The Modern-Day Pilgrimage

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

pilgramage (h-k-d/flickr)

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Vintage, 2012), talks about her experience hiking more than a thousand miles - alone - along the Pacific Crest Trail as her life was falling apart and how it helped her put herself back together. Plus: Your calls on your own modern-day pilgrimages and quests: Where did you go? What did you do? And did you discover anything important about yourself?

This segment originally aired live on July 2, 2014. An edited version was included in a best-of episode of The Brian Lehrer Show on January 1, 2015. The unedited audio can be found here. 



Cheryl Strayed

Comments [12]

Ross from South Orange

Although some people can take a trip across the entire country to visit "everyone she has ever known," they can't seem to get away from making it a commodity. Jean Whattley may have left her corporate job, but it did not leave her. I couldn't help but think that she managed to diminish her experience by selling it as a book and calling (from St. Louis?)a radio talk show in NYC in order to promote it. Please. Is there no one on the radio who isn't selling her or her soul?

Jean, please don't cheapen my favorite show on all of radio and TV by making shameless pitches for your little book.

Jan. 01 2015 10:57 AM
ellen from Upper Manhattan

It's one thing to set off alone when you're 20, 30, even 40, but another to do so when you've turned 70 and as a side-effect of treatment for leukemia, you are gradually losing nerve sensation in your feet and legs. I wouldn't have done it at all without an unexpected small windfall, which I could have spent more sensibly, no doubt. But I needed to face fears about what was ahead and it seemed like living alone in Italy for a month would be a good place to begin. I chose a small village near Tuscany, rented a lovely house and an automatic shift car(my feet could not handle a clutch) and every day faced fears about reaching out, driving places I'd never been, shopping for food, etc., all in Italian, which I didn't speak. I needn't have worried. As soon as word got out that there was an American living alone, people began to approach me and invite me to join them at their table or visit their house or take a drive with them. Still, each time I walked out, it was with fear, especially on my daily walks around the village, calling attention to myself. But I soon learned that a nod, smile and Buongiorno or Buonasera as I passed others was always reciprocated and seemed to be welcomed. It was a good fit for me, that little village.

Aug. 22 2014 11:28 AM
Eugenia Renskoff from NYC

Hi, In the 80s I was tired of my life the way it was, so when the opportunity to go back to Argentina presented itself, I left everything behind me and travelled back to Buenos Aires, the city of my birth. In Argentina, I found for a time love, attention and a sense of belonging. And I loved deeply and truly. The experience affected me so much that I wrote and published a novel titled Different Flags. I have never regretted that trip. It changed my life forever in ways that I never thought possible. Now I am on another quest, the quest for a home.

Jul. 02 2014 01:33 PM
Mia from Manhattan

On the subject of pilgrimages, The Way, the 2012 Emilio Estevez film starring his Dad, Martin Sheen, is quite a lovely and inspiring story about a man who decides to complete his son's pilgrimage in Spain on the Camino de Santiago, after the son dies suddenly. He is angry and grief-stricken and only wants to be alone, but as he goes along several other peregrinos attach themselves to him, and they make their trip together.

Jul. 02 2014 11:11 AM
Brian G. Andersson from The Bronx, NYC

I'm the former Commissioner of NYC's Dept. of Records which houses the Municipal Archives. I've helped many people over the years on their genealogical quests and have presented many other high-profile individuals the documents of their family histories. (I'd be happy to assist you too, Brian.)
In my own case, I've just returned from a trip to Sweden where Jonas Bronck of The Bronx was born. (This is the 375th anniversary year of his arrival here.) But, equally important for me was "closing a 115-year circle" by visiting the grave of my Swedish great-grandfather in Copenhagen. His death there in 1897 caused his widow and two children (one being my grandfather, then 13)to emigrate to the United States in 1899, specifically New York City (thank you, God). This was the first of my 4 grandparents to emigrate. That grandparent was the only one I never met, as he died a few years before my birth. But it was my surname grandparent, the name I carry as my family name. It was important to me to search out the details that had long been simply not spoken about. World Wars and a Great Depression didn't spawn the luxury interest in genealogy certainly. Apparently, mine was the only branch of this Andersson family to have emigrated as I am finding out from newly-discovered cousins (thank you,
So, there I was, with prayers, tears, and gratitude at the tailor Jeppa Andersson's grave in Copenhagen, surely the first and only family member to visit there in 115 years when his teenaged son said goodbye forever. I left a small stone from his wife's grave in Woodlawn and took one to leave at hers. Circle closed.

Jul. 02 2014 11:10 AM
Margaret from Westchester County


As usual, this is a great, multidimensional conversation. I have many ways to relate to these topics, but the most important travel of my life has been the backpacking trips I have taken with my 12th grade students for the last 23 years.
As part of an experiential program called Walkabout, I have had the honor of leading adolescents into the woods to push themselves beyond their perceived limits and to reconnect with the best parts of themselves. These kids discover hidden leadership, confidence and extraordinary capacities for compassion. We use these trips as a metaphor for what they can do throughout their lives if they push themselves. A month ago I walked out of the Adirondacks with my kids, blown away by the more than 1400 Walkabout students who had been saved by these mountains since 1977.

Jul. 02 2014 10:52 AM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

Wow - that was the best call I've ever heard on this show! I want to read her book - Jean Allen Whatley - Off The Leash

Jul. 02 2014 10:40 AM

My quest is still in progress, so much so that a girlfriend gave me the Strayed's book to use as a sort of Bible/guide. After my marriage died, I left my ex-husband at a family member's wake and boarded a plane to Australia. Scariest move I've ever made. Still working on it :/

Jul. 02 2014 10:39 AM
Kym from Bedford Hills

In 2008 I had the opportunity to meet the man, a male relative, who molested me when I was 5 years old so I could forgive him. The preparation for the trip began almost a year prior to the trip when another male relative I greatly respect approached me with the possibility of this meeting. A year later I was attending a conference (the Gospel Music Workshop of America) which happened to be in the same city where the male relative who abused me lived. We met and spoke over two days. I forgave him and that began another phase of my quest for inner peace and forgiveness for myself.

Jul. 02 2014 10:34 AM
Jessie Henshaw from Way Uptown

I had the shock that when I went to do some hitchhiking to visit friends for a summer, after grad school, I had the visceral experience of feeling "ready to learn".

Not knowing what I'd find, it turned into a 10 year "walkabout" just littered with tremendous discoveries of new friends and about the fields I'd studied as I made them real for me...

Jul. 02 2014 10:31 AM
mr nyc

My family and I visited the hospital that my grandfather, a doctor and medical missionary, helped build between 1906-1927 and is still there (it's now one of the biggest teaching hospitals in China). He also built a house near the hospital that is also still there and is now the home of a Chinese general. It was great to see that his legacy still lives on 100 years later and almost 50 years after his death.

Jul. 02 2014 10:28 AM
Amelia from Crown Heights

While on a trip to Rome, my sister and I spent several days in the tiny mountain town that our great-grandparents were from. We found their birth records, marriage record and got to explore the crumbling church where they had been married. We even got found a bakery named after the family and brought cookies back to the states for our grandmother.

Jul. 02 2014 10:26 AM

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