I read these two books together because there are some similarities between them. They are both about a single woman’s walk in a hostile environment over a long period of time.
But now I finished reading them, there is nothing more in common apart from the fact that they are both about a single woman and a long walk. The stories are told through two women’s eyes and minds. What they see and what they think are completely different.
Wild is an absorbing book. I was reading it in my living room, in my office, on benches in the street, on the aeroplane to Japan. I even resisted the temptation to watch its newly released film adaptation twice on aeroplanes, where I could watch it for free, because I didn’t want to ruin the ending. I don’t regret the decision.
Cheryl Strayed walked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the US, 2663 miles long. I couldn’t sense how long it was so I did a calculation. I’m a keen walker too, but a wimpy one. So for a very good day on flat ground without much weight on my back, I can walk about 12 miles a day. It means it would take me 221 days, which is about 7 months, without even having a day off on Sundays. But PCT is mountain terrain with an extreme variety of snow and desert. And look at her backpack. I would never make it.
Cheryl’s story is light-hearted. Although it’s a bit heavy when she thinks about the past, her mother and her marriage, she has a really good sense of humour to compensate the sad side in general. The narration of the prologue started with how her boots escaped her in the middle of the journey and a brief introduction of her reasoning behind doing the walk alone. It’s brief but very gripping. I like the rhythm of the story-telling. Then first chapter goes all the way back to the proper beginning, when her mother died. I have to say I’m amazed at her close relationship with her mother.
The walk starts in chapter two, where she removed the packaging of all her newly bought equipment, stuffed and strapped the list of things that are a few pages long on her backpack. And here was one of the first places it made me laugh: “It was exactly like attempting to lift a Volkswagen Beetle. It looked so cute, so ready to be lifted-and yet it was impossible to do.” When later she finally succeeded, the backpack “still seemed like a Volkswagen Beetle, only now…parked on my back”. Then she officially started walking the PCT. Her backpack is her big enemy but also best friend throughout the whole journey. I haven’t done many backpacking journeys, certainly nothing as epic as PCT. But I can understand the feeling of carrying shelter, bed, water, food and all my belongings on my back. It’s like carrying a home with me. Maybe that’s why backpackers in mountains (me at least) feel self-contained, feel they’re in a completely different world to their usual city life, although it’s only a couple of hours train journey away.
The walk is described in detail; the backpack, the hitchhikes, the pain over the first few days, the blisters on her feet and the cuts and bruises on the rest of her body, the change of terrain, plants and view, the fallen tree she climbed over, the bull she scared off, snow she got almost lost in. Then she started to come across people: some gave her a lift when she has no other way to get from A to B; some offered her cooked food and a bed when she almost ran out of food in the middle of nowhere; some a hot shower and clean clothes; some advised her on how to reduce the size of her backpack; some gave her an identity she wasn’t willing to identify with; some gave her a title she would never dreamt of; some sang her a song. She insisted on walking alone. But her encounters with people along the Trail were heart-warming and were like healing sessions. I loved reading each one of them.
Reading Tracks is a completely different kind of experience. I became more and more exasperated when I first started Tracks. The first 40% (one advantage of Kindle) of the book is about the preparation of the journey. I nearly gave up before she even started. It took her a long time to get everything ready, especially to get all the camels she needed. It sounded like she was almost defeated by various things on every other page. But she never totally gave up, which was amazing. So be prepared for a lot of camel training and horrible relationships.
This is another thing that’s definitely different to Cheryl’s journey – relationships with people: in Alice Springs, and along the way, with white people and aboriginal people, with the tourists and the media, and with Rick, all seem very difficult for Robyn. She had friends, but the amount of text dedicated to her nice friends is nothing compared to that given to the awful people and their awfulness. It’s so negative sometimes that I often didn’t want to continue. This was one of the reasons finishing Tracks took so much longer.
She also discussed a lot of the issues around Aboriginal people, their land and their lives. It involved a lot of political and social problems, which I hadn’t any idea about. This was the third reason it was a bit difficult for me. I have to admit I skipped big chunks of it. After all, I was attracted by the walk itself more.
It is an amazing vista. Robyn doesn’t talk about physical hardship much. The landscape sounds beautifully foreign and romantic. The desert is hostile and life threatening, but it is still God’s beautiful creation. It’s created for God’s glory, not for humans to conquer. When I think of the power of the desert in a respectful way, instead of as an enemy, it’s not as threatening anymore. I think Robyn definitely understood it and loved the desert very much.
The motivation for going on the journey is not clearly stated. Robyn didn’t explain it explicitly apart from “why not”. In this sense, her journey is more of an adventure, with a free spirit.
I think both Cheryl Strayed and Robyn Davidson would be very interesting people to become friends with, but somehow I feel Robyn would be a bit harder to get to know in the first place. I watched both film adaptations as well. They are altogether very different things again. Personally, I prefer Tracks film.
I like Tracks film posters very much. I wonder if Rick is pleased.
There is an article from Rick’s point of view on National Geographic website here.
All book covers and film posters are from the internet.