Newspaper article The Chronicle (Toowoomba, Australia)

A Life Regained in the Wilderness; How a Journey of Self-Discovery Saved a Spiralling Young Woman

Newspaper article The Chronicle (Toowoomba, Australia)

A Life Regained in the Wilderness; How a Journey of Self-Discovery Saved a Spiralling Young Woman

Article excerpt

Byline: Kate Dodd

I'M NOT afraid. I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid."

For many of us, admitting we're afraid is hard - sometimes too hard. But for American writer Cheryl Strayed, those three little words helped her conquer her fears and take back her life.

She was 22 when her world fell apart. Her mother had died suddenly of cancer when she was a college senior. She had a stepfather, a brother and sister, but their close relationship dissolved soon after.

"I was just growing up myself - you know I was a grown up, but I wasn't really," Strayed recalls.

"So I sort of spiralled down the way that we do when we're deeply suffering and I began using drugs and I was promiscuous in ways that were destructive to me."

Four years later, reeling from a divorce and dangerously dabbling on the edge of drug addiction, Strayed needed to find a way back to her life, her dreams and ambitions. And being alone in the wilderness could help her clear that fog.

At 26 Strayed embarked on a solo expedition of the Pacific Crest Trail, a long-distance hiking trail closely aligned with the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges that lie east of the US Pacific coast. All her belongings on her back. No radio, no phone and little money.

By 1995, one year later, Strayed had hiked 1700km in 94 days. For the first eight days, she didn't cross paths with a single human being.

"I decided before my hike that I had to tell myself that I wasn't afraid," she says.

"Of course everyone is afraid of things like this. It sounds scary to be alone in the wilderness in a tent and there are many narratives in our minds about why we should be afraid of something and many of them are false.

"We're in much more danger driving around in a car than we are out walking alone in the wilderness and many of us fear one and not the other.

"It's complicated to say I wasn't afraid - but I didn't allow myself to be.

"The fear starts to fall away and you replace it with something else. After a while, I felt completely at ease and comfortable. I was by myself, walking by myself and sleeping in a tent by myself and it felt great."

Strayed shared her journey of self-discovery in her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012, landing her on The New York Times bestseller list.

The book, which featured in Oprah's Book Club 2.0, was made into a film in 2014 staring Reese Witherspoon, for which she was nominated for an Oscar.

Strayed grew up in northern Minnesota and was accustomed to living rustically. The family home didn't get indoor plumbing installed until she went away to college.

She had been trekking before, but only on day hikes. But her experience didn't stop her from making a novice backpacker mistake. …

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