Wildly Walking Home

In an earlier post I had mentioned that I wanted to create a bibliography of resources. Two accounts of creative non fiction to which I would like to draw your attention are Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Simon Armitage’s Walking Home.

Upon the recommendation of those who responded so vehemently to Choosing Books Along The Way, I decided to read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Strayed’s memoir is of her solo hike on the American Pacific Crest Trail, several thousand miles. Obviously, our walk was far less strenuous, but it was really the perfect read for this sort of trip. Where I could not personally relate to some of the darker issues Strayed explored while on her trek to heal herself of the devastating loss of her mother and the self-inflicted wounds of adultery and drug abuse, her reflections on long distance walking resonated in a way that I would not have been able to appreciate had I not hiked the Wainwright. She personified her pack, affectionately referring to it as Monster and observes that as the trip progresses she begins to develop an innate organizational system with the pack. This is something one cannot truly understand without participating in the process of long-distance walking. I was very fortunate to meet Cheryl Strayed at a reading in Manhattan after our return to the States. We spoke briefly about long distance walking and the importance it has for mental rejuvenation. In person, she is very charismatic and funny, and her prose follows suit.

Simon Armitage is someone I studied in school and forgot; however, in the US he is not a well known poet, but rather literary folks know him for his translations of the Odyssey and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. While spending the night in Grasmere, I saw a flyer in our hotel for The Wordsworth Trusts’ Poetry Series at St. Oswald’s Church (where Wordsworth is buried). The reading that Tuesday was for Simon Armitage and all it said underneath was “THIS READING SELLS OUT QUICKLY; BOOK AHEAD.”  In tiny print at the bottom of the page it said that some tickets would be released the day of the performance for limited view seating. Now it was the day of the reading and being a New Yorker used to waiting in three or four hour lines for the possibility of tickets to Shakespeare in the Park, I had an overwhelming and desperate urge to rush to the ticket booth. At 8:30am I was the only one in Grasmere on line and the tickets we bought, which were cheaper because they were day of, were in perfect sight of Armitage. The Church was crowded, but to my relief it was a manageable mass, with plenty of open seating remaining should someone have walked up to the door at 8pm at the start of the performance. Armitage’s poetry was hip and narrative and engaging. He was shortlisted as Britain’s Poet Laureate and is a national favorite on the school curriculum. We were instantly enchanted by his words. He read selections from his latest book, Walking Home, about walking the far more rigorous Pennine Way trail, in the reverse direction, with the wind at his face. Armitage’s schtick is that he will walk as a Troubador with no money and will rely upon whatever funds or generosity is bestowed upon him for his poetry. Each night after walking a leg f the route, he will offer a free public reading. I purchased a copy of Armitage’s memoir and when I met him after the reading, told him about our trip. He was polite, but less enthused. On my train ride to Manchester, I was reading his memoir and couldn’t help but giggle when I came to this passage:

“The Pennine Way might be the first, the mother-of-all, the Route 66 and the Trans-Siberian Railroad of long-distance walks, but it is also an un glamorous slog among soggy, lonely moors, requiring endurance and resolve. As such, it faces stiff competition from those newer leisure trails rich in car parks, information centres, tea shops, gift shops and conveniences of all kinds, with celebrity-chef restaurants and four-star accommodation along the route, plus significant termini at each end, such as national borders or the sea.” (Armitage 67).

I suppose the Coast to Coast is a boutique walk, but nonetheless, Armitage’s encounters with bulls and farmers and bog were all very meaningful to me as I reflected back on our trip.

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About 30 Ways of Walking

Gina Liotta's writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, Slate, The Paterson Literary Review, LIPS, and The Healing Muse, among others. She lives, writes and teaches in New York.
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