Two Perspectives on Long Range Hiking

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis

Only a few thousand people hike the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail combined each year so it’s a pretty elite club. Then consider that few of those are women who hiked alone and you realize that Cheryl Strayed and Jennifer Pharr Davis have a lot in common but there’s a WHOLE lot they don’t. Davis mentions prayer and her Christian faith throughout her book whereas Strayed maintains a much more agnostic view. Then there’s Davis being irritated by a fellow hiker with a potty mouth and Strayed’s liberal use of the f-bombs herself. Their personalities that come across through their writing, their personal and family lives, and the level of preparedness they each had for embarking on their hikes, are all polar opposites. Still, both struggled, suffered, and succeeded and their stories are inspiring.

I read these two books fairly close together and it made for an interesting comparison.

I enjoy hiking and camping but the idea of being on a trail for months on end is not exactly my kind of travel. I like to wander (obviously) but I’m also kind of lazy and really enjoy things like good plentiful food, warm showers, and toilets. These books didn’t make me want to set out to hike 2000 miles, especially the parts about the blisters and damaged toenails, but they did make me think about what their long-distance hiking experiences can teach about travel more generally. Some of my many take-aways were:

  1. Planning is important but flexibility is even more so. Davis was far more prepared and attended training before her hike so she was initially set up much better than Strayed, who hadn’t even fully packed until the day she set out, but both of them needed to make adjustments as they went and their flexibility and creativity kept them going.
  2. Most of your journey is within you. Whether you’re hiking 2000 miles or flying, travel isn’t just about the places you go or even the people you meet. It’s about the wisdom and self-discovery you gain within yourself through it all. Walking is not the fastest or easiest way to get from Georgia to Maine but it sure does make for more opportunities for growth (and good stories!) than hopping on a plane.
  3. PACK LIGHT. Even if you’re planning to wheel your luggage through a tiled airport and then into a cab and across the foyer of your hotel rather than carrying it across your back up a mountain a lot of the same rules apply. Do you really NEED it? You don’t want your travel to be about your STUFF. One method the thru-hikers use to keep their pack to a minimum is shipping themselves re-supply boxes that they pick up at various points along their trip. Strayed included a $20 bill and a new book to read in each box rather than taking the entire wad of cash and library with her the entire time. Think about how you can divvy up what you need based on when you’ll need it and pack/plan accordingly.

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