A long walk “in the way of beauty”



 Wild, the film based on the book of the same name, opens in Davis tomorrow and I’ve been speeding through the audiobook (we’re reading it for book club this month) so that I can go see it. Reese Witherspoon plays the author, Cheryl Strayed, and the film follows her character on her over-1,000-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail—a through-trail that crosses all kinds of terrain and elevations—as well as in the flashbacks of her life that led her to the trail. The New York Times gave it a rave review; and the screenplay is by writer Nick Hornby (whose last foray into film, An Education, was wonderful and whose About a Boy was a favorite).

Strayed set out on the trail with no experience—which I think is what makes her story particularly interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever do what she did, but I’m curious how I’d fare. “Go above your nerve,” she quotes Emily Dickenson. I wonder: how’s my nerve?

Here are some other things I’m curious about: What would I miss most from my “real” life? (Besides people—having two small children at home sort of puts a walk like this out of question for me, so let’s put that aside.) What do I really need? What would I ask for first-thing off the trail? (She requests a Snapple which, for the record, would doubtful be it.) What habits would it break me of? Would I come to miss Instagram and social media? Or would I realize how much better off I’d be without it? And would all the oils in my hair eventually make it look less-oily as some have promised? Is shampoo actually messing with our scalps? Important stuff.

Here’s the truth: I don’t feel a need to test my nerve right now, but there’s an appeal to this sort of journey—clearly, for so many people—where one has to be alone with herself for a set time, where one has to accomplish a goal. And where one puts herself, as Strayed says in the film, “in the way of beauty.”

But I’m not yearning to carry my bed and a camp stove to put myself there, so I’ve been doing some research on an alternative. Essentially the idea would be to go on a very long walk (sometimes quite strenuous) with days of quiet and beauty broken up by nights at guesthouses, by warm meals of local food and wine, and by picnics packed along the way. Hiking inn to inn with no giant pack, no “Monster” on your back.

Here are a few such itineraries that I’m setting aside for a future date…



A walk across Ireland (Dublin to Dingle), 387 miles
Walk from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, crossing the Wicklow mountains and the Dingle Peninsula with stops at monasteries and pubs along the way. I’ve been yearning to go back to Ireland since our June visit, a few years back. What a gorgeous place! I imagine ending each day, legs a bit tired with a slight chill, at a pub with fish and chips, strong stouts, and some good tunes. These sorts of treks have a longer tradition in Europe, so there are lots of resources, in books and online, as well as organized outfitters for this one. (Photos from our trip to Ireland)

Beside the Pacific in California (Mexico to Malibu or around Northern California), up to 200 miles
Cozy beds, ocean views, and dynamic landscapes: Tom Courtney maintains a forum (this entry is particularly inspiring) and has published books on the subject of hiking inn to inn in California, with itineraries that anticipate a pace average of 2 miles per hour. One of his routes, around Mt. Tam, even includes a visit to a meditation center. (Top photo from our drive along the coast)

Coast to Coast in England (St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay), 190 miles
One of the most famous inn-to-inn walks follows a path marked by Alfred Wainwright—a former accountant who took to walking across Britain and wrote a series of guidebooks with details maps of bogs and barns and lakes and whatnot. The Coast to Coast walk starts in northwest England on the Irish seacoast, crosses through three national parks and plenty of misty (or dreary) Austen-evocative landscapes to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea. It seems most travelers take about two weeks to complete the walk, stopping at guesthouses and pubs along the way. The route is well-serviced, so one could even employ help for shuttling bags, and a description was published in The Smithsonian Magazine. There is also an amazingly useful National Trails site that the government maintains for planning any number of walking trips through England and Wales.

Following pilgrims in Spain (Camino de Santiago), up to 500 miles
Though the Camino was originally made by those on a religious pilgrimage, plenty of people come to walk its 500 miles for any number of reasons. And there are actually various approaches to Santiago de Compostela, the most famous being the “French way,” from St. Jean, France, to Santiago and dates back to the the 12th century. The Guardian published a helpful piece a while back that links to a variety of resources for those wishing to complete even just a portion of the trail, including companies that will arrange lodging throughout or recommendations that are either “pilgrim” or “posh.”


In the footsteps of Romans (Via Claudia Augusta), 435 miles
Emperor Claudius established the Via Claudia Augusta as the first real road through the Alps to connect Altinum (a port on the Adriatic sea) with the Danube in 15 BC; it was completed in 47 AD. Today the route is primarily known as a popular cycling route, spanning three nations. Those hoping to move along the road can set up maps, arrange shuttles through alpine passes, and seek lodging (there are more than 200 guesthouses along the way) here. (Photo from a trip to Rome.)


Walk among the wines (Provence, Tuscany, or any number of places where the terroir is good)
It was the idea of walking from vineyard to vineyard, between monasteries and Michelin-starred restaurants in Provence that actually first got me on this subject. There are plenty of such itineraries out there, though perhaps slightly less historic by nature. There are actually books about this that are called Walking and Eating. Let’s be clear about priorities, shall we? (Photo from our recent visit to Tuscany)

I’ve also heard good things about alpine routes in Switzerland, walking ways in Scotland, the Via Francigena in Italy, and—on a smaller scale—the Cinque Terre routes in Italy (we did route #2 in a single day, but you could take your time). Any other well-served routes outside of Europe you’re aware of? Until I can make my own way, I think I’ll live through Cheryl Strayed (and Reese Witherspoon) vicariously.


Have you done something like this? Are you curious? If so, what most about? Which walk or through-trail most appeals to you?

This discussion is sponsored by Fox Searchlight Pictures. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting Hither & Thither. #WILDmovie is in select theaters now. (Check this list to find out when it comes to your city.)

[Photos from Wild (second, bottom) courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures; All others my own, borrowed from travelogues: Ireland, Rome (more recent travelogue here), Tuscany, & California]

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