I had never heard of Cheryl Strayed or her book Wild before this last April, when she was at my neighborhood bookseller, Left Bank Books, for a reading/signing. The book documents Cheryl’s lone backpacking journey of 1,000 miles along the Pacific Coast Trail. When I first heard a synopsis, I thought was going to be along the lines of John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, a tale of human triumph in the great outdoors. A friend of mine who attended the book signing said it was actually more along the lines of Eat, Pray, Love and predicted that Wild was going to make it big. Sure enough, the buzz in traditional media and around the Twittercooler seem to agree. Wild is the first pick of Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 and is featured on Shine this month!
The author’s journey was not just a conquest of the body (she lost six toenails along the way) but also of spirit and psyche. Like Elizabeth in Eat, Pray, Love, Cheryl experiences a great loss that sends her on a wild search for the essence of herself and on the trail into the wild from the Mojave Desert to the Bridge of the Gods, which connects the borders of Oregon and Washington state.
As I read it and being that I write for MomCrunch, I wondered what the epic hike would have been like today, with the host of technological tools that are available now — you know, a smart phone with GPS, weather, and a host of helpful apps for backpackers, not to mention a way to contact anyone via text or phone during those times when she wasn’t sure she’d make it — like, when she lost a shoe!
As it was 15 years ago, all she had was the supply boxes she mailed to herself along the trail with dried food, a new book, and $20 meant to last the hundred of mile expanses between post offices. Yup, not even a credit card!
My mind went through the ways technology could have assisted her: a Kindle would have weighed much less than a book, she wouldn’t have wandered precariously off the trail at points, she would have known there was snow ahead …
Conversely, I wondered how technology would have worked against her. Instead of finding herself in the aloneness of the trail, would she have been tempted to update her Facebook status: “Developing calluses on hip bones resembling a cross between tree bark and a plucked dead chicken?” Would she have posted a YouTube video on the night she was overrun by a stampede of thousands of tiny frogs? Would she have sent an angry Tweet when camp rangers kicked her out of a camp site in the middle of the night (#lackofhumanity)? Just think of all the Instagram and Pinterest post opps she missed over 1,000 miles?!?! Gasp! I wonder how many hearts she would have gotten had she posted a IG pic of Crater Lake in real time?
In Wild, Cheryl described herself as the girl with a hole in heart — one that she was trying unsuccessfully to fill with everything from casual sex to dabbling in heroine. Of course, she didn’t have Twitter then! Seriously, haven’t you hopped on Twitter or Facebook to avoid something you don’t want to do or an issue you don’t want to deal with? I know I have. The double-edged sword of the digital world is that there’s always someone online and ready to play!
On a more mundane level, Cheryl didn’t have to choose between walking the trail and documenting her walk of the trail. Her storytelling came in book form, 15 years after the fact. These days, why wait? We can bring our readers/audiences with us in the moment! What would happen if we chose otherwise? If we decided to adventure away from our mobile tech for a week… or a day? I know, wouldn’t that be wild?!?
What kind of insights would we gain about ourselves? I’d say that would make a blog post that’s worth the wait.
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