And the answer: Pacific Crest Trail.
Known colloquially as the "PCT," the Pacific Crest Trail trail runs from the border of Canada near Castle Peak, Washington to the border of Mexico at Campo, California. Cheryl hiked 1,100 miles of the 2,663-mile-long PCT in June 1995. She began her journey at Mojave, California, and finished her 94-day trek at the Bridge of the Gods on the Oregon-Washington border.
Although the Pacific Crest Trail is a popular goal for backpackers and day-hikers alike, Cheryl Strayed's fascinating true tale caused an explosion of interest in the intensive trek. In the years following the publication of her 2012 memoir, the popularity of Wild (first the book and now the movie) led to a 300% jump in PCT hiking permit applications. In fact, it was so popular that the PCT Association instituted a new permit system allowing only 50 hikers to start at the southernmost point a day.
Strayed's memoir tells of loss, pain and family along the PCT, which is certainly a common experience along the strenuous trail. In order to walk the full trail within the snow-free season, hikers have to cover about 20 miles per day. What's more: the terrain varies intensely throughout the 5-month endeavor, meaning hikers must be prepared for anything the weather can give. The PCT traverses six of the U.S.'s seven ecozones: alpine tundra, subalpine forest, upper montane forest, lower montane forest, upper Sonoran (oak woodlands and grassland), and lower Sonoran (the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts). If walking southbound, hikers have to be prepared with crampons and ice picks as avalanche season begins to pick up.
And yet, it can be done. Learn more about hiking the PCT and Strayed's experience doing so here.