Tracks, by Robyn Davidson, and Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, are similar stories. Tracks: One Woman’s Journey Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback was written in the late 1970’s, published in 1980, a few years after her incredible journey across western Australia with camels. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was published in 2012.
Separated by around two decades, these two young women undertook life-changing journeys. Their stories are so similar I decided to review them in one post. Both were in their twenties when they undertook their odysseys. Both of them lost their mothers early in their lives. Both of their stories have been made into movies, both of which are very well done.
But I would certainly recommend the books. Their written stories reveal much more of the interior struggles these women underwent to accomplish their treks. (I cannot tell you which to do first: read the books, or watch the movies; I myself watched the movies first in both cases, and then read the books.)
Tracks shares the story of Robyn Davidson who found herself at loose ends in the 1970’s. In her twenties, just coming out of the hippie anti-establishment movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s, she did not know what to do with her life. Working at low-end jobs, she just couldn’t get herself interested and invested in anything. She got the idea of hiking across the Australian outback, using camels to carry supplies.
Without much of a plan she headed to Alice Springs, Northern Territory. This isolated town became her home for several years as she attempted various approaches to realizing her dream. She had no money, very little knowledge or survival skills; she hardly knew where to begin. But she persisted. After a few years, she had learned camel handling skills, had acquired a couple camels, and began learning how to survive in the desert.
While the movie necessarily focusses mainly on the journey itself, the book goes into depth on the interior struggles she fought, especially starting the journey itself. She learned to appreciate aborigine people, their culture, language, knowledge of the desert, and survival skills. She gloried in the wondrous landscape. Most people view the Australian Outback as dreary wasteland. Robyn came to see its beauty; she came to realize the land as experienced by Aboriginal peoples, how it identified them, how they cared for it, how it sustained them.
Here’s one quote from Davidson’s book to whet your appetite for more!
Those days were like a crystallization of all that had been good in the trip. It was as close to perfection as I could ever hope to come. I reviewed what I had learnt. I had discovered capabilities and strengths that I would not have imagined possible in those distant dream-like days before the trip. I had rediscovered people in my past and come to terms with my feelings towards them. I had learnt what love was. That love wanted the best possible for those you cared for even if that excluded yourself. That before, I had wanted to possess people without loving them, and now I could love them and wish them the best without needing them. I had understood freedom and security. The need to rattle the foundations of habit. That to be free one needs constant and unrelenting vigilance over one’s weaknesses. A vigilance which requires a moral energy most us are incapable of manufacturing. We relax back into the moulds of habit. They are secure, they bind us and keep us contained at the expense of freedom. To break the moulds, to be heedless of the seductions of security is an impossible struggle, but one of the few that count. To be free is to learn, to test yourself constantly, to gamble. It is not safe. I had learnt to use my fears as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks, and best of all I had learnt to laugh. I felt invincible, untouchable, I had extended myself, and I believed I could now sit back, there was nothing else the desert could teach me. And I wanted to remember all this. Wanted to remember this place and what it meant to me, and how I had arrived there. Wanted to fix it so firmly in my head that I would never, ever forget. (p 220f)
Amazing stuff!! Robyn is so incredibly and articulately insightful. And she is so open in letting the reader in to the processes she experienced during her trek across the desert.
Very different, yet so similar, is Wild. Cheryl Strayed was also a young woman at loose ends. In the early nineties she lost her mother to cancer when Cheryl was 22. This loss really threw her for a loop. She ended up spiraling into dysfunction, using drugs and sex to bury her pain. But she recognized the downward course she was on and decided she had to do something to get herself out of this destructive lifestyle.
A book caught her eye one day while standing in a checkout line. It was a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). She looked at it briefly, thought about it for a time, and eventually went back to purchase it. And decided to do it!!
Totally inexperienced in anything even remotely resembling this sort of venture, having no equipment, having no one to whom she could turn for advice, she began assembling what she needed for the trip. Using her meagre waitressing earnings, and continuing to use drugs right up until the day before the trip, she planned out her journey.
The film captures her heroic efforts to even get her backpack on and stand up! But the insights from the book reveal her deep insecurity about her capabilities in undertaking this trip. She doubted herself through most of the hike. Any little roadblock in her plans, any unexpected hurdle, would throw her into self-doubt and several times almost caused her to back out.
One example: unusually high snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas that year (mid 1990’s) caused the trail to be impassable that summer she was hiking. She had to detour via bus to Reno, Nevada. The highest section of the trail was unavailable, and this had been the portion she had most anticipated. It was devastating.
But by the time this occurred she was quite a few weeks into her hike, and she found enough flexibility to adjust her plans. Originally she was going to hike only the California portion of the PCT. With her renewed plans she hiked on through Oregon, coming out at the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River at the border of Washington State.
Throughout her hike she meets people who help her in various ways. She meets obstacles she must overcome. She endures pain constantly. Fellow hikers are amazed at the size and weight of her pack. She carries more than hikers much more fit that she was. But she bumbles on determinedly.
Once again, like Robyn Davidson, she grows during her journey, both physically, but also mentally and emotionally. It turns her life around. She finds herself a different person at the end of the road than who she’d been at the beginning.
Both these books are well worth reading. Both are easy, entertaining reads, well-written and inspiring. Page-turners. And both movies are also well worth watching. Enjoy!!!!