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Originally published Monday, August 13, 2012 at 6:30 AM

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A writer revisits the Pacific Crest trail of tears

Cheryl Strayed, author of the memoir "Wild" about her solo long-distance hike, returns to the trail and talks about writing her popular book.

The New York Times

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In 1995, after her mother's death and her own divorce, Cheryl Strayed decided to hike the mountainous Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington state, alone. Oh, and she had no experience in distance hiking.

During the journey, Strayed wound up battling grief and confusion as much as the elements. She recounts the trip in her memoir, "Wild," the first pick for Oprah Winfrey's rebooted book club. Now every August, she returns to the trail with her husband and her two children, ages 6 and 8.

"Whenever I step foot on the trail again, it always feels like going home," she said in a recent interview.

Below are excerpts from the rest of the conversation with Strayed (who now lives in Portland).

Q: The trail extends from Mexico to Canada. When is the best time of year to hike its length?

A: There's really only one time to go — the summer — because there will be too much snow in the High Sierra otherwise. You start in the south and move north, and the land changes dramatically. The Mojave's borders, for instance, are defined by the presence of Joshua trees; when you stop seeing them, you're no longer in the Mojave Desert. As you climb the Sierra Nevada, you start seeing pinyon and Jeffrey pines, white and red firs. You go up and up and up, and you're on the jagged, snow-covered peaks of the High Sierra, which is amazing. Then you go down to Northern California, into towering forests of cedar and ponderosa pines, and then to Oregon, which is just gothic in its lushness. Seeing that change, and seeing that at foot speed, is truly one of the most profound experiences I've ever had.

Q: Any favorite spots?

A: Crater Lake in southern Oregon. It was formed by a volcanic eruption about 8,000 years ago, so it's like a mountain in reverse: 1,943 feet deep, the deepest in the country. The rim is about 700 feet above the water's surface; it's so blue when you look down. The Klamath Indian tribe considers it a sacred site, and when you go there, you see why.

Q: How is hiking with your family different?

A: We do day hikes instead of long distances. Kids will never be able to go as far as grown-ups, but they can do a solid hike of five to seven miles, as long as it's broken up. So we say, "We're going to hike for 20 minutes, and then you can play in the creek." Or, "You can have five gummy bears for every 15 minutes that you hike." They love that because they get invested in it. My kids really do love hiking, but sometimes bribery is involved.

Q: What gear do you recommend for long-distance hikes?

A: I still use my old North Face tent from my PCT days and a mummy sleeping bag specially made for women (it gives room where we have curves). I use a collapsible Leki trekking pole. A compass, water, water purifier, an ultralight stove, a headlamp and just one pot for cooking and eating out of. You don't need a fork, just a spoon. And always a book. That's the best moment: You've pitched your tent, you've eaten your dinner, and you crawl into your tent with your headlamp and read, the sounds of wind, frogs, animals' footsteps around you. You're in your own little world.

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