Reading My Eyeballs Out


“…the wilderness had a clarity that included me.”

I’m halfway through a book I started yesterday, and I have the sore eyeballs to prove it. Cheryl Strayed walked the Pacific Coast Trail by herself at age 26 to try and find a way back to her life that has been a trainwreck since her mother died of cancer four years previously. I’ve always been a sucker for a good walk story – and I’ve always wanted to walk the PCT myself – but something about Strayed (she’s self-named) really appeals to me.

The obvious is that she’s a female writer with a passion for the outdoors. I love that when she begins the trail in Mojave, she has in her ludicrously overweight backpack not one or two but FOUR books: Staying Found; The Pacific Coast Trail: Volume One California; William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying; and Adrienne Rich’s The Dream of a Common Language. She reads poetry out loud to herself when she’s down and out on the trail (which is a lot in the beginning). The book is also peppered with poetry. To try and cut down on her massive backpack load, she burns the pages she read the previous night in each morning’s breakfast flame.

In each package she mails herself (for re-provisioning) she includes a good read. One of her first packages includes Flannery O’Conner’s Complete Short Stories, which is now on my list of things to read. She has a goodreads account too – I wonder how good she is at keeping up with it? I tried to check it out, but it’s been so long since I’ve visited my account, I couldn’t remember my password.

She happens to also be the same age as I am; we were both born in 1968, the year that The Pacific Coast Trail was made official. While she was hiking, I was doing my own crazy thing raising Bella on seven acres of desert in Joshua Tree.

And finally she writes the Dear Sugar column at, which a friend I love, but rarely see, urged me to check out a month ago. It was strange. She emailed me out of the blue and insisted I go to, she said it was “something I should know about.” I still don’t know what that means, but I tweeted about it.

It may all mean nothing, but I am glad to have finished Neal Stephenson’s REAMDE (also good, but a sci-fi behemoth), and to be following Strayed up the PCT.

She is very funny, but also brutally honest about a difficult past, which includes an abusive dad, sex binges, heroin, and a divorce. Not least, her mother (who made her eat raw garlic if she felt sick and grew her own herbal tea) was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer at age 45. She died 49 days after the diagnoses.

So, this is where I am if you’re looking for me: glued to my iPad at the kitchen table with a cup of hot tea. I was pretty psyched when I got Christian to bed by 8 this evening.

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