Oprah's Book Club 2.0 selection.
A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.
Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
Why read "Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail"? In a nutshell, because Cheryl Strayed is brutally honest about her weaknesses as well as her strengths, because she writes magnificently, and because she speaks for so many women who have suffered similar insults and assaults and have never had such an articulate writer to tell their story. Her first twenty-six years constitute a life often lived but rarely told. The hundred days before her twenty-seventh birthday make up the substance of the "Lost to Found" journey within a journey -- the unifying theme of this book, a theme of personal confrontation and self-willed rebirth in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
If you are able to read even the Prologue you will see evidence of Strayed's unique voice. If that is unavailable and you're still on the fence as to whether to buy this book, I urge you to go to cherylstrayed.com and read some of Strayed's essays. Perhaps her raw honesty will seize hold of you as it did me and give you no choice but to get the book.
This is not to say that everyone will love this book or its author. Readers will respond very differently. Some will be as enthusiastic as the 5-star reviewers and some as unimpressed as the 3-star (there are no lower reviews at this point, which is a testament to the books' quality). Strange as it may seem, I see the perspectives of those who are enthusiastic and those who are dissatisfied and believe that both the accolades and the criticisms are legitimate. It is a sign of considerable courage to hike 1,100 miles alone, while it is a sign of great weakness to wallow in personal sorrow while toying with drugs and ruining a marriage.
Before I saw Amazon's listing, I had not heard of Strayed although she clearly already has a following. It was, however, not the author but the subject matter -- a woman's solo journey over 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail - that first attracted me to the book.
But do not be misled. This book is not a hiker's guide. Two of the mistakes Strayed made are as basic as can be: wearing shoes a size too small and carrying an overweight pack. Many pages are devoted to Strayed's complaints about these two major errors and the pain and injuries they caused to her body. Hard as long-distance hiking is, one need not be impaired by shoes that cause most of your toenails to fall off and a pack that is more than half your body weight.
Rather than a guide, this is a memoir. Strayed's qualities are not common sense or preparedness. Her work is of great value because she confronts and reveals parts of herself that others would deny and hide. In her childhood she was seriously damaged by violence and neglect and yet nurtured within herself a spirit so indomitable and a talent so unusual that she has been able to pull herself through terrible hardship to a place of personal transcendence and victory. She confronted the damage done to herself by her violent and absent biological father, the abandonment imposed by her mother's untimely and painful death, and the destruction wrought at her own hand when she repeatedly cheated on her husband and became involved with heroin.
This is not a cautionary tale. The author was already living a life of extraordinary and unnecessary risk before she ever took a single step on the PCT. Her heroin use and eagerness to be intimate with strangers surely were as life-threatening as the rattlesnakes and bears she eventually met up with on the PCT. So it was not the danger of the trail that captivated me. Rather, it was the fact that almost everyone Strayed met on the trail was kind, interesting, and generous. My guess is that the PCT attracts unusual people who have more than the usual amount of kindness and gentleness in their souls. Or maybe Strayed just brings out those qualities in people. She surely comes across as a warm, open, easy-going person.
This is not to say that the people Strayed met were universally good. Two bowhunters stand out as particularly offensive and potentially dangerous. That Strayed was able to avoid being brutalized by them is further testament to the quickness of her insight and the strength of her personality.
Few have Strayed's courage to live their own truth and to tell that truth without wavering. She is remarkable as a person and as a writer. If you are willing to travel with a damaged woman who puts herself in harms way and tells about it with raw honesty, who looks at herself without blinking, and who emerges from her daunting journey with greater insight and wisdom, you want to read Wild.