Monday, August 3, 2015
Women Who Walk
I love to travel (I've been to about 15 countries) and I love to walk (I've walked a whole marathon.) I want to do that giant walk across Spain sometime (Camino de Santiago). With that in mind, I gravitate towards books on travel and the rare books about hiking/walking.
Lately I've noticed a mini-trend of travel books about women going (mostly) solo on incredible trips that are not just physical, but also emotional. I'll bet you've heard of the first two: Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. But then I also read Tracks by Robyn Davidson and Phenomenal by Leigh Ann Henion and I really started to see a theme. And it's not a theme I see in books about men out trekking across the world. You don't get the same level of introspection and emotional catharsis in Bill Bryson's books or Tim Cahill's. Why is that? Is it because the woman traveling alone is so unexpected and even occasionally dangerous, that the emotions are heightened along with the danger and unusualness of the situation? Reading about Cheryl hiking in the Pacific Coast mountains is such a different experience than Bryson and Katz attacking the Appalachian trial. It's hard to be funny when you're alone and afraid. And when you're alone, you can face things that are more easily suppressed in company. In fact, sometimes you get to face things that you'd rather not.
But why is it all women? Aren't there any men out there with difficult and uneasy backgrounds who go on a trip to find themselves and their place in the world? Sure, Sarah Vowell's books are travelogues that are also hilarious and not very introspective, but that's a different kind of travel--mostly by plane and car and with an agenda, meeting historians and guides, like Tony Horwitz. Long ago I read Tony Hawk's Round Ireland With A Fridge in which he hitchhikes around the perimeter of Ireland with a mini fridge (due to a bet) and so he's traveling a little more rough and he's alone, aside from all the drivers he encounters, but there's still no revelation, no long night with the soul.
The only one I've found that seems to have a chance at being in the same ballpark is A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins (which I haven't read yet so I can't swear to it.) But still, the fact that there is only one, when there are so many, many travel books by men, makes me really wonder why. Is it because women are more drawn to these experiences in order to encourage or incite an emotional breakthrough? Or are they more likely to have an emotional experience when traveling than men? Which is the impetus: the travel or the breakthrough? Which one is the means and which one is the end?
I do love travel, and the idea of following in these footsteps, even just a little, is tempting, although the danger is still very real (and I don't like camping that isn't car camping, so I lean towards Eat Pray Love or Phenomenal to emulate.) But I have found I do very much enjoy the travel book that isn't just a "we went there, we saw this" list of places, but instead is a deeper communing with nature and the world. Are there others? I do hope this mini-trend continues. In the meantime, these books are great to listen to while you walk. Maybe they'll inspire you to get out, experience nature, and think a bit.