Yesterday, I finished reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. Read it over two days, in fact, and could have finished it in one day if I didn't fritter my time away with cooking, laundry, blogging, and driving to town for a 44 oz. Diet Coke. It's a tale of hiking the Pacific Coast Trail as a single woman with no previous hiking experience.
It was a compelling page-turner. I know it's a memoir. But I could have done with more hiking and less backstory. Not that I am an experienced hiker. I used to walk a local trail in the state park every day. Just for fun and exercise. Not on a personal quest for inner peace.
My trail was blacktopped. Bikers used it too, which was disconcerting at times. Just like Linda said today over at her blog. One minute, I was walking along, at peace with the world, and the next minute I'd hear a bellow of "TRAIL!" right behind me where a cushion of solitude had buffered me from the world's hustle and bustle. The only thing to do after hearing "TRAIL!" was jump off the side into the twigs and dead leaves. Quick. Because in the woods, nobody can hear your bones break. And it's going to take a while to get the message out that you are incapacitated, and then haul your broken body to a medical facility. By the same token, you want to be careful to watch your step. Slipping on an errant acorn could cause a sprained ankle that would hamper your two-mile hike back to the road. The bicyclists didn't ride it every day. Depending on the time I chose for my outing, I was often the only person on the trail.
This was before I was married. Before I had kids that needed minding during my two-hour escape. Oh, it didn't take me that long to walk four miles. I chugged along at about 20 minutes per mile. But I had to get ready. And drive to the park. The whole trail is 11 miles long. I only walked the whole trail about once every three weeks. It was kind of an all-day affair. And I took a companion most times. Because it's kind of eerie to be a woman alone five miles into the woods when a biker rushes past you. You never know. This was in the dark ages, before cell phones.
At least I never had to worry about getting lost. The trail was paved, for cryin' out loud! So I didn't have to wear hiking boots. My comfy, broken-in walking shoes were fine. I didn't carry a hefty backpack with all of my belongings. I didn't have to find a place to sleep and set up camp and cook a meal. I could shower and put on clean clothes when I finished. But still. Eleven miles is an accomplishment. Heck, even four miles is an accomplishment. I wish I could do that today.
I admit that I have a vivid imagination. Sometimes, on my solo daily walks, I would wonder what might happen if the rustle I heard down in the holler was a fugitive camping out. What if some un-law-abidin' scalawag jumped from behind a tree trunk and waylaid me? Who would know? Nobody, until I failed to call my mom the next morning. Because it was summertime. The living was easy. Teachers across the nation recharging their batteries in unemployed bliss.
The trail had a lower trail-head and an upper trail-head. The whole thing was a loop. At the deepest point in, I was only four miles from a blacktop road. I could choose to go either way at either end. Four different courses. The distance was painted on the blacktop every mile, if you looked close enough. My route varied, and depended on whether I wanted to start out level, or uphill, or downhill, or with the best panorama. Wildlife abounded. My biggest animal fear was skunk. I smelled them on occasion, but never was the reason for the spraying. Next came dogs. Best not to look them in the eye. Keep walking at a steady pace. I was ready to shout NO and BAD DOG if one came at me. Because any dog in there was most likely an escaped pet from the campground, and would have had people experience.
The scariest incident related to my trail-walking was the time I disregarded the seasons. It was fall, and school had started up again. I had agreed to keep the scorebook for boys' basketball games. We had a Friday off school, and I figured I had time to squeeze in a trail walk and get cleaned up in time to show up at the gym. The weather was perfect, just a little chill in the air. I had not been walking in the park for a while, but instead had walked in town. At my two-mile turnaround point, darkness began to creep into the woods. Sunset comes at a different time when you are in the middle of the forest. It was stressful. I knew I was on the trail. But light was leaving me. Every crunched leaf was a hillbilly ax murderer following me, biding his time. My breathing grew labored. My muscles tensed. I felt like I was striding two steps forward and three steps back. With a half-mile left, the woods faded farther from the trail. It was a little clearing of sorts. With just a short stretch of trees left at the edge of the road. I was never so glad to end a walk in my life.
I can't imagine walking hundreds of miles along the Pacific Coast Trail. Alone. But I can imagine writing about it.