Four years after losing her mother to cancer, watching her family scatter to the winds, losing her marriage to a man she still loves, and losing herself to drugs and liaisons with a series of inappropriate men, Strayed decides she has nothing more to lose and finds herself drawn to the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the California-Mexico border to the Washington-Canada border.
Strayed has little training in hiking, although she believes her years growing up on a farm in the northern wilds of Minnesota will help her. Yet she makes some of the worst back country camping decisions one can make — too small boots, too heavy of pack, going it alone (which is a bad idea regardless of ones gender) — and the book opens with her throwing her boot over a cliff to join the one she dropped. It’s almost enough to make me think that I could hike the PCT and have little problems.
But I don’t have the determination of Strayed or (I hope) the empty void Strayed needed to fulfill on this journey, and that journey is actually the focus of this memoir, which wasn’t entirely what I was expecting when I picked this book off the library shelves. And I certainly would hope that people would not use this as a guidebook to hiking the PCT because while Strayed does not seem to recognize that she could have died (by the elements, not the murders/rapists she keeps going on about), her attitude towards hiking could have easily gotten her seriously hurt or killed.
The death of her mother is covered in detail in the first eighty pages, and I found myself trying not to cry as I read them. Her mother sounds like an incredible woman, and her eternal optimism is contrasted by Strayed’s eternal pessimism. She’s always had her mother, and the PCT becomes the therapist to this loss, the one that tells her it is okay to be alone. Her personal baggage is just as heavy as the backpack she carries through this hike, and any reader will need patience to deal with this unburdening.
There are aspects of this novel are incredibly moving, filled with those moments of self-realization and understanding that you cheer the author on for having and tuck away for your own self-examination. But the rest of the novel is a lot like hiking on a treacherous trail — forced to focus on getting through the difficult, uphill stretched, the magnificent views and the reason why you started the trail in the first place are lost.
- Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. New York: Thorndike Press, 2013. Originally published 2012. Large Print. 623 pgs. ISBN: 9781410457196. Source: Library.