Wild

Let me start by saying, I really enjoyed ‘Wild’ and admire the way Cheryl Strayed shared her story. It’s not exactly exciting to spend months hiking a trail, but the author writes about her journey in a way that is as gripping as any novel without being overly melodramatic. I was a little wary before starting, with the shoe falling off the cliff, wondering if she was some ill-prepared novice on a suicide mission, but that is not the case at all, the thing about the shoe probably the only time she does use an anecdote for overly dramatic effect, and to sell a book, why not – it worked.

Cheryl Strayed considers herself a bit of a stray. She changed her name in the process of finalising her divorce, gaining an apt description for how she felt at the time and profiting from the otherwise sad demise of her marriage by being able to offload a hyphenated name she held no sentimentality for.

Born in 1968, clearly intelligent and showing she had potential from a young age, ironically – getting married at the age of 19 was something of a rebellious act. Nineteen, an age of youthful idealism, where if not wary, we risk being fooled into taking the intensity of our feelings seriously and wind up wed. Or am I being just a tad cynical?

It’s a classic coming of age theme, girl with an absent father finds a wonderful man – and Strayed’s first husband Paul is a remarkable individual, who accepts the amicable divorce which Strayed sought by instinct more than knowing, missing a part of herself that she was fast learning couldn’t be fulfilled by another.

Being near Tom and Doug at night kept me from having to say to myself I am not afraid whenever I heard a branch snap in the dark or the wind shook so fiercely it seemed something bad was going to happen. But I wasn’t out here to keep myself from having to say I am not afraid. I’d come, I realised, to stare that fear down, to stare everything down, really – all that I’d done to myself and all that had been done to me.

The death of her mother at 45, knocked her off her straight and wedded course setting her on a side road to self-destruction, though fortunately something inside, perhaps the ever-present loving spirit of her mother (and a few of her sensible genes) mapped out an escape route from her self-destructive self by planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Despite the indulgent descent, she doesn’t come across as an addict, more a period of avoidance, indulging in destructive behaviour to avoid looking inward. This is a story of a woman heading towards a healing crisis, someone who needed to commit to a challenge in the extreme to provoke it.

The Pacific Crest Trail zigzags its way 2,650 kilometres from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington, crossing desert country, passing forestland, mountain terrain and volcanic lakes. Strayed started her hike in Mojave, California, bypassed a section of the Sierra Nevada mountain range due to exceptional snow condition (very sensible) and ended it at The Bridge of Gods in Oregon.

Crater Lake by MBessey, Wikipedia

Strayed articulates with honest clarity all that brought her to the wilderness and the experience of being there. Writing a journal as she travelled, makes the day by day account as fresh as if it were a recent trip, subsequent years clarify her view, now a 44-year-old woman and mother herself, she recounts her 26th year with the wisdom of hindsight.

As difficult and maddening as the trail could be, there was hardly a day that didn’t offer up some form of what was called trail magic in the PCT vernacular – the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail.

Bridge of the Gods by Cacophony, Wikipedia

As she walked, she was surprised at how the demands of the physical challenge and overcoming them become her sole focus, how she’d imagined dealing with her grief and loss, with days and days of free thinking time was nothing like the reality. On the trail, lapses in attention were on occasion broken by a rattle, warning her of a coiled predator on the path. It wasn’t necessary to think her way towards resolution, but to stride it out fully present allowing nature to knit together the broken bits inside.

Nature is a glorious healer and reading about it second only to getting out there in it. This book is a testament to that and the moments when the author fully embraces it and is filled with the wonder and energy of the natural environment are a pleasure to share. She epitomizes the reward of those who first conceived the idea of a nature trail in the wilderness for the public to provide “a lasting curative and civilising value” and I only hope this book, not only gets widely read, but inspires many others to get out on a nature trail themselves.

Panekiri Bluff, Lake Waikaremoana

Personally, I can recommend the hike around Lake Waikaremoana, in the North Island of New Zealand, I walked this with my family (there were 7 of us) when I was 14 years old, it is extreme wilderness and I’ll never forget the very fit Peruvian we met on the first night who asked us where the nearest shop was! He became the 8th member of our group and could shuffle a pack of cards like magic. We finished the trail in 5 days and took our new friend whom we all loved home to work as a willing farm hand, he stayed a couple of months until a letter arrived from a girl and off he went to follow her as free spirits do.

*

It was the thing that had compelled them to fight for the trail against all the odds and it was the thing that drove me and every other long-distance hiker onward on the most miserable days.

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29 thoughts on “Wild

  1. Been there, done that: “being fooled into taking the intensity of our feelings seriously and wind up wed.”

    Bike to top Alpe d’Huez: “honest clarity all that brought her to the wilderness and the experience of being there”

    Running trip every month to Vlieland…relax and enjoy nature: Nature is glorious healer and reading about it second only to getting out there in it”

    Clarie, this was a joy to read b/c I could connect ( as many others must be able to do…) with so much in C. Strayed’s story. Definitely on my “to read list”!

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    • Thank goodness for books Lynn, the places we can do, the adventures we can almost experience, through the imagination. And at least on this trail as with many, it is possible to do a day trip. Shorter walks/hikes more my thing these days as well, but love that the mountains, lakes and forest are all suitably close to be able to enjoy nature.

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  2. A journey to find what lies inside, now it shapes our personhood. We wander different trails, some natural and some of our own creation, but the process inevitably generates a story worth hearing or reading.

    As always, great review.

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  3. **.I’d come, I realised, to stare that fear down, to stare everything down, really – all that I’d done to myself and all that had been done to me.**

    Outstanding review.

    This shall be my next book. thank you.

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  4. I saw part of the authori’s interview with Oprah recently and thