“I had to change,” is the sentiment that drives twenty-six-year-old Cheryl Strayed to hike over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Her life was r...more“I had to change,” is the sentiment that drives twenty-six-year-old Cheryl Strayed to hike over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Her life was rocked when, at age twenty-two, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and died seven weeks later. The loss caused her siblings and stepfather to distance themselves from one another.
Cheryl also began to put distance between herself and her husband. Although she admits to readers that she married too young to know how to maintain a marriage, she traces its disintegration to a series of mistakes she made while dealing (poorly) with her grief. She cheats on her faithful husband, becomes entangled with one man in particular who gets her hooked on heroin, and finds herself unable to dig herself out of the painful rut of a life she has carved for herself. She reveals her infidelities to him, and the two make the painful decision to divorce, despite how comfortably attached to one another. Cheryl renames herself “Strayed” when signing the divorce papers, identifying with the definition: “to wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without a mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress.” Determined to get her life back on track, she becomes consumed by the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
“I had to change was the thought that drove me in those months of planning. Not into a different person, but back to the person I used to be—strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good. And the PCT would make me that way. There, I’d walk and think about my entire life. I’d find my strength again, far from everything that had made my life ridiculous.”
Strayed narrates her growth from naive backpacker to seasoned PCT trekker while embedding flashbacks of the life she hopes to leave behind. Those like me, who have been by her mother’s side while she contends with cancer, will relate to Strayed’s struggles. I was drawn to the book because I had heard that her mother’s battle with cancer catalyzed her difficulties. Those who have endured the pain of watching a parent suffer will relate to Cheryl’s plight. It is the kind of experience that makes you want to pack up your world into a backpack and head into the hills.
Though her journey is a rough one--she is often hungry and dealing with numerous physical discomforts--it is softened by the “characters” she connects with. She is often struck by the kindness and support that her fellow PCT hikers offer, and their companionship seems to complement her stretches of solitude. Though she struggles during the first few weeks, these people spur her on, and there is a noticeable shift in her confidence after the first month that continues to grow throughout the duration of her hike.
I was hesitant to pick up this book. Any book that is lauded by the popular media gives me pause. However, I really enjoyed Wild. As a daughter of a cancer survivor, I understand how the experience of seeing a sick parent can rock your world. I admire her for take the brave journey she takes. Despite the physical discomforts she details (How do you really pull out your own toenail? Five times???), she made me want to hike... and camp.... and live like Thoreau in the woods. She takes a big chance, removes herself from a life that she is not too pleased with, and goes on a big adventure. She does the thing many of us “don’t have time to do,” and she shows us how much “work” she does on herself throughout the duration of the trip.
I’d recommend this to those who are considering making a change in their lives. Cheryl makes a big one, and she leaves readers wanting to follow in her footsteps.(less)