Photo: George Burns
Oprah: Every time you encountered humans, I was more afraid for you than when you met up with the rattlesnake or the bear. I think I could have survived it all except for one thing. What would really have sent me into psychological trauma, what would have made me a babbling crazy person, was the night you slept outside your sleeping bag.
Cheryl: Right. Well, it had been a very hot day, and I stopped at a pond. I was too tired to put up my tent, so I lay down, thinking, I'll just sleep under the stars. And I woke up to the sensation of somebody touching me. Little hands, all over. Cool, wet hands. And I realized that I was absolutely covered in hundreds of little black frogs.
Oprah: Eeeeeeew! Okay, well, I think it's clear that we're on the same page about the frogs. But when it comes to the book as a whole, I think everybody gets something different from it. People who've lost a parent connect on that level. Hikers connect because it's hiking, and so on. For me, the book is a spiritual journey. You were seeking meaning, the deeper part of what is.
Cheryl: I did go out there on a spiritual quest. But what I got was a physical test. I didn't understand how connected the two are. So when Monster was the physical weight I could not bear, I was having that feeling on the inside, too. The physical realm kept delivering the spiritual.
Oprah: Tell me about how this hike helped you deal with your grief.
Cheryl: I thought of my mother every day—I still think of her every day—even when I didn't realize I was thinking about her. On the trail, you don't have epiphanies, exactly; you're too busy putting one foot in front of the other. But one day, as I was walking in the snow, I came to this fallen-down tree, bare of snow. So I sat down to have a little rest. And before I knew it, I saw a flash of red off to my right. It was a fox, maybe ten feet away. At first it didn't seem to see me, but then it stopped right in front of me and turned to study me. I was startled. You know: "There's a wild animal looking at me!" But I also felt, "What an amazing moment." So I stayed still and said, "Fox," very delicately. And it turned and just continued on its way into the woods. Then, I can't explain why, but as soon as that fox began to walk away, I started yelling, "Mom. Mom. Mom." I felt that my mother was there. This sounds completely strange, but it's true.
Oprah: That sounds so not-strange to me. I felt like, of course that was your mother. Not only that, I think your mother was there the whole time. She was at every step. She was lead, head, spirit in charge.
Cheryl: She was. She still is.
Oprah: Do you feel that?
Cheryl: I do. I do. My mother always said—and it says on her tombstone—"I'm always with you." Her biggest sorrow, when she knew she was going to die, was that she was leaving me and my brother and sister. Now that I'm a mother, I understand that.
Next: How Cheryl's hike changed her life
We Hear You!