Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” parallels the proverbial quest which the protagonist carries out in order to rediscover herself. Thick with the elements that characterize an epic, Strayed’s story is one you won’t put down. Readers are given a character who is fashioned with deep complexity and breathtaking honesty. Up to the very last pages, readers are left in agonizing anticipation, wondering whether Strayed is a hero whose journey will prove rewarding.
“Wild” is a memoir about Cheryl Strayed’s solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave desert through California and Oregon and ending at the Bridge of Gods in Washington State. Never having hiked before, Strayed hikes over a thousand miles to reach her destination and reader’s are instantly captivated by the 26-year-old Strayed. She offers up her inexperience with candor. Admitting that she believed hiking to be no different from walking, saying “I can walk!” “I walked all the time. I walked for hours on end in my work as a waitress.” Only to realize that hiking “resembles walking less than it does hell.” Reader’s are endeared to Strayed through her candid prose and quirky narratives about her first days on the trail.
However, Strayed’s memoir is so much more than an exposition about life on the PCT. It is an inspiring account of one woman's battle to reconstruct the pieces of her broken life. When her mother dies unexpectedly at the age of forty-five from lung cancer, Strayed is rendered and orphan. “ I was alone. I was barefoot. I was twenty-six years old and an orphan too,” she says, setting the tone of her story.
Sympathetic readers are heartbroken for Strayed and her inability to cope with her mother’s death. The actions that follow are painted with vivid detail. Strayed’s copious infidelities, rampant sexual relationships with strangers, and experimentation with drugs are sketched so bluntly, readers are left unmoored by her honesty. It is precisely because those actions and hardships prepared her for her journey, that any questions readers may have about Strayed’s moral fiber are left on the back burner.“I believe that all things I’d been before prepared me for this journey,” she says looking back on her time on the PCT.
Strayed’s journey is riveting and readers can’t help but be compelled to root for her as Her solo hike on the PCT is met with extreme temperatures, wild animals, and moments in which she is forced to recall those agonizing nights that turned her life upside down. It is a journey made spiritual by her esoteric need to understand herself and her actions. We as the readers, are made to feel her pain and loneliness because Strayed invites us into the most intimate details of her thoughts and psyche.
But the events of Strayed’s past and her time spent on the trail are interwoven so brilliantly, readers are forced to contemplate whether or not Strayed’s journey is a true odyssey of self-actualization or just a cleverly crafted story from an aspiring writer. This could be because it is hard to believe a novice hiker like Strayed, could carry a pack so heavy it could barely be lifted from the ground. “It was exactly like attempting to carry a Volkswagen beetle. It looked so cute, so ready to be lifted — and yet it was impossible to do,” she says. Readers can’t help but contemplate how she made it over a thousand miles without injuring herself. Not to mention her boots are so tight, half of her toe nails fall off, another detail casting doubt on the reader’s faith in her ability to finish the trail.
Nevertheless, for those readers willing to turn a blind eye to the questionable details in Strayed’s narrative, there is a beauty in the description of the trail from a backpackers perspective. Eating dehydrated food in the sometimes frigid cold, intensely or drizzly weather, right before turning into a cloistered tent that has come to feel like home, is an experience that any person should have the opportunity to experience.
So, if you are looking for a book to curl up with Christmas break, take a look at Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild.” Like her, you may find that “To witness the accumulation of tree and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks and rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets,” is what it feels like to be a human in the wild.
By: ALLYSA METZNER