Going ‘Wild’ on the Pacific Crest Trail

Photo credit: Tanja M. Laden

Being a self-employed publisher of my own website and a freelancer with half a dozen high-profile outlets isn’t always as glamorous as it might seem. I’m usually hustling to make ends meet and hunting down money that’s owed to me, which sometimes doesn’t come until a full year after I’ve written a piece — sometimes longer. Other times (and actually, quite often) I willfully don’t get paid at all, but I believe in what I’m writing so much that I don’t care. The reason I do it is because I think my work will somehow touch someone, help them make a decision or just make them aware of something they weren’t before. Another big tradeoff of this massively crazy endeavor is the fact that I have access to a level of culture that I otherwise wouldn’t, and just when I’m about ready to throw in the towel, I’m reminded of why I do what I do.

Recently, I met with a group of other lady writers at a Women’s Wellness Weekend hosted by Fox Home Entertainment at the Parker Palm Springs. We kicked things off by watching the film Wild, which stars Reese Witherspoon as a free-spirited though troubled woman who backpacks a 1100-mile journey along the Pacific Crest Trail. Along the way, she faces some of her pivotal decisions in the wake of a life-changing event, and it’s the growing beauty of her surroundings and decreasing noise of her mind that helps her confront her pain head-on. I bawled, propelled in part by Nick Hornby‘s brilliant adaptation of Cheryl Strayed‘s memoir and the recurring opening bars of Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Cóndor Pasa.”

The next morning, I slept through morning yoga, and as was to be expected, I felt guilty about it afterwards. Following breakfast, I got ready for the highlight of the weekend: a short group hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, just as Strayed had done in her book (though she began her journey a few hundred miles north). A staff member at the Pacific Crest Trail Association, Anitra Kass led our walk. She had hiked the entire 2663-mile distance of the PCT from Mexico to Canada, and told us her shoe size went up two sizes after it was over. Kass regaled us with her stories, including a few actual “trail names,” which are traditionally bestowed upon long-distance hikers by fellow trekkers. A few that she rattled off included Hidalgo the Infidel, Chugs, Whoopin’ Stick, Vagisil (a man) and Cucumber Boy (a woman).

Photo credit: Tanja M. Laden

We began our trek at the picturesque Whitewater Preserve, located on nearly 3000 acres between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. We passed blooming desert cacti and a feral cow carcass before turning back to Whitewater, where large rocks with inspirational quotes reminded us why it’s sometimes necessary to go outdoors in order to figure out what’s going on inside our minds.

Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Back at the hotel, the weekend came to a close with an evening campfire and pep talk by happiness expert Britt Reints. Reints told us there isn’t anything you can do with feelings but feel them, and that allowing yourself to feel is one of the bravest things you could ever do. We discussed the difference between thoughts and emotions, how to accept and acknowledge without judgment, and how to be kind to yourself and just simply allow your emotions to exist.

Photo credit: Tanja M. Laden

In the end, it was a great refresher course in how to deal with my career at a time when I was feeling particularly discouraged about it. Having been a journalist for over 20 years, I’ve been forced to consistently adapt to changing publishing models, and while I’ve actually enjoyed the challenge, there are a few things I could do without. As mentioned before, chasing down payments is one of them. Another are the trolls. Back in the day, when you had something to say about what people printed in a newspaper or magazine, you had to sit down, write a letter, pull out an envelope, lick a stamp and mail it. Now, armchair critics sit behind the safety of their computer screens, cloaked in anonymity before typing out a thoughtless, often hurtful remark to something someone else put much more time and energy in creating. For a while, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to deal with it constructively. After this experience, I realized that maybe the best thing to do is just take a walk and let myself feel.