They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But if you’re anything like writers Alisa Piper and Cheryl Strayed then it’s also a good idea to have a pen and some paper in your pocket. These two strong and fearless women appeared in conversation with Caroline Baum for the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival. What ensued was a frank discussion and description of their unique, life-altering journeys.
Strayed set off on her walk after her mother – and her self-confessed “only parent” – had died. At the time Cheryl was only 22. After some navel-gazing and soul-searching four years would pass and in 1995 she embarked on a 1770 kilometre trek along the Pacific Crest trail through California and Oregon. It was a different world back then but it would ultimately spawn the New York Times best seller, Wild.
Piper’s journey was a thoroughly different one, which she had initially intended to be the subject of a theatre monologue. She walked from Granada to Galicja in Spain chasing an idea not seen since the Middle Ages. She had read that slaves were once paid to carry the burden of people’s sins to the holy land. So she decided to do the same thing for her nearest and dearest. Only problem was that the road was a long one – even for a self-confessed walker – and she came perilously close to committing a misdemeanour or two of her very own.
Neither woman’s tales were designed to be a how-to or survival guide. In the case of Strayed it was almost the opposite, as she would set out with “an impossible to lift pack” that weighed over 35 kilos. Her boots were also the wrong size resulting in her loosing six toenails and both women carried large libraries of books with them. These included ones that they had already read in what was a most impressive form of sadistic punishment.
Although the masses have caught Eat, Pray, Love fever, it’s fair to say that these two women have embarked on their own individual, thought-provoking journeys that ultimately lead towards redemption because they took charge of their own destinies. And as this particular day’s session proved, they completed their mighty tasks with dignity, courage and unreal levels of stamina.
The pair would eventually exorcise some demons and experience some intense feelings and emotions but above all, the exercise was an important one in the getting of wisdom. Having shared their experiences with such forthright honesty there is no doubt in my mind that they had inspired at least a few audience members to go forth and take a walk.
Originally published on 26 May 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/writers-festival-lost-found-feat-alisa-piper-cheryl-strayed-sydney-theatre-23-05-13
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