By Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl Strayed’s decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail came in the midst of all-consuming chaos. Having lost her anchor when her mother passed away from cancer, the remaining pieces of Cheryl’s life began to unravel at the edges. Her siblings drifted apart. She lost contact with her stepfather. Her marriage dissolved in messy divorce. She began wandering from job to job, couch to couch, occasionally picking up bad habits, such as heroin, while picking up men. Her conviction to make a break with her past came on a whim when she saw a book about the PCT while waiting in line at a register. Without any experience, and with minimal preparation and slightly more planning, Cheryl set off to conquer over 1,000 miles of the PCT. She quickly learned the humbling power of nature when forced to accept a slower-than-anticipated pace, unimaginable physical pain and exhaustion, and extreme weather changes. She also quickly learned the beauty of nature, the general goodness of humanity, and the glorious satisfactions of a hot shower and cold lemonade. While trekking the PCT, Cheryl learns the importance of self-reliance, the benefit of making friends with strangers, and the ability to accomplish more than ever thought possible.
“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed is a personal narrative of her hike along the PCT from the Mojave desert in California to the Bridge of the Gods at the Washington-Oregon border. Most of the narrative focuses on her day-to-day experiences on the trail with just enough detail to keep trail enthusiasts hooked without overwhelming attention to gear, specs and terrain. Woven throughout her trail adventures, Strayed retells memories of the past that brought her to the present. With astounding honesty and vulnerability, Strayed reveals details of her tumultuous descent into chaos. Though such memories sometimes seem dropped into the story without clear connection to the narrative, they are actually essential to her experience on the trail because each struggle, failure, and disappointment ultimately led her to the PCT. She focuses in beautiful and sometimes lyrical detail about specific moments, whether a past heartbreak or a current sense of overwhelming awe about the world. Her attention to minutiae along the trail builds authenticity, making each experience more real because it is both mundane and simultaneously astonishing. The repetition of hiking, the joy of civilization, the magnificence of solitude, all become equally gratifying when given undivided attention.
My overall sense of this book was that it was good. It had entertaining moments, heartbreaking moments, and moments that felt like I was overhearing juicy gossip. I loved all her talk about the trail, her experience hiking, and can perfectly relate to the overpowering siren call of a hot shower and a favorite junk food snack. This story is both relatable and also unattainable – I’m not sure that hiking the PCT is in my future, so I’ll settle for living vicariously through her. The writing wasn’t as compelling as I hoped it would be, but the overall story is well worth the time spent reading.