One of my students read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild for her book review and oral report this last spring and raved about it. I’ve had several friends recommend it to me, and I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I thought that summer vacation would be an excellent time to finally break into Wild. I’m honestly really sad that I didn’t read it a lot sooner.
When Wild opens, a 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed is in the process of losing her boots while in the middle of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s an apt metaphor for her life at the moment. Her mother’s death from cancer has unmoored her family completely. Her divorce is finalized after a series of poor choices. And she has dabbled in heroin. In short: she’s a complete mess. On a trip from South Dakota to her home in Minnesota, she discovers a guidebook to the Pacific Crest Trail and develops an idea. She spends a year planning, and then, in 1995, she finds herself hiking from California to Oregon in too-small boots and a too-big backpack. She encounters a series of misadventures that will test her courage, her mettle, and her very being.
While I am not a hiker or a reader of memoirs, I loved this book with every fiber of my being. Strayed is a compelling narrator, and perhaps my lack of familiarity with the PCT or backpacking in general made me more sympathetic to her. I can understand feeling like an idiot, and I wanted her to succeed. Witnessing the progression of her mental state from helpless to desolate to fighting to agency is inspiring and wonderful. I did a lot of self-reflection while I read, and I am the better for it. Maybe I won’t hike the PCT, but I can think about my choices and challenge myself more to things that make me uncomfortable. I think that Wild is on the shortlist of favorite for CBR7.