Credit Cheryl Strayed‘s best selling memoir of hiking the PCT, Wild, or not, but the resurgence in backpacking and thru-hiking is palpable. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that much of the PCT is ungodly beautiful.
The New York Times has put out a wonderful piece explaining the nuances of the “Wild Effect”:
Since “Wild” has appeared, the trail has beckoned to many women who, like Ms. Strayed, needed a change in their lives and believed they might find it on this challenging, sometimes lonely route, seeking the combination of “promise and mystery” that Ms. Strayed described so enticingly. One of these is Linda Blaney, 53, a self-described “very burned out” blackjack dealer at the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore resort. She picked up “Wild” and felt an almost immediate connection to the author. “She had relationship issues, and I was in the same boat,” Ms. Blaney said in a recent phone interview. “I couldn’t stay married, have been married and divorced three times. And she talks about her mother … and we have similarities in that area.”
Ms. Blaney, who had day-hiked avidly but had not done much more than that, read of Ms. Strayed’s huge backpack (in the book the author nicknames it “Monster”) and her ill-fitting shoes and thought to herself: “If this woman can do this, any woman can do this. I can do this.”
It’s not just the women too.
“At least half of my fan mail is from men,” Ms. Strayed said. After all, much of “Wild” is universal. “One strand of this story doesn’t have to do with the wilderness at all,” she said. “It’s grief and loss and how to bear what we cannot bear.”
Much like Kerouac’s On the Road inspired an entire generation to find personal meaning and belonging, and Krakauer’s Into the Wild inspired the next next generation to step away from civilization in the name of exploration, Wild is inspiring the new wave of the Everyman to get outside.
In fact, it’s really not even about the people who already get outside, camp, hike, etc. For those people, it is all too easy to interpret Wild as a guide for what not to do in the outdoors. The bigger takeaway is that it’s not about being an expert; it’s about finding yourself through nature, and there’s no message more universal than that.
Ms. Strayed pointed out… “I’ve given people permission; that you do not have to be an expert to walk into the woods,” she said, adding that some backcountry critics are elitists who think there is just one way to do things: their way. “There’s a phrase used among long-distance backpackers, and it’s ‘hike your own hike,’ ” Ms. Strayed said. “Some people are going to be doing 40 miles a day and carrying 8 pounds on their back, and some are going to be carrying 80 pounds and barely making 10 miles a day.” The important thing is getting out there however you can, she said.