I remember seeing Cheryl Strayed speak about the release of her book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail at the Seattle REI a couple of years ago. Cheryl and her book are in the limelight again due to the release of the move Wild, based on her book.
Cheryl found herself alone on the Pacific Crest Trail – inexperienced and desperate to reclaim her life after the loss of her Mom and the loss of her marriage. A two-state odyssey along the Pacific Crest Trail was her way of finding herself again grappling with the grief she was experiencing.
Solitude in the wilderness, and facing physical and mental challenges with no one to rely on but yourself, has a way of making things more clear and leading you to answers to what you are seeking.
I could relate to Cheryl not only because I lost my Mom to a devastating illness but also because I know the clarity and strength I have found on the trail. When things emotionally hurt the greatest is when I find myself most yearning to just say “fuck it” and set out on a long solo trip to find answers.
In my case, I did not set out on a solo hike for months but took a month-long, solo road trip when I was 19 to explore the country, do a lot of thinking, and learn some things about myself and life.
When my car got broken into, I gained the confidence to take care of emergencies on my own without the support of my family instead of running back home like I wanted to. I learned that the Pacific Northwest was one of the most amazing areas of the country and I appreciated living in this special place when I moved home like I never had before. I became much more adventurous in my daily life and learned to turn to the outdoors and solitude when I needed answers.
Loss can come in all shapes and sizes. Four years ago a couple lost their beloved dog Fortis, an Italian mastiff-like breed called a Canine Corso, to cancer. Fortis was like Brett and Pattie’s kid and they were shattered by the loss. “He was the love of our life,” Pattie said.
When Fortis died, Brett decided to deal with the loss by completing one of his childhood dreams – to hike the Appalacian trail. After some major setbacks, Pattie decided to join Brett on the trail and they completed the epic thru-hike. Together with their new dog, Willow, whom they rescued from the 2011 Texas wildfires, they became Team Fortis.
On Sept. 18, 2013, the trio reached the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine, the final spot on the trail. It was there that they realized the great feat they had accomplished and they commemorated the event by releasing some of Fortis’ ashes into the wind.
Adventure continued to call and the trio hiked all 2,650 miles, 57 mountain passes, and 19 canyons of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014. Brett and Pattie will be taking on the final leg of hiking’s Triple Crown – the Continental Divide Trail, which runs 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico – next. Hiking over 6,000 miles through some really challenging terrain and situations was a way for Brett and Pattie to deal with the loss of Fortis and honor his memory.
In December 2014, a man named Luke completed a 2,000 mile walk with his two dogs – from the Canadian border to the Mexican border – to raise awareness about canine cancer. This was actually the second leg of his adventure because he had previously completed a walk along the east coast for the same cause.
While the journey was not in the woods, it was a solo walk that gave Luke a lot of time to think about his loss. He shared his story with others along the way to heal and help others deal with this terrible disease. It was an adventure for sure.
Luke was a successful business man in San Antonio, Texas. He never intended to be a dog owner but fate brought him and his first dog, Malcom, a Great Pyrenees, together. He said that Malcom “changed his life.” They became good friends and companions.
Malcom developed cancer and eventually lost his fight. Luke said, “When I lost my first boy to cancer, it just changed me. I wanted to know why.” so he set out on his own to reflect and find some answers. Along the way he found one answer in his mission to help people understand this terrible disease and grieve fro their own losses.
Not all epic adventures start from a place of loss. Some people are motivated to take on big adventures due to the excitement of them alone. However, everyone comes back from it a changed person, with a new perspective, and with a new clarity about who they are in the world. The next time you need a big change in life – you have hit rock bottom, are emotionally drained, or just need to hit the restart button – you might want to consider checking that big dream of adventure off of your bucket list.
Have you ever undertaken a great adventure that changed your life?