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Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
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Books We're Reading > January 2013: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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Christine Gilbert | 48 comments Mod
This is the discussion thread for this month's book. If you haven't read the book yet, beware there will be spoilers in this thread.

What did you think of the book?

Christine Gilbert | 48 comments Mod
I started the book last night... so good.

Pamela Macnaughtan (pammacnaughtan) | 2 comments I just downloaded the book. I'll start it tonight. :)

Susan Melcher (susan_melcher) | 2 comments LOVED this book - it was one of the ones that inspired my new lifestyle/website theme.

Alison Gresik (Alison_Gresik) | 9 comments I read "Wild" when it first came out last year, while we were in China visiting my daughter's hometown. I loved the book and felt sustained by the story during our emotionally turbulent trip. And of course I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail now. This month I'll go back and re-read a bit to remind myself what I loved about it.

Rachel I really enjoyed this book. I was amazed how nervous I was for her whenever she'd have only 31 cents in her pocket! She amazed me by how close to the edge (metaphorical) she would be and yet each time, she came back. A testament to the amazing strength she found out of her own brokenness.

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Roy | 22 comments Mod
Started on it tonight. I've actually been on the Southernmost part of the PCT close to Mexico. So beautiful.

Ursula (Tiphanya) | 8 comments So I did the 2 English bookshops in Paris, discover a canadian bookshop and get the book ! (great walk, I decided which one is my favorite one from now)

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Laura | 2 comments Uh, we'll based on the scathing comments I'm not overly encouraged to read it. I considered doing the trail many times, years ago, but never did.

Christine Gilbert | 48 comments Mod
I finished the book last night. I'll do a full write up later, but for now I'll post a couple of quick thoughts. First, love her writing. Actually it was a little distracting at times because I caught myself watching her writing and thinking *about* writing, which might just be because I'm in the middle of a huge project, but yeah she's really fantastic.

I think there's something interesting to be said about the human history behind the personal life-changing-journey that is behind this and other stories. The amazing thing is how often it is repeated in literature -- why? because, I assume it works. What is it about spending weeks, months or a year or more doing something extremely difficult, with no other distractions, that's so life-affirming and regenerative?

I have absolutely no desire to do the PCT though! :) I don't know if this is going to make a huge boom in that trail, but I would hate to be away from my husband and kids for that long. BUT I was thinking, hmmm, wouldn't doing El Camino in Spain, with the whole family be kind of fun? Then I was like, OR we could just ride bikes around Provence and go from village to village, eating our way through France. That would be life-affirming and regenerative, right?

Obviously, I'm not 26 anymore! (The age of Cheryl Strayed when she took this trip).

By the way, did anyone notice the gentle hand of a much older Ms. Strayed in the narrative? As much as she kept is rooted in story of that period of her life, I kept noticing little things, the invisible second character of a now 40+ year old writer who occasionally came to point things out (not literally, but you could hear the perspective shift a little in the narrative -- I don't think she intended it, just how could she write about it without it being filter through her current perspective?)

Ok more later... anyone else finish yet?

Christine Gilbert | 48 comments Mod
@Laura -- just read the reviews just now... wow. I think I was pretty well prepared for what this book would be like because I read this essay she wrote, which is even more raw than the book:

But yeah if you walk into this book expecting one thing, but getting another (it's not a story about the PCT so much as it's a memoir about loss & grief -- with some pretty self-destructive behavior in there) then I can see not liking it. So maybe be warned, it's kind of unusual for a 'book about hiking'. That essay I linked to above gives you a sense of what you're getting into when you read this book (she's writing about the same period in her life, just five years later).

Probably not for everyone!

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Kristina | 3 comments I think I'm in the middle of Chapter 5 (hard to tell because I am listening to the book rather than reading it) and I'm enjoying it.

I wasn't expecting so much back story because I'd read almost nothing about it before starting it. I found myself initially impatient, then shocked at some of the things she did leading up to the trip, then enjoying the story.

The author and I are almost *exactly* the same ago so I find I can relate to much, though not all of her experience. I am incredibly close to my mother (both emotionally, and like Strayed, in age) so her grief around her mother's death nearly broke my heart. The (very) poor decisions she made after that are not something I can relate to, though I very much appreciated her brutal honesty.

