Day 52: Walking with Cheryl Strayed

I know myself well enough to know to be careful about what I read at times like this. Reading has always been a huge part of my life, and I love nothing more than to read a book that is somehow related to where I am, say on a vacation or in my life. Like reading The Horse Whisperer when I turned 40. Devastating.

As soon as you mention that your son is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, people tell you to read Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s account of her walk–and grieving the loss of her mother–in 1995, Of course, I saw the movie in 2014 and loved it, but I was shy about reading the book as I was sure it contained way too much information about things like bears, cliffs, starvation, lack of water, and loneliness for me to be able to handle it well.

I found it in Michael’s bedroom last week, while I was in there packing Box 6, and decided to give it a try. Michael had last called me on May 30. He sounded great, said he was feeling great and was happy. He was camped at Tehachapi, at the 566 mile marker and was leaving that afternoon to head into the Sierra Madres. His next stop was to be Kennedy Meadows, the first stop in the Sierras. He told me that he’d be out of cell range for the next seven days and would Facetime me from Kennedy Meadows, where they’d surely have wifi.  I told him to keep hitting that SPOT button every night.

Maybe that’s what motivated me. I knew we were entering a silent stretch, and the terrain was changing. I also knew that the box I’d sent to Kennedy Meadows had some serious supplies: his heavy duty hiking boots, a bear locker (which is basically a large thick plastic container like what you buy pretzels or cheese puff snacks in at Sam’s or Costco, with a really tricky screw-on top), and The Worlds Most Beautiful Titanium Ice Ax. When you send a box like that to your kid, with a note saying “Have fun!”, it makes you a little shaky.

So I started reading. Cheryl Strayed got on the PCT almost exactly where Michael was on May 30th. (I think she was closer to the 600 mile marker, to be exact). Her first stop was Kennedy Meadows. From there, she faced the Sierras, the snow and ice, and the bears. She describes the exact trail, at the exact place where Michael is traveling, as he is traveling it. She talks about the snow, and the danger of crossing ice slides and how to use the ice ax to stabilize herself, and stop herself from sliding off a ledge. She talks about freezing at night and the inside of her tent being frosted in the morning.

Photo by Cheryl Strayed, Mount Jefferson,

I didn’t talk to Michael again until last night. That’s 19 days. I was fearful that maybe he’d lost his phone, as the SnapChat photos stopped eventually too. He wasn’t good with SPOT messages either. They seemed to come every three days, at odd hours of the day. When he didn’t call or send a message from Kennedy Meadows, I started to worry. But I kept reading. There really wasn’t anything else I could do.

Michael has always been a man of few words. He doesn’t fill in all the colorful details of his experience, he simply tells you the basics. I’m use to it, of course. So during this quiet period, when I knew the walk was getting more difficult, I’ve satisfied my need for information by making this journey with Cheryl Strayed. I’ve been looking at the same mountains, crossing the same creeks and ice slides, almost stepping on the rattlesnakes and stepping into the same General Stores as Michael has, with all of the color and muscle and raw honesty of this woman’s narrative. Its been wonderful. She’s a brilliant writer, and its an amazing thing to be reading each step of the way, as Michael walks. I wish her book went on forever. Or at least until Canada.

Michael’s photo this morning.

Cheryl Strayed hiked 1,100 miles of the 2,663 mile long Pacific Crest Trail. She began her journey in Mojave, California and finished her 94-day trek at the Bridge of the Gods on the Oregon-Washington border. Her story is incredible. She did this before it was popular–in fact, she’s made it popular. She did it alone, without any real substantive experience. She’s a Shero, as Maya Angelou would say.

Cheryl Strayed, 1995

Wild has broken my heart and terrified me and inspired me and made me grateful that my son has the audacity and determination to do something as other-worldly as hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone. It’s made me grateful that I’ve lived beyond my daughter’s 22nd year and she will never know what its like to lose a mom before she knows how to live on her own. It’s made me appreciate the amazing things my children can do when their lives depend on it, or when they face a grief so great they must flight their way out from under it. I pray every single day that Michael and his fellow travelers are safe, particularly now that they are in this dangerous, heavily snowed-in Sierra Madre mountain range, and that he makes it home here in October, proud of what he has done.

Above all else, I thank God for my children and for the 27 years I’ve spent with them.

And I pray that Michael comes down off that mountain range if its too difficult, catches a bus to Oregon and keeps walking.

Crossing a snow patch below Forester Pass. Photo: Junaid Dawud/Flickr

The conditions on the PCT in the Sierras are highly dangerous right now. They’ve had a record snowfall year, and as California warms up, the ice is melting, the creeks are teaming and the soft snow is collapsing into underground caverns, the avalanche risk is high and there are ice slides. You can follow the conditions and conversation at  https://www.facebook.com/PCTAFan/

Thank you all for your prayers for everyone out on the PCT this year. And for me, Terrified Mom.

13 Comments

  1. Ron

    June 19, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Geez Max. You are growing as much as your son. Some years from now when you re-read this blog you will think, “how did I keep my wits?” Fact is I wondered if you would, and now I know you are way stronger than I gave you credit for. Good on ya sis.

    1. MaxineFrampton

      June 20, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      Thank you, Ron. One day at a time. xoxo

  2. Stefanie

    June 19, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    God Bless you Maxine! You are an amazingly strong mom. I would be beyond crazy, in fact I freak out just reading your blog. I envision you talking about my son, they have many similarities and i

  3. Beth Ann

    June 19, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    Great update Maxine! I’m with you every breath of the way on this…. I think in my mind of Michael as my 5th since he’s in my mind every day and I speak of him often . He has such a healthy , realistic determination … he’s learned that from you! You’re just watching him grow and succeed from an unusual vantage point! Glad you real Wild. You know he left it right there for you to read when you are ready… I’m excited for him to tackle this next part! Hang in there !!!

    1. MaxineFrampton

      July 25, 2017 at 8:39 am

      I know that you are, Beth Ann, and it means the world to me. Thank you for that and so much more. xox

  4. Rachel

    June 20, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Maxine you too are a shero for reasons that are clear in this blogpost as well as others no one may ever know. Sweet, brave, little freckle faced Michael is 21 today and what a better rite of passage than for him to slip (not literally of course) into adulthood in the most independent way with the almost unconscious awareness of your unwaivering and unending support. We don’t often, but today is a good day to imagine some day in the future when he (and all of our children) will know what we already do, that a parent is an unyielding anchor and a spinning compass. That the best we can do in life is to embrace that and give it to the next children so the Love goes and grows to generations.
    Happy Birthday Michael and happy 21 years to you Maxine. My prayer (of petition) to all who’ve gone before, is that today you both walk with Joy ❤️

    1. MaxineFrampton

      June 20, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      Rachel, thank you so very, very much. You are so right. There could be no better way. Tears of joy, I promise.

  5. u don

    June 21, 2017 at 4:35 am

    I Mike, Happy Birthday or what I prefer to say… M H R of T D which is a wish for a lot more birthdays that are happy and satisfying. I ask the question.. Do you get to read this long missives of overwhelming affection ..or would you be happier with just a few chocolate bars. Lets fergits the long line of complicated questions that you totally omitted to answer..or failed to see… Blame your dear mother.. The one question I would like to know the answer to is Temperatures. Today in England the top temperature will be c33/35 Celsius. We gave up using Fahhrenheit many years ago.. zero is now freezing point so converted to Fahrenheit its around 100/103. So what is it where you are, in what is today, the Summer Solstice 21/6/17 high Summer. Which reminds me.. and I am sure you knew this.. Emily Kaufmann also has a birthday that happens to be today and mor eimportant than any other on the planet Queen Elizabeth the 2nd ….on whom the sun never sets… also has her official birthday.. she has two. comes with the job of being a Monarch. her other one is in April. I am quite sure you must be deliriously happy to know all that.

    Remind me one day to take you on a walk along GR10.. a path that marks the ridge line of the Pyrenees Mountains that separates Spain and France, running from the Atlantic coast to the coast of the Mediterranean.
    my best. u don

    1. Michael Fonseca

      June 28, 2017 at 3:34 pm

      Hey Uncle Don!

      The temperature is really fickle up here. Typically it’ll be sub-freezing at night; however, it can get as warm as 70-80 degrees fahrenheit during the day. There are other variables which come into play, like proximity to water and what altitude we camp at.

      As for your previous questions, we don’t really have a leader. We all have very similar paces and abilities, so we take turns navigating because currently there isn’t really a trail, it’s been mostly washed out by the massive melt. Before the sierras, we would average about a 20 miles a day on hiking days. Now that we’re in the sierra, we’ve dropped to about 10-15 miles a day because we’re limited to doing 1 mountain pass a day before the snow becomes too melted. The oldest person in our group is Lysol, I believe he’s 38, and I’m the youngest by 6 years. Typically we will walk about 8-10 hours a day, sometimes breaking it up into two hiking stretches with a siesta in the middle. Feel free to ask more, I’ll do my best to answer anything.

      Sincerely, Michael

  6. Judith frampton

    June 21, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Happy Birthday 🎉
    Michael!
    Proud of you!
    Grammy

  7. Shari Stern

    June 21, 2017 at 11:55 pm

    Maxine, please give me a call. It’s Shari Stern at White Rock Lake weekly 214-574-9198

    1. MaxineFrampton

      June 28, 2017 at 9:44 pm

      Shari, I’m just seeing this comment now. I’ll give you a call tomorrow. Michael is headed back up into the Sierra tomorrow afternoon, and just told me that he’ll be out of cell range for two weeks, after tomorrow. Thank you for reaching out to us.

      1. MaxineFrampton

        July 25, 2017 at 8:38 am

        Shari, thank you for all your efforts to interview Michael for the paper and for all your kind words about him. We look forward to your story!

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