Tag Archives: female road narrative

Book Club: In Pursuit of Female Road Narratives Pt. 4

book-club

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed is the story of one woman on two concurrent journeys–forging a path through her own grief towards healing, acceptance and self-forgiveness as well as blazing the physical Pacific Crest Trail on an eleven-hundred mile solo hike. As mentioned before in our little virtual book club, I initially heard about this travel memoir on one of my favorite radio programs and felt reading it was of the utmost importance after stumbling upon Vanessa Veselka’s essay about the lack of female road narratives and why it matters.

For the last year or so, admittedly, I’ve been pretty obsessed with the idea of long-distance hiking, spending hours researching various trails and reading books and blogs about those who have made these trips.

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Suddenly, reading Veselka’s essay made me put 2 and 2 together–there were and ARE women out there who are going on magnificent journeys! They are walking from Georgia to Maine, from the Mexican border to the Canadian, they’re seeing our country in new ways, they are heroic and SOMETIMES–they are doing all of this ALONE. Strayed does not spend time justifying her ability or right to tell this story. She just tells it.

Whether you relate to the physical pain she endures; carrying her huge backpack lovingly nicknamed “Monster” and doctoring banged up feet from ill-fitting boots, or her emotional pain; the death of her mother and the end of her marriage–there are moments of palpable empathy throughout.

Do not let the fact that this book is so heavily touted by Oprah (it is emblazoned with her Obrah Book Club sticker/seal of approval) dissuade you. Oprah knows what’s up and this is no Nicholas Sparks feel-good novela. Instead, it is an honest depiction of a normal woman who went from “lost” to “found.”

Strayed doesn’t leave anything out when painting you a picture of herself as “lost.” Even though this depiction is far from from flattering. This candid portrait of Strayed’s miserable life reminds me of a part I played in college forensics, a woman on the road who put it very simply,

“When you’re laying face down on the ground there’s nowhere left to fall.”

Strayed hit rock bottom. There was no place left to climb but out.

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I truly believe this book is a great introductory read for anyone who is seeking out female road narratives. We’ve demonstrated over the last 3 weeks that stories like this one are hard to find. Reading it will hopefully reveal how women on their own and on the road can have a place in not only our literature but our cultural landscape, too.

In her essay, Veselka argues, “True quest is about agency.” Meaning, when we relegate women’s journeys to mistakes, escape or a plot twist only to end in tragedy, we are robbing them of just that. Instead, we need to afford women the possibility and ability to tell stories like Strayed’s.

Veselka explains, “You can go on a quest to save your father, dress like a man and get discovered upon injury, get martyred and raped, but God forbid you go out the door just to see what’s out there.” I want women to see what’s out there. I want to see what’s out there.


…So I read. I go on adventures. And I encourage you to do the same.

(Quote illustrations via here.)

Thank you so much for participating in this inaugural virtual book club on Finding Delight. I loved discussing everything with you and hope you felt just the teensiest bit inspired! I hope to do it again real soon. : )

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Book Club: In Pursuit of Female Road Narratives Pt. 2

book-club

As we continue on our literary journey, hiking alongside Cheryl Strayed in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, I’d like to bring you some extra material and hopefully  extend your pursuit of the female road narrative beyond the confines of Strayed’s pages. Admittedly, I can fall down the rabbit hole on a lot of subjects but I think doing so in an attempt to provide a more holistic reading experience is a worthy plummet. Along the way I’ve raised some points for you to ponder and meditate on. Let’s jump right in!

More with Cheryl Strayed

Besides some online written reviews, the first press I heard about “Wild” and Strayed’s journey was on one of my favorite radio shows, Q with Jian Ghomeshi. Here, Jian asks some poignant and thoughtful questions…

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Would you hike the Pacific Crest Trail? What do you think Cheryl means when she says she “writes in the company of fear and I’m used to it”? 

Cheryl delivers a lovely TEDTalk on Radical Sincerity and explains, “our deepest treasures are buried in the crappy detritus of our life.” This idea was glaringly apparent to me with each passing chapter of her story and reiterated here. What I found so compelling throughout “Wild,” and perhaps you’re picking up on this through the pages as well, was how her physical pain throughout the hike served as a larger metaphor for her emotional pain, so much so, that it became unclear where one ended and the other began. And this is true in her speech here as well. It’s as if she could be talking about hiking 1100 miles or losing her mother at 22 or both…and for some reason I find that so beautiful.

“It was the most heroic thing I had ever done and that suffering was the greatest suffered…Carrying this weight I couldn’t bear; I bore it. Couldn’t live in a world without my mother; I was living in one.” 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What is the most heroic thing you have ever done? Was it physical or emotional?

