Think of Sporty Spice. Now, think of something that is her exact opposite, maybe Klutzy Spice. That is me. I have no athletic ability at all. I may actually suck athletic ability away people standing near me. I’m like a sportiness black hole. And yet, I found Cheryl Strayed’s new book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail captivating and entrancing.
Strayed, as a young lady in her early 20’s, fell into an emotional abyss when her mother (a non-smoker) was diagnosed with lung cancer and given less than a year to live. That year-long prognosis was soon destroyed, when the disease took its toll faster than anyone could have imagined, killing her mom in a mere forty-nine days. Without their mother to hold the family together, she and her sibling and their step-father fell out of touch, and Strayed fell off the edge of a psychological canyon. Giving in to her every whim, she cheated on her husband, began a not-so-casual relationship with heroin and spent four years wandering without a purpose.
When a book about the Pacific Crest Trail nearly fell into her lap, she decided that a solo hike of one hundred days, from California to the border of Oregon and Washington, was what she needed to get her life back in order. After just a few short months of planning and preparation, she embarked upon a journey that would shatter her physically, but one in which she would reclaim her emotional stability.
As a non-athlete, non-hiker, I was worried that I would find little to relate to when I first picked up this book. (By picked up, I, of course, mean downloaded.) My lack of outdoorsy-ness took little away from the story. I may not know how to pitch a tent or build a fire, but I definitely understand how losing a treasured family member could make one unravel. I love that Strayed was hiking on the west coast, through parks and towns that I’ve driven through on various occasions. Picturing the west coast and its mountains brought a little bit of home here to me on the east coast.
Strayed is witty and amusing as she tells of her triumphs and failures along the trail. Whether it is a discussion of how her hiking boot went tumbling off the side of a mountain or waking up covered in tiny frogs, I couldn’t help but laugh a little and continue to root for her in this gargantuan undertaking. The instant connections she had with her fellow hikers, each walking the trail for their own varied reasons, was enduring. I can imagine it would be pretty natural for one to feel a quick companionship with others who embarked on a similar colossal journey. These made-from-the-trail relationships go a long way in helping Strayed pull herself back together, piecing back not who she was before her mother’s death, but who she will be and can be as she goes forward after her time on the trail ends.
I may never attempt to walk the physical journey that Strayed did and heaven forbid I ever have to endure the emotional one she traversed, but this memoir made both overwhelming situations seem within the realm of possibility and both seem overcome-able. Cheryl Strayed’s newest publication Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is both entertaining and heart-wrenching, and is definitely a must-read for this year. This book earns: