In a little over a week, Northwest author Cheryl Strayed will be in Wenatchee to talk about her bestselling memoir Wild, her experiences hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and the life lessons she’s learned along the way.
This week, Cheryl took some time out of her busy writing schedule and family life in Portland to talk with our publicity specialist, Michelle McNiel, about what she’s up to these days and some of what she’ll be talking about in Wenatchee next week.
Here are some of the things they talked about:
Have you ever been to Wenatchee or North Central Washington before?
CS: No. But I’ve heard from people that it’s a very beautiful part of the world. I wish I was coming for more than 24 hours.
I know the hike in your book stopped at the Oregon-Washington border, but have you since hiked the PCT in Washington?
CS: I’ve hiked sections in Washington, but not the whole thing. My kids are 11 and 12 now. One of our long-term plans is for my husband and kids and I to hike the Washington section. So many people have told me that it’s the most beautiful part of the trail…it takes about four to five weeks. So it’s really just finding the right summer where that would work for us. It’s coming soon, though.
What can people expect from your talk next week?
CS: Laughter, tears, lots of fun. I don’t read a prepared talk. I look at the audience and I just start talking. So every time I give a talk it’s a slightly different one…I don’t shy away from the emotional stuff, but I think humor is a great part of life. I’ll focus mostly on Wild, but will spill over into other books I’ve written and my life after Wild.
Does it seem strange to still be talking about this journey you took so many years ago?
CS: I didn’t start writing Wild until 2008, so it was really always kind of a look back. Twenty-two years ago I would never have imagined that it would be a famous hike some day, or that I’d be talking to people about it. Wild is obviously about a hike. But it’s about so much more – the deeper things behind the hike. The reasons I took the hike. The things I learned from the hike.
Who is your audience for Wild?
CS: It really does touch on so many audiences and age groups. Teenagers read Wild, and 20-somethings, and people my age. There are people who are into hiking and wilderness and backpacking who can relate to it. But it’s also a grief journey. People come up to me and say “You saved my life.” They cry and tell me their own stories of loss, or a time in their life they had to find their way back to the person they were before they lost their way. I think the emotional journey is the one people most connect with in Wild.
What do people want to know most when they ask you about the hike?
CS: People are always curious to know whether my toenails grew back. I’m happy to say they are back in their full glory. They also ask would I do it again. Absolutely yes. And if I did it again, I would take a lighter pack. Sure, I’ve learned that it’s important not to take too much stuff on a backpacking trip. I learned that the hard way. But, frankly, I don’t think I’d go back in time and lighten that pack of mine. I learned something from it. To have to endure that physical suffering in so many ways toughened me up, inside and out. I had to learn to bear what felt unbearable. It was this physical, literal thing I had to contend with in the way that I had to contend with my mother’s death.
What is the most important thing you hope people take away from reading Wild?
CS: I’m not one to want to bestow a message…what I hope you do is love the book and feel some of your own life as you read it. That you see yourself in the times you had trials.
Do you still hike?
CS: It is still my favorite thing to do. My kids have to go on a hike with me and not whine. My favorite Mother’s Day card from my daughter just said: “Dear Mom, I love you so much I’d love to go hiking with you.” One bit of advice I have for parents hiking with kids: They’ll complain about it. They’ll whine about it. Then we get out there and they always have fun…I have a reward system, like walk 15 minutes and they get gummy bears. There are rewards if you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Our lives are better for it in big and small ways. At the end of my hike, it was a big push out of my comfort zone for a very long time. I felt stronger. I felt clearer. I felt like I could be happier than I was before I started that trail. I didn’t feel like someone who was weak and lost anymore.
What are you working on now?
CS: Too many things. I have a podcast called Dear Sugar Radio, an advice podcast born out of my Dear Sugar column. I’m also working on my next book. Another memoir. I hate to talk about what it’s about because it’s still in progress. I’m actually doing some writing with my husband, a pilot adaptation of Tiny Beautiful Things for HBO. I’ve got lots of writing projects in the works.