Book Review - Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
In the wake of her mother’s unexpected death, Cheryl Strayed was spiraling into a person she no longer recognized. She knew that her actions were betraying her better judgments and yet she couldn’t stop moving deeper into the void of her all-encompassing grief. She needed to find her own power and to reclaim herself, but how? A book caught her eye while waiting in line at REI in Minneapolis and she found her answer – The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume 1: California.
Many people who set out to hike long distance trails, or big sections of them, are looking for something -- something in themselves or about themselves, even if they can’t define it. Anecdotally, most of the hikers I’ve met on long trails are in some kind of transition in their lives – either just out of college or just retired, have had a career change, change in relationship status or just need to shake things up a bit. They are seeking something new, some clarity, a deeper appreciation of themselves or the world around them.
Cheryl Strayed is no exception. With the success of her book and the subsequent success of the movie adaptation starring Reece Witherspoon, she and her journey on the PCT have become a totem to many who are seeking answers to the hard stuff in life. I believe due primarily to the fact that she does not sugar-coat the hard parts. We learn in excruciating detail about the all-encompassing pain brought on by her too-small boots, her pack weight that is more penance than practical, and the abject loneliness that days on end with the company of nothing but the thoughts in her own head can bring. Her descriptions are palpable, whether the reader has never set foot on a hiking trail before, or has many miles under their feet already.
Her journey, or spirit-walk, as one of the trail angels she meets along the way refers to it, is relatable, even if we don’t have a history of death, divorce or heroin-use to contend with. What is inspiring about her memoir is the way she works through and beyond her pain, works it out physically, step-by-step, getting stronger as she goes, enjoying and being present in the sunset views from the mountaintops. Instead of quitting the trail when the High Sierras become impassable due to record snows, she pivots and finds another way north, re-arranges her resupply boxes and recognizes that the ideas about what her expected outcome was going to be will need to shift as well.
“...I believed that all the things I’d been before had prepared me for this journey. But nothing had or could. Each day on the trail was the only possible preparation for the one that followed. And sometimes even the day before didn’t prepare me for what would happen next.”
Though at the onset she was seeking change, it took years after Cheryl’s hike for her to fully realize the impact and the meaning of her time on trail, to write her memoir and to put it out in the world. I assume, like my own journey on the AT, that reflections of her time on the PCT continue to weave in and out of her understanding of things. After two readings of her book, a few audio listens and a movie viewing, I continue to draw inspiration from her story, both as a fellow female backpacker and as a creator, striving to share my understanding of the world with others as eloquently as she does.