Several months ago, on a late September afternoon, Jen and I were having lunch in this gorgeous Central Asian tea room in Boulder, CO with legendary hiker Andrew Skurka and his wife Amanda. An hour into our conversation, Skurka asked, "Who are the two most famous thru-hikers in the country, right now?" Jen looked at him out of the corner of her eye and said hesitantly, "you and me?" Andrew shook his head "no"  and then I said, "Cheryl Strayed and that chubby fellow Bill Bryson." To which Skurka said "bingo."

His point was, even though they haven't thru hiked, people associate Cheryl Strayed and Bill Bryson with thru hiking because they're phenomenal writers who have crossed over into mainstream America. And that's a great thing because Bryson and Strayed have garnered so much attention- and have generated so much money- for the PCT Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Throughout our book tour, and roughly three times a week, someone at one of Jen's talks- usually a woman- will ask if Jen has read Wild by Cheryl Strayed. And Jen will always give the same answer: "I haven't had time to read it yet, but my husband has and he says it's great." (She actually does have time to read it, but lately she ONLY reads business books, so Cheryl Strayed got bumped for Sheryl Sandberg.) Usually the follow up question the person asks is what Jen thinks of Strayed. And Jen goes on to explain that she's grateful for everything Strayed has done to get women outdoors and to draw attention to our nation's trails.

But beyond that Jen doesn't know much about Wild (or A Walk in the Woods for that matter). So she asked me to compare her books to Wild. For the record, I loved Wild. I read it last year. I didn't just read it; I devoured it. I sopped it up with a biscuit. I ate it like Jen ate a 2,000 calorie bag of frosted animal crackers in a 15 minute road crossing during her 2011 A.T. hike. I loved every bit of it.

I don't want to highlight every minor detail so instead I'll focus on the macro. The biggest difference is that Sheryl was just out there "livin' the dream," as Matthew Maconaughey's character would say in that 80's stoner movie Dazed and Confused. She was killing time, finding herself, enjoying life, carpe-ing the diem. Whereas Jen is a big-time goal-setter. Even when she's not setting records, the thought of not completing a thru-hike would destroy her. Then again, in a way I guess Jen was living her own dream.

Another difference is that I think Strayed was probably a writer who decided to hike, whereas Jen was a hiker who decided to write. Ultimately, though, they both hiked and they both recorded their story for posterity, so there's another similarity.

Another big similarity is that Strayed is a female and so is Jen. That's an obvious point, but it's worth making. More than that, they're both strong, intelligent, women.

It's also worth noting that Jen wrote her first book Becoming Odyssa when she was 21, and she wrote her second when she was 29. And Strayed was also a young woman when she set out from the Mexican border, ill-prepared with her way-too-heavy pack.

I keep coming back to similarities. And I'm not doing it to say that Jen and Cheryl Strayed don't have their differences. They have their differences, for sure, but I think their similarities are more important. And in the end, the biggest similarity is that Jen and Cheryl Strayed arrive at the same place. They arrive there because of their journeys. Their journeys on trails... in the wilderness... away from society and the foolish expectations that society piles up on women (and men for that matter, but that's a blog for another day).

Wild is about a cacophonous thru-hike that is never really finished. And Called Again is about a labor of love, a pilgrimage of endurance and a purification through exertion. But in the end, both women find what they are looking for.

It's like that Billy Crystal line at the end of City Slickers: what they were looking for was this one thing, and this one thing was different for both of them, and it's different for everyone. But really it's the same thing: they were looking for themselves. One of them found it through a herky-jerky PCT hike where she skipped around and slept around and fought off drug addiction. And the other found it through trail magic, religious discourse. and hiking big miles through Carolingian forest while eating Clif bars for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But they both found it.

As Jen loves to say, "the trail is there for everyone at every phase of life." At the end of the day, I think the point of both books is that the trail is cathartic. I think Jen and Cheryl Strayed would say they found their answers not on smart phones or computer screens, but in soil and moss and rock and pine. That's where the answers lie and that's where we find the best version of ourselves.