By Cheryl Strayed
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State – and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparking with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
Please bear with me with this review. I had read the book in November before Christmas yet had not been able to write out a review until now. It’s been some time and a few other books in-between but I still feel compelled to talk about Wild.
My dad picked this book up for me in the summer while I was still stuck on walking the Camino de Santiago trail. (I’m still wanting to do this!) I’m unsure of his motivations, but I was aware that he and my mom had seen the movie previously and I’m sure he wanted to give me more glimpses into what it takes to walk difficult and challenging trails.
Like with many of my books in my ‘to be read’ pile, it took me a while before I picked it up to read. I have not seen the film yet, or knew much about the story in general except for the fact that a young woman was hiking a wilderness trail. Wild turned out to be a very unexpected reading journey for me. Not only do we follow Cheryl as she recounts her time spent on the PCT, but we get glimpses into her thoughts, scattered that they were and into her own being – her past, her faults, and relationships with several people throughout her life. In particular her relationship with her mother.
The flashbacks took some getting used to, not to mention the book itself doesn’t feel like it’s all in chronological order. We spend just as much time on the trail with Cheryl as in her mind going back through her life and life choices before she took on the challenge of the PCT. Yet, I can understand the purpose of writing in this style. After all walking day after day the mind wonders and it doesn’t always wonder in order. In that way, we truly feel that we are walking next to Cheryl as she struggles with life, the PCT and her ‘Monster’ pack.
I wonder how many of you know about the Pacific Crest Trail? I will admit that I am unfamiliar with how long it is myself. The only reason I knew anything at all about it is from a previous documentary about John Muir and that part of the PCT incorporates his trails and dedicated to his memory. Let’s just say that the PCT follows the mountains along the west cost. That’s right, it’s up and down mountains, through valleys and reserves. I could just imagine the scenery and beauty that is along the way, but I don’t think I could ever climb the mountains as those who take it up do. It definitely takes a certain something to get you up and hiking each morning. Not only do you have to carry your backpack with you with all it’s gear – but food as well, water too for some areas, and cooking equipment to eat at night. I can understand groups going, that way you can shift the weight of certain equipment around – but solo hikers have it harder I think.
Cheryl Strayed took on this challenge on purposefully alone. She carried everything she could, with stock piles of more food mailed ahead of time along the trail for her to pick up. Not only did she have to deal with her backpack weight issue (which she overdid), but also the fact that for many days – weeks even, she was completely alone. She had to deal with problems by herself, which included getting lost a lot and bears. Yet, despite many times doubting her own abilities and wishing to give up and go home, Cheryl pushed on and managed to accomplish something that I think is truly amazing.
There are so many stories in Wild, personal stories involving Cheryl’s own internal growth and healing, as well as stories of people she came across while hiking – fellow hikers, strangers and those that gave her rides when she needed them. I remember crying in a few places on the book that dealt with her mother and the fight with cancer Cheryl had to watch her go through. It struck chords that I didn’t know I had, while at other times there was humour and encouragement to go out and do something just as crazy.
Wild was an amazing account of Cheryl’s adventures along the PCT. It has a powerful message about not giving up and to keep walking forward despite the pain, hardships and other emotional problems that are dragging you down. It is a pilgrimage, a transformation we see Cheryl go through along the way.
If any of you have not read this book, I do recommend it. I think it’s well written, even if it’s off track at times, and heartfelt. As for the movie – I have been sitting on the fence about it. I’m sure many of you know that most movies never turn out as good as the book. I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually, but the book is in high standings for now.