Setting off into the great unknown as a woman doesn’t have to be scary, it can be empowering. (Plus, Oprah insists she just got a cellphone. *side eye*)

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What is the longest stretch of time you’ve spent alone? 

Cinematic Renderings of the Female Journey

When reflecting on on-screen odysseys of the feminine nature there are a few forms that come to mind:

Traveling home (NOW)…or with your peers for protection (THEN)…

To escape…when you’re “in trouble”…

When the trail eventually leads to a man…

I’ve watched these movies (multiple times each) and I’m drawn to these journeys and stories, too. Yet, I recognize that these can’t be the only paths. Surely there are other, unpaved roads for we women to pave…and movies we can make about the process. : )

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What film journeys come to mind when you think about a woman on the road? Do they fall into these categories? Why do you think these particular narratives are more palatable to us? 

Possible Paths

Perhaps you are like me and “Wild” has struck a cord on more counts than just acting as a positive example of a female road narrative. Perhaps, you too have dreams of backpacking far off lands and long distance hiking.

To watch some kick-ass, back-packin’ the world, travelin’ expert ladies; I would recommend checking out the travel show Globe Trekker here. If you’re not feelin’ paying to watch the episodes, I’ve checked out many Globe Trekker DVDs at my local libraries and I think it comes on PBS2 if you got channels and such. They travel all around the world and highlight tips for solo travel. Great for a hearty dose of wanderlust.

To watch some kids KILLIN’ IT on the Appalachian Trail check out this. These three hiked the length of the AT and made 31 awesome webisodes documenting their journey. Their silliness and spirit was moving and inspiring. I hope to tackle future hardships by taking a page from their book–always laughing, humbled by the beauty of nature, drawing on the strength of community and love. Once you watch their first update you’ll probably accidentally binge watch them all…so, sorry about that.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: If you could write a road narrative into being RIGHT NOW, what would that journey look like? Where would the road lead?

“I hope you keep walking.” ~Cheryl Strayed

Book Club: In Pursuit of Female Road Narratives Pt. 1

book-club

The world is profoundly apprehensive when it comes to women on the move and on their own. Society has it in it’s pretty little head that a woman setting out into the great unknown will be met with a medley of hardships not shared by her male counterparts. Female travelers are viewed as progressive, doomed, and even stupid for flying solo.

When breathing life into my own daydreams about backpacking far-off lands or hiking the Appalachian Trail, the wind gets knocked out of my sails by a common response, “well, you’d have to find someone to go with you first.” And the colors in my dreams fade to ominous ones, get filled with other people’s boogeymen they assume belong in a story such as mine.

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In her article, The Lack of Female Road Narratives and Why it Matters, Vanessa Veselka argues that we can’t fathom a positive outcome for a woman on the road because there is no precedent in American literary tradition, “no cultural narrative for [women] beyond rape and death.”

When a man steps onto the road, his journey begins. When a woman steps onto that same road, hers ends.

Veselka explains, we are all seeking something and this search is quintessential to our own human experience. “The Road Narrative” appears time and time again in literary canon, founded on a protagonist’s quest to go in pursuit of something greater than one’s self. From Ishmael to Frodo, Dean Moriarty to Huck Finn…

A man with a quest, internal or external, makes the choice at every stage about whether to endure the consequences or turn back, and that choice is imbued with heroism. Women, however, are restricted to a single tragic or fatal choice. We trace all of their failures, as well as the dangers that befall them, back to this foundational moment of sin or tragedy, instead of linking these encounters and moments in a narrative of exploration that allows for an outcome which can unite these individual choices in any heroic way.

The entire essay has stuck with me and I would highly recommend reading it in it’s entirety. Her words do a far better job than my own in describing to you why I have set out to find and read about women who embark on incredible journeys.

I had been hearing about “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed for some time but after reading Veselka’s essay I truly felt compelled to read it. After the death of her mother and a divorce, Strayed decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail on her own.

She would face odds, yes; she would face fears and boogeymen put into her mind by others, but in the end, she was searching for something greater than herself–her quest was to heal. This is a story of heroism. (And her last name is Strayed for goodness sake. How lovely and poetic.)

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So, in the name of forging a path for lone women to travel across page and road, I would implore you to pick up a copy of this page-turner. It is at times heart-breaking and others laugh out loud relatable. Over the next few weeks I will be posting some fun, supplemental material that I scouted to elevate my own reading of Strayed’s work. If you’ve read “Wild” before or would like to read it now and join in the fun, pop on back and check it out.

Reading her story may be the first step towards creating an adventure narrative of your own. As Veselka closes her essay, women can no longer waste time justifying our right to tell these stories.

If we have a shot it’s going to be because we stopped asking permission and just started in the middle.