more than just a recounting of adventures to be readable. You need heart, soul, uniqueness, growth.
Perhaps it would be a good idea for me to read Strayed’s book, but the truth is, I want my own epic adventure, not an echo of someone else’s. Still, I have been doing research for the journey. And what I’ve been reading has given me pause.
Some of the worst weather in the country can, and does, occur on the Pacific Crest Trail, so you always have to carry equipment for foul weather, even during the summer. You need an ice axe, and knowledge how to self-arrest to keep from sliding into oblivion. Waterways can be too swollen to cross. (My feet got soaked last weekend just from trying to cross a tiny rivulet, not much more than a puddle.) Long stretches of the trail have no water source at all — none — though it is recommended that hikers drink a gallon of this non-existent water a day. And even where water is plentiful, you need a water purifier that is effective against giardia and bacteria. You need wilderness permits. You need a bear canister to protect your food in bear territory. (Yep, long sections of the trail wind through bear country.) And you need food, lots of food — a through hiker, one who travels the whole trail or long sections of it, needs up to 5000 calories a day, and you have to be prepared since there are few places to replenish supplies — sometimes you have to hike more than 200 miles in the wilderness before crossing any sort of road.
Yikes. No wonder more people have scaled Mount Everest than have through-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.
And yet, the idea still appeals to me. So what if I have to hole up in one of the few towns along the way until the snow melts? It shouldn’t be a problem for me since I wouldn’t even attempt such a thing as walking to Seattle until/unless I were completely free, and I’m not. I still have responsibilities.
But one day, when I have nothing else to do . . .
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.