2012-11-22 / Opinions

Book Review

By Cheryl Strayed
Reviewed by

Perhaps many people think that they will have an adventure someday – walk the Appalachian Trail, sail solo vast distances, jump from a plane far above the earth. And some people do. Cheryl Strayed set out on her adventure because her life was in such turmoil that she was desperate. (By the way, she named herself “Strayed.”)

She says that her decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail came in two parts: the first reckless impulse, the serious intent, and then the shopping, packing, preparing. When she finally sets out on the trail, she and the reader cannot believe how haphazard her packing turned out to be. She can’t lift her backpack, and her boots don’t fit. In the prologue, she gets the reader’s attention: “I’d removed my hiking boots and the left one had fallen into those trees….impossible to retrieve.” Her boot was gone into the mountain slope below. She threw its useless mate after it, and considered her options. She looked north to her destination and south to where she’d been, and knew there was really only one option, barefoot as she was – to keep walking.

Her previous life had not been easy, either. Her father left when she was six. Her mother, whom she loved, had died a painful death from cancer when Cheryl was twentytwo. Her two siblings scattered in their grief. She lived alone, about to be divorced from her husband, dabbling in drugs and sleeping around.

Pulling herself together, she believed that accomplishing something like that very long hike could turn her life around. The Pacific Coast Trail is 1100 miles long, from the Mojave Desert to the Cascades, not a place to start one’s hiking career. Although she showed great courage and persistence, she was lucky in the people she met along the way. There were predators, too, from an occasional man to bears and signs of mountain lions, but there was also extraordinary kindness from strangers.

The fact that she has written this book some years later of course lets us know that she survived, but the details of how she did it and the encounters along the way make for entertainment and some inspiration. It’s the kind of reading where one wants to say to her, “Oh, don’t go there!” or “Stay away from him!” She doesn’t always follow our wellmeant advice, but painfully learns as she goes. The reader feels with her the joy of a rare shower and the delight of a real meal every now and then. Heat, then the rain and snow challenge her, and the beauty and loneliness of the trail may lead to healing.

Wild is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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