@Christine, yes, I do think I also noticed the older "voice".

On the flipside, I find myself dumbfounded at her ignorance and unpreparedness. Why didn't she mail things home when she went to that town to have her stove fixed? Why didn't she jettison some of the weight earlier??

There's absolutely no way I'd every do this journey, especially not as a woman alone. But like Christine, I'd absolutely do the El Camino in Spain with a warm bed, decent food, and good wine every night. :-)

Looking forward to more of the story tomorrow...

Dyanne (TravelnLass) Just finished chapter 5, and very much enjoying it. Some thoughts so far:

1. I'm liking the fact that it isn't TOTALLY about the PCT, the day-to-day of it. After reading Barefoot Sisters, Southbound - the Appalachia Trail (which I likewise very much enjoyed, but which was more day-to-day of the hiking) I'm enjoying the background info, self examination, growth, etc. of Wild.

2. From many of the reviews of Wild, there seemed a lot of negatives about how "whiny" she was, etc. As I loathe whiny women, I was afraid this would spoil the book for me. BUT, instead what I'm finding is that she's not whiny at all. Merely human. I guess one would have to lose a mother (and especially in the slow, painful way, nursing her mother to the end that Cheryl did) to understand how deep that loss can be, and how deeply and long it can affect you. Everyone handles grief differently, but I'm not at all surprised that her grief lasted so long and affected her so profusely . In short, I can relate to such grief, and thus don't feel she was particularly whiny at all. If anything, it is her honesty that makes the story so authentic.

3. Several quotes really struck a chord with me (and gotta love the "highlight/note" feature on my beloved Kindle) ;) Especially this:

"I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me....Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I will myself to beget power. And it wasn't long before I actually wasn't afraid."

Indeed. It's all a CHOICE. We can CHOOSE to tell ourselves whatever story. And that's the way it will be. And furthermore, re: Cheryl willing herself to beget power - it's amazing what you can accomplish by sheer force of WILL.

Ask me how I know. ;)

Sharon Gourlay | 11 comments Wow I just read that essay Christine linked to. Heavy stuff. Not what I expected at all. I better get started on the book although I hope it doesn't annoy me too much as I have little patience for people who wallow (for want of a more sensitive way to put it), especially as I lost a parent at 17.

Nyssa | 2 comments I like the way the book interwove her trail-logue with the memoir. However, I did find a couple of scenes to be rather far-fetched, and every now and then I felt the need to grab her by the shoulders a give her a good shake.

I admire how brave she was about what she wrote about herself. She didn't try to gloss over any personal flaws, and didn't seem like she exaggerated any positive qualities overly much (I DO think she exaggerated some negative things, like her unpreparedness).

Her writing voice impresses me. I have never managed the trick of opening up to an audience to the extent she does, and she manages to keep the reader, or at least me, interested even when she goes on about her spiritual journey. I couldn't finish Eat Pray Love because of that type of introspection, but somehow this version kept me engaged. maybe it was the toenail scorekeeping.

Kathe | 4 comments am picking book up this weekend...
will be ready to participate in a day or two:)
am even more intrigued to begin after reading
previous posts...

Sharon Gourlay | 11 comments I'm nearly halfway through and have been surprised to find that I'm loving this book. She is actually not annoying me with her behaviour and I don't find her whingy at all. For some reason it is making me want to go hiking and camping even though that's not my scene at all (although, like Christine, I would live to do some of the camino de Santiago).

I love her writing style and how her back story is being gradually told intertwined with her physical journey.

I'm glad I bought it as I nearly didn't after managing to accidentally buy it in Italian initially lol

Tammy MacKenzie (mackenziephoto) | 5 comments I was a bit skeptical about this book after reading some of the negative comments on Amazon, but Cheryl Strayed has definitely won my heart! In just 4 days, I've powered through this book, absorbing bits of her life and trials and tribulations and triumphs as if they were my own. Having just done a 170km (105miles) Tour de Mont Blanc trek in the Alps this summer and planning a 300km (186mile) trek in the Himalayas this year, I can empathize and sympathize were her on so many levels, yet none at all. I trekked in pure luxury compared to this, with a hot shower and warm food waiting for me at each night's rifugio.

