DON’T WEIGH YOURSELF DOWN
Strayed turned her backpack into a character by calling it “the Monster” after she got down on the floor of her motel room the night before setting out and couldn’t lift her pack at all, let alone stand up with it. A week later, a trail veteran took her aside at a campsite and told her to throw out stuff she didn’t need – from an axe to a saw to a book, or at least the parts she’d already read. The Monster lost 4.5 kilograms. We could relate. Our toilet paper was tree moss.
MAIL YOURSELF CARE PACKAGES
Strayed often walked into a backwoods town or ranger station to pick up a box of food and clothing she’d sent herself before setting out. In each one was a note from her ex-boyfriend charting her progress: “If you’ve made it this far, you’ve just hiked 100 miles across the Mojave Desert.”
We did the same and after a week of packaged trail food (not so great in 1992), we lusted for the instant rice, powdered milk, canned tuna and sauces in those boxes. Also, think about mailing an extra camp stove and footwear. We went through five stoves in our 1,600-kilometre journey (slow learners) and everyone will go through at least two pairs of boots.
YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY BOOTS
In the opening scene of the book and the movie, one of Strayed’s boots falls over a mountain ledge. She’d taken them off when she sat down to enjoy the view, and the Monster toppled on to them. Thirty eight days into her journey, she’d lost the most important thing every hiker must have. Damning her fate, she threw her other boot over the edge as well. So, she Duck-taped her sandals to the top of her feet and slogged on. She also ordered new boots at her next stop from REI, a U.S. recreational equipment outfitter, and had them mailed to her at the next town.
YOU WILL LOSE WEIGHT AND SMELL BAD
Running a marathon burns about 3,500 calories. Hiking 10 hours a day with an 18-kilogram pack burns up 5,000 calories. No wonder we lost tons of weight. When we went for dinner off the trail one night in Tennessee, we split a barrel of Kentucky Fried Chicken. For us, it was health food; we needed plenty of salt and fat.
When Strayed buys lipstick in anticipation of a hot date in a trail town, the sales lady tells her that she should always look out for her personal hygiene – code for: “You smell incredibly bad!”
When we arrived at the last stop on our journey in Tyringham, Mass., we decided to splurge by staying that night at a country inn. Alas, the sign outside said: “No hikers!” We knew why.
HITCHHIKING IS FUN AND DANGEROUS
Strayed gets a lift from a carload of aging hippies. They look threatening – a slice of America we rarely see. A few days later, she gets picked up after dark by a guy who wants to take her back to his house. She resists. He persists. She walks in and – meets his wife. It’s the start of a beautiful friendship.
Every 10th day, we would hike down off the mountain trail and hitchhike into a backwoods town to get food, do laundry and have a shower. We were picked up by all kinds of odd-balls, many with rifles and Confederate flags in their pickups. Most of them thought we were crazy, too. And that mutual curiosity created some amazing conversations.
This isn’t to say that if you’re hitchhiking alone, you shouldn’t be extra careful. But time and again, when we got lost, or blew up a stove, or ran out of water, or were in a hut with a bunch of rowdy teenagers, people came to our aid, often like magic.
WHEN IT’S ALL DONE, YOU’LL BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
After finishing her hike at the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River on the Oregon-Washington border, Strayed shared her triumph with a stranger. She writes:
“‘I walked over eleven hundred miles,’ I said, too excited to contain myself. ‘I just finished my trip this morning.’
“I nodded and laughed.
“‘That’s incredible. I’ve always wanted to do something like that. A big journey.’
“‘You could. You should. Believe me, if I can do this, anyone can.’”
Believe us, she’s right.