Cheryl Strayed (a fitting surname she assumed after her divorce) was only 26 when she decided to start over. Her life was a mess, and Strayed, recognizing just how dangerous and destructive that life had become, decided to make some drastic changes. Her mother, a 45-year-old cancer victim who had been the glue holding the family together, was gone. Her brother and sister, whom she had not been close to in recent years, drifted out of her life after their mother died. Then Strayed cut the last close tie she had by divorcing her husband, a man she still professed to love very much.
Strayed, an avowed risk-taker, is also impetuous – not a safe combination. This would, in fact, lead her into serious drug experimentation, promiscuousness, and the keeping of some rather dubious company. But it was that same impetuousness that placed her on the Pacific Crest Trail to begin the 1,100 mile personal journey that would turn her life in a new direction. That is the good news; the bad news is that she was totally unprepared for what was ahead as she began her walk through California and Oregon.
Thus begins one of the most grueling solo treks imaginable for a young woman as unready as Cheryl Strayed was when she took her first steps on the PCT. She began by making two critical mistakes that would combine to make her miserable for weeks: wearing shoes that were probably a full size too small (a decision that would cost her more than half her toenails) and carrying a pack that weighed more than fifty percent of her own body weight. Less painful perhaps, but much more dangerous, was her neglect to research the terrain and weather conditions she would face as her elevation rose and the temperature dropped. All of this makes her accomplishment even more remarkable.
Reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is almost like walking along side Strayed and listening to her think out loud. This is a very personal book, less about hiking the actual PCT than it is about what placed Strayed on the trail in the first place. Strayed recounts enough incidents of stress and personal danger to enthrall even the most experienced hiker (many of which, I suspect, will be particularly meaningful to women who must cringe at the thought of being as personally vulnerable as she made herself on this hike) but even her periods of methodical, downtime-walking are not wasted.
Cheryl Strayed has written one of the more compelling and honest memoirs of recent years. She holds nothing back, making it a real pleasure to read (and difficult not to cheer aloud, in the process) the final few pages of Wild.
Rated at: 4.0