It was inevitable that I would like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Found to Lost on the Pacific Coast Trail. Hiking! My ears perked up when I first scanned the title in the Los Angeles Times review of the book. I dig hiking. I dig books about hiking. I reading books about hiking while hiking. That being said I will try to my best to give you an unbiased review of this lovely, but indeed flawed, memoir.
Wild is written by Cheryl Strayed, a writer who, after losing her beloved mother to cancer during Strayed’s senior year of college, gets lost in a mess of heroin addiction, divorce and nomadic hopelessness. Strayed’s relationship with her mother was a tight-knit one, and her unexpected death – she died mere weeks after her diagnosis – shook Strayed right out of her otherwise stable relationship with her husband (she married at 19) and into a string of one-night stands and a heroin addiction. What’s a near-broke orphan to do to get her life together?
The Pacific Crest Trail stretches over a thousand miles from the Mojave Desert all the way up to Canada. Cheryl Strayed decides to complete it alone, without any extensive backpacking experience. After nearly four years of wandering through different states, doing odd jobs and refusing to accept her addiction to heroin, Strayed finally decides that what she needs is to hike. She goes through all the typical woes: torn up feet, bear encounters and, of course, the transcendent experience of tasting your first hamburger, French fries and milkshake during your first reentry into civilization after a week or so on the trail.
But Strayed writes about it all with a distinctive perspective: that of a struggling 26-year-old female who lost herself after losing her mother.
This perspective is both a blessing and a curse for Wild. See, while I gobble up nature books much like I devour French fries after a week on trail, I avoid self-help books with equal conviction. And sometimes I could feel myself cringing while Strayed played with this line between sensitive reflection and the cheesy over-analyzing of an inspirational self-help book.
But I had to swallow my bias, because Strayed’s journey to come to terms with her mother’s death and literal journey of her doing this on the PCT seemed entirely genuine. Plus, Strayed’s spunky tone prevents moments from feeling too saccharine – she’s a pistol of a gal.
She did, after all, hike the PCT by herself. You’ve got to be a pistol to accomplish that.
Time taken? This book is not nearly as long as the Pacific Crest Trail. At the same time, it’s not really a quick loop you can do in Tevas. I would compare its length to a five mile trail with a pretty decent incline. It’s easy reading, but it took me awhile to get through. I’d say it took me around four hours.
Worth reading? This book isn’t interesting in its literary merits, but it’s a great story. Plus, if you’re like me…hiking! It has hiking. Lots of it. In every chapter.