I may not have been born in Oregon. I may not live there now, and I may not have lived there for any significant length of time over the past seven years. I may never live there again (but I seriously doubt that). But despite all these very true facts, the one that remains most important to me is that I freaking love Oregon, and it will always be home to me.
I’ve pretty much always known that, but what recently brought it especially to my mind was reading Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. In 1995, devastated by the death of her mother, the loss of her family, and her recent divorce (among many other traumas), Strayed hiked the California and Oregon sections of the PCT alone. Seventeen years later, she wrote a memoir of that adventure, describing in page-turning detail the lost toenails, the brutal terrain, and the very real fears of dehydration, hypothermia, and starvation.
Of the five sections of Strayed’s book, four of them describe her journey across California, most of which elicited my response of “Ugh, that sounds terrible.” But terrible in the kind of way that made me about 60% want to try it. Terrible in the kind of physically painful, fear-inducing way that means you can do anything. Terrible in the kind of way that made lying motionless on my bed or in the park reading this seem almost equally terrible, because I wasn’t doing anything. The landscapes were extreme and alien, ranging from the draught-ravaged Modoc Plateau to the “socked in” Sierra Nevada. Once she got to Oregon, though, my opinion had changed to “I 100% want to do this and where are my hiking boots.” Everything about Oregon was so familiar and dear to me, either because I have already been there or because I could picture so distinctly everything she was describing. Her description of the awe she felt on arriving at Crater Lake almost brought me to tears. By the end of the book, I was definitely, definitely going to hike the Oregon portion of the PCT. Someday.
On a slightly more serious note, I do have some friends who either did not like or did not finish the book, namely due to Strayed’s shortcomings as a backpacker. One friend said, “It just didn’t turn out to be what I was expecting,” referring to, I might assume, an expectation that it would the story of some totally bad-ass experienced backpacker who completely rocked the PCT from Mexico to Canada alone in record time. It’s true that Cheryl had no backpacking experience before starting; that she made almost no effort to physically prepare herself for the trek; that she was mocked frequently along the trail for having a ludicrously heavy backpack that no skilled or sane person would dare to carry so many miles. But in a way, these facts endeared Cheryl to me even more, because I felt like I understood them. I’ve never done anything as crazy/awesome as hiking the PCT, but I understand what it’s like to be so blinded by a goal that you lose sight of rationality. And even more so, I understand that Cheryl’s journey was one of redemption. And you don’t practice redemption. You don’t prepare yourself for it. You embark upon the journey and you suffer through it until you achieve it. From the pain of hitting rock bottom, sometimes it requires pain of a different sort to bring you back up.