There are books you read and never think about again and then there are books like Wild. After the first few pages you know this is the kind of book that’s going to change how you view yourself, the world around you and your future. I had no idea the adventure I was about to embark on when I picked up this book and it never stopped until the very last word.
Growing up in the country I have a certain love for trees and mountains but never have I wanted to spend over a thousand miles hiking and camping with bears, mountain lions and rattlesnakes. Cheryl Strayed does just that. Does she know what she’s doing? No, but that’s the beauty of it. She learns with each step of the way. In the beginning the steps are small as her backpack is large – so large in fact that she calls it Monster. She has packed everything in her backpack except possibly the kitchen sink, though if there was room you get the sneaking suspicion she would have packed that too. She even packs a large box of condoms, for those just in case moments. Along the way she meets strangers who become friends. They meet up at campsites, dine together, help her determine what to keep, what to leave behind (she still keeps one condom, a girl can’t be too careful) but by morning she waits or leaves early enough so she’s walking alone; never wanting to share the experience with anyone but herself and perhaps the departed mother who is always with her.
With each chapter I shared in her desire to reach the next post office to pull out the envelope (she pre-packed boxes filled with dried fruit, food and odds and ends she needs to make it to the next destination) with a twenty dollar bill in it to buy a lemonade Snapple and possibly a cheeseburger. I felt her unease with the two men she encounters in the forest to the man she meets at a Grateful Dead reunion and spends the night and day with only leave him behind and continue her journey.
Wild is the story about a girl who is lost within herself; as Cheryl Strayed describes it in the book, “a hole in her heart.” She loses her mother at an early age to cancer at the same time losing the stepfather who had become a father to her. Her stepfather slowly separates from her and her siblings after her mother dies leaving the author alone in the world. Within weeks of losing her mother, she cheats on her husband which leads to another separation, eventually leading to divorce.
The book takes you on two paths. The one she’s traveling on through the Pacific Crest Trail and the path that leads her to this moment. She does it with such ease and flawlessness you don’t notice the change until you’re caught up in her past world, holding onto each word, whether you’re holding your breath, laughing or crying. Every moment is subtle but poignant. She leads you through the death of her mother, the boyfriend she finds and does heroin with, the horse her mother owned and now has to put down, until we’re right there at the bridge with her, eating an ice cream cone.
By the end of the book the hike is coming to an end and like the author, you want to take it slow, relishing in every word, trying to catch every glimmer of self-realization until you discover it’s over and you’re a changed person for reading the book. Whether or not Cheryl Strayed (Strayed being a last name she chooses but not her actual last name) decided to walk the PCT again the book doesn’t say but as I wake up the next morning from finishing its last lines, I’m inclined to pick the book up and start reading. As there are so many parts I feel I missed the first read through and I am ready to experience and be consumed by again.
Wild, Cheryl Strayed, Knopf, 2012