As she so rightfully says on page 219 "I didn't just feel like a backpacking expert. I felt like a hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen."

Words to live by!

Glenn (dixonge) I'm just starting Chapter 8. So far, so good - really good writing!

Her hiking experiences are interesting for two reasons. One, her utter cluelessness and lack of preparation. Two, her determination and stubbornness to power through, regardless. Makes for some really good reading.

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Nick O'Kelly (nickokelly) | 2 comments Anyone who picks their own name gets high marks before I turn page 1. Having said that, my wife recommended this book, which usually puts it in reading pile #3, saved for when the power goes out and I need to start a fire.

Strayed grabbed me right off the bat. I am a sucker for the fool's adventure, which is hard to pull off. Innocence and ineptitude work as long as we get to see progress, insight, and character development-that we can identify with a deeper journey. There certainly is one and she spells it out from the opening pages.

At first I thought her reaction to her "splintered family" and to her mother's death was a little dramatic, but as the chapters have worn on, she finds more of herself that was missing or damaged before those tragedies ever happened.

What keeps me coming back (this has been a slow read), is the craftsmanship. She is a colorful, descriptive writer, and while the "poor me" drama is a little over the top sometimes, this is a true adventure--it's a difficult trip even for those who don't start it with a heroin binge.

In the end, this book for me is about personal responsibility, and the willingness to take full 100% ownership of an adventure. "Alone," would be just as apt a title as "Wild."

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Roy | 22 comments Mod
I'm at page 51. Yay, she finally got to the trail. I had a hard time with the grief buildup so I'm hoping the literal journey is more exciting than her emotional one.

Ursula (Tiphanya) | 8 comments Slow reader, I'm around page 100 (spoiler : she just take off some stuffs from her bag).
The writting really frustates me. English is not my main language, but I haven't use a dictionnary to read a book for 10 years. Now I feel like I have to check in the dictionnary as the word seems to be choosen for a special reason. So yes I enjoy reading it, as some of you wrote, I like the way the author go from her past to the trail in a really natural way.
And I'm learning so much about US (there are snow and bears in the same area, in summer !!!!)

Glenn (dixonge) Two things to remember about snow/cold weather. One factor is proximity to the poles. The other is height. So you can have snow on top of mountains in or near the equator.

Rachel | 3 comments I just finished the book. I loved the writing. I find it difficult to be so open, and she shies away from nothing. I felt sure her unpreparedness would end in disaster but I was glad to see it didn't. I always had horses so the scene where she has to put down Lady was really tough for me.. Overall, it was great.

Pauline | 2 comments Does anyone else find the book very slow? I'm struggling to finish it. Kindle tells me I'm at 67% and I cannot wait to get through it.

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Lanora Mueller (LanoraMueller) | 2 comments Downloaded the book last night at bedtime and then proceeded to read it straight through in one session ending in the wee hours.

Still sorting out my reactions. Mixed feelings!

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Sarah Lavender Smith (sarahlavendersmith) | 2 comments Christine wrote: "I finished the book last night. I'll do a full write up later, but for now I'll post a couple of quick thoughts. First, love her writing. Actually it was a little distracting at times because I ..."

Hi - I really appreciated your comments. On a side note, if you're seriously interested in doing the Camino in Spain, check the archived posts of Sherry Ott on -- I followed her trek last year. On a personal level, I DO want to do the PCT -- in fact, I signed up for a 100-mile race in September that's on the PCT in Oregon in no small part because of this book! Wild also inspired my latest blog post if you're interested,

Christine Gilbert | 48 comments Mod
Thank you Sarah for that link, what a beautiful post! I'll have to check out Ottsworld too. I know it won't happen this year, but eventually I'll like to do it. It'll have to be with one of those rugged 3-wheeled jogging strollers or something!

100-mile race is no joke! Very cool! We lived in Bend, OR a few years ago, maybe you'll be going through Sisters... gorgeous area.

Christine Gilbert | 48 comments Mod
Oh and Nicholas Kristof mentioned the book this week in a column on the NY Times:

(hat tip to Mike Sowden for tweeting me that link!)

