You may know Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, from the movie starring Reese Witherspoon. Let me start off by saying once again the book is better than the movie. The book gives an in-depth perception of Strayed’s solo hike over the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,663-mile wilderness route stretching from the Mexican border to the Canadian and traversing nine mountain ranges and three states. This journey started when Strayed thought her life could not get any worse because of the tragic death of her mother, her failing marriage and her addiction to heroine. With nowhere else to turn to, she headed for the trail to find herself.
This book is raw, bitter and reverent all at once. There were moments in the book where you believe that Strayed will not make it to the end. From dried up water sources, wild animal encounters and brush-ups with perverted men, Wild keeps you entertained and inspired. Reading this book, I became very attached to Strayed because of her character development. At the beginning, she was hiking with boots that were too small for her feet and a backpack too heavy for her body. The backpack was appropriately named Monster because of sheer heaviness of the pack, leaving her with blistered hips. Throughout the book you see her transition from a grief stricken addict to the empowered “Queen of the PCT.” Parts of the book make you feel as if you are hiking with her and I would sometimes feel mentally exhausted reading about her 16-mile a day hikes through knee deep snow.
As beautiful and awe-inspiring as Wild is, I would strongly recommend one should not hike long distances, such as the entirety of the PCT, without proper experience or training. Strayed was driven by a blind will to fix her broken life by the healing effects of nature; but, she had no clue what she was doing. There are many ways to hike or travel safely, excursions that are well thought-out and planned. International Studies Abroad has great programs where you can hike and explore the wilderness in a distant land. If you took the structured route to “finding yourself” might I suggest hiking through fossil beds in Morocco, or canoeing through the mangroves of Colombia Isla de Salamanca. I believe if Strayed knew the excursion options of ISA, she would be on board and hopefully carrying a lighter backpack.
Overall, Strayed describes what it is like in the wild, “with what it was like to walk for miles with no other reason than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets.” Strayed drags you through the ugly parts of her flawed life and that’s what makes her undeniably human. I winced at the pain of her blisters, her inexperience and her grief. I cheered her on for her courage and her will to go on. I actually cried at the end of Strayed’s memoir because I felt that it was a genuine story about a woman’s struggle with grief and growing up. This being said, reading this book gave me a strong urge to go buy hiking boots, to fix my own life. Wild is redemptive, passionate and brilliantly written. Her epic journey is a page turner, which is incredibly beautiful as it is tragic.