In 2020, the world went to hell in a handbag – not that this is headline news, but for Person Irresponsible, it was the year she got off the sofa and trekked a little further than once around the block. From Mexico to Canada to be precise – a distance of 2,650 miles or so across California, Oregon, and Washington.
Previously, she had walked from the sofa to the fridge and back in her Cotswolds’ cottage in west England. It probably surprised her least of all that just as the world partook in her favorite pastime of sofa-surfing, she went all Action Woman. That said she hasn’t got the faintest idea what compelled her to do it in the first instance. She hates camping and assumed a hike was something one undertook for a few hours before returning for a hot chocolate and an even hotter bath.
The Author of Everything You Ever Taught Me
British Author, Person Irresponsible, writes under her ‘trail name’ but in doing so she also maintains her anonymity as a recovering alcoholic and member of Alcoholics Anonymous. She is, in her own words, female, fat, and forty-something. She doesn’t look or sound like a drunk and barely writes about her drunken exploits.
Instead, she describes how the lessons she learned in getting and maintaining sobriety in the early years, equally applied to traipsing across the wilderness when one is more accustomed to living in a solid-brick building with high-speed broadband. She is also, incidentally, hilariously funny.
If you’ve ever had a yearning to live in a tent for six months amongst such horrors as rattlesnakes, bears, scorpions and mountain lions then this book is the one to describe the reality of that. She learns that wearing underwear at night gives one a better sense of security, and that rattlesnakes always have the right of way – even if they are just sticks on the ground.
She learned that pelting out “God Save Our Gracious Queen” works effectively to scare away sleepy bears. Any national anthem works just fine – just so long as long as one knows the words under the threat of being its breakfast porridge. Another night she asserted a mountain lion should ‘piss off’ when it encroached on her campsite. She was astonished that such a wild beast would comply, when her own domesticated, and significantly smaller feline, would put her in her place.
If it wasn’t the wildlife that was threatening, she also had to counter hunger, anger, loneliness and sheer exhaustion – and that was just a morning’s work. Each day commenced in the same way – wriggling parts of her limbs to determine which joints didn’t scream out in agony, and then unleashed all the trappings of her sleeping bag into the atmosphere, nearly causing her to pass out.
As a British woman in America, even going shopping in a pandemic could be considered a baffling adventure – as she tried to make sense of American food and terminology. Cut off from society at large for up to ten days at a time, each time she returned to civilization she found a new reason to run for the hills – riots, empty shelves, drunken gatherings, men wearing knickers on their faces…
Probably the biggest torment of all were her ‘head demons’ who liked nothing better than to play on her insecurities and her pasts. She crosses paths with other boomers and forty-somethings, all of whom were also coming to terms with their own life adversities – marriage breakdowns, the death of children, abuse or depression.
The Pacific Crest Trail is nowhere near the sea – which surprised the author who thought it was called the Pacific Coast Trail. Situated hundreds of miles in land, the world’s longest continuous path forced the suffering walker to climb uphill and down dale multiple times a day in her quest north, even though she spent more time seemingly going west or east. She traversed its highest point at Forester Path, a snow-capped horror of a mountain range at 13,000 feet, and rattled across the lowest point: a metal bridge spanning the Columbia river a few score of feet just above sea level.
She coped with snow in the desert, heatwaves in the Sierra, as well as droughts, floods, plagues, and fires. She staggered through super blooms, swamps, and swarms of mosquitoes. She wore out seven pairs of shoes in six months as she coped with one crisis after another, including her own mid-life one, within the context of the global pandemic. Everything You Ever Taught Me is a fascinating insight into a very alternative 2020 and definitely a must-read for anyone interested in adventure, recovery, and self-help.