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Beth | 8 comments I just finished Wild and have mixed feelings about it. There were times in the book when I wished she would stop talking about her history and just talk about the damned trail. And then there were times when her descriptions were really good. And there were other times when I identified with all her screw-ups; I know I would do many of the same things. One thing I really didn't like was Oprah's comments. They were so obvious. I didn't feel they added anything.

Ursula (Tiphanya) | 8 comments Glenn wrote: "Two things to remember about snow/cold weather. One factor is proximity to the poles. The other is height. So you can have snow on top of mountains in or near the equator."
I'm not really good with the american geography, and why don't they use metre and celsius. Reading your post, I checked on wikipedia the high of the sierra nevada (the highest point on the PCT is 4009m high). So I'm still surprised by the snow.

Pauline, I more or less understand your feeling. I feel stuck in the middle of the book. I keep reading, but I feel like pages don't turn.

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Scyi Norgaard I finished "Wild" last night. I loved the emotional journey in her memoir but found that I lost patience with the physical journey. I'd had enought of lost toenails by the end!

Glenn (dixonge) Ursula - according to Wikipedia, the 'snow line' (the point at which snow is present year-round) is approximately 4500 meters at the Equator. At the Alps it is 3000 meters. The snow line is lower near the coastline as well.

Ursula (Tiphanya) | 8 comments Glenn wrote: "Ursula - according to Wikipedia, the 'snow line' (the point at which snow is present year-round) is approximately 4500 meters at the Equator. At the Alps it is 3000 meters. The snow line is lower n..."

Thanks Glenn. I thought it was only a question of altitude. And as I worked in Kirghizstan in July and din't see any snow even at 3500meters, I thought it would be more or less the same everywhere.

Glenn (dixonge) This is why they made the internets! lol

I learned a lot researching the answer to your question. Thank you!

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Roy | 22 comments Mod
I finished the book yesterday. Thank God for sick leave, (cough cough… sniffle). I was almost annoyed by the whining and self deprecating, grief filled sub plot but then soon realized it’s a major part of her journey emotionally and literally. Ever meet someone with PTSD? ‘Nuff said.
We all have a multitude of fears that we seldom express for fear of appearing weak. That’s EGO talking. I’m sure if our little fears in day to day life had a voice they would sound just as whiney as hers. She did a great job of illustrating her fears and she had loads of them: Fear of starvation, thirst, running out of money, slipping on the ice, falling off a cliff, big foot, being raped, being pretty enough, being a good daughter, wife, lover. Heck, she’s a woman alone in the woods missing her mommy, give her a break!
I loved the ups and downs of the book and not just up one mountain and down some valley. She had the emotional ups and downs such as the joys of Snapple Lemonade and the frustration of “NO WATER”, then from no money to eating like a queen at some feast. I enjoyed that roller coaster ride. It’s not the destination but the journey, right?
My teenage son and I go on hikes when we can. He can’t do the overnight-in-the-woods thing yet but I can see us doing a day out on sections of the PCT as long as there’s a hotel nearby! That’s not too difficult since we live in California.
And finally: The book’s personal connection to me? Having endured SERE school (Survive, Evade, Resist & Escape) for the Air Force I imagined myself not being so unprepared and what I would have done differently based on the things I learned in survival school. She made some dumb mistakes. Having a touch of PTSD myself after a couple of tours in Iraq and the controversial Guantanamo Bay, Cuba I can understand how the contrast of a hard, cold tent floor versus a soft, warm bed could mess with a person’s psyche. There were many examples such as this cited throughout the book. It sure teaches you a lot about appreciation.
~ Roy

message 37: by KT (last edited Jan 25, 2013 09:44AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

KT (corgisaurus) | 3 comments Just finished the book last night! I have to agree with Beth - I had some mixed feelings about it. I loved how Strayed described her emotions. Especially when she talked about grief and fear, it felt very real to me. The part where she comes close to maybe being raped made me feel shaken, which is a sign of good writing. I also really liked the positivity she found from friends and helping hands along the way.

On the other hand, I don't think she did a very good job describing the environment - I didn't get a sense of place most of the time. A lot of the day-by-day felt like a 'How I Spent My Summer Vacation' essay. I also had to roll my eyes at every reference to how attractive she was and how all the guys she met were interested in her. It came up so often and contributed so little to the narrative that it started to irk me by the end.

I wouldn't have chosen this book on my own, but I was glad I read it. And to echo a few other posters - it did get me excited to hike the Camino next year!!

(A longer review is posted on my blog.)

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Roy | 22 comments Mod
Christine wrote: "I finished the book last night. I'll do a full write up later, but for now I'll post a couple of quick thoughts. First, love her writing. Actually it was a little distracting at times because I ..."

Yes, Could hear the older Cheryl in the book. Hindsight is 20/20 right? I understand her reasoning for going it alone but only one time did she casually mention that her backpack might not have been as heavy if she had someone to divvy the load with. (page 108).

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Emma Healey | 3 comments I finished the book two days ago but needed some time to reflect on it. I couldn't put it down. I did not find her whiny at all, I completely identified with her need to find peace before she self destructed. I was scared with her when the sleazy hunter very nearly became a predator, however I don’t believe women should live in fear and not do things such as the PCT on their own because of the occasional sleaze bag. She definitely should have been more prepared, perhaps with more cash behind her, been a lot fitter and maybe having a self defence course under her belt. Oh and got the right sized boots in the beginning, WTF?
My brother is a serious hiker – although we call it tramping in New Zealand, appropriate I thought when Cheryl was interviewed for the Hobo Times – and he would have thought she was a very silly girl to do such a trail so unprepared.
That said, the story was the story because she wasn’t all of the above. It was beautiful and solemn and enlightening because she was just a girl who decided to go for a bloody long walk to clear her head.
The narrative was definitely more mature than her 26 year old self, and benefited from the years away from the trail that she had to reflect. Her abortion was nearly completely skimmed over; I am assuming that was a time in her life so painful she couldn't allow it too many words. Just to be clear I am pro-choice so I am not judging her at all.

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Joya | 2 comments I finished the book yesterday and I really enjoyed it. Her writing made me want to keep turning the page and I whipped through the pages fast! She also inspired me to write more long-form narratives myself. My favorite quote from the book was in the beginning when she said she knew the trip who get her back to the woman she once was and also toward the woman she knew she could become and I instantly connected with her on that and thought she just summed up everything I feel so perfectly. I don't think I would ever hike the PCT but I was so in awe of her courage and determination. I was worried the whole time that a stranger would do something bad to her but she's right that there is such a thing as the kindness of strangers. I also really liked how she interspersed her time on the trail with background information from her life. It gave her journey some context around each step of the trail. I'm so glad I finally was able to read this and thanks Christine for choosing this as our first book!

Torre DeRoche | 9 comments The concept of losing my mother as Cheryl Strayed did, as early as she did, kept me hooked throughout the read. It's unimaginable to me, even now as a 32 year old, and a thought so painful that it makes my throat lumpy just to type. I felt her pain as though it was my own, and so her journey felt like it was mine too. Calling the book 'whiny' doesn't resonate with me at all, but I think all memoirists get accused of this.

I did find that the plot sagged on occasion. Parts felt repetitive, and I wanted the middle to move faster. Walking everyday and walking solo gives the writer very little to discuss, but she did a good job of filling it out considering. She has such a strong voice on the page that the saggy parts didn't matter that much to me. It was always a pleasure to be immersed in her every thought.

Glenn (dixonge) Strangely enough, in spite of what many reviewers said, I felt like much of the book dealt with her learning to reconnect with men in a non-sexual way. The loss of her mother seemed to break something, and it showed in her destructive behavior for a few years. She sabotaged a wonderful relationship, she numbed her mind and senses with drugs. But on the trail she seems to have purged herself, a sort of forced sabbatical. By distancing herself from normal society, surrounded by mostly nothing instead of people, she broke out of those destructive patterns.

That's what I got out of this book any way...

Carmel (goodreadscomcarmelmontgomery) | 4 comments I finished the book yesterday and, like the author wanting to finish her trip in the light of day, decided to wait to finish the last few pages (or the last percentage since it was on a Kindle) when I was fully awake, not in bed falling asleep.

I found the ending completely satisfying. Actually, I found the whole book completely satisfying. There were times when I realized I spaced out a bit, but otherwise, it kept me hooked the whole time. It did NOT inspire me to hike the PCT, however, it does encourage me to continue my quest for our career break and RTW travel.

I feel like I need a few more days for the whole work to sink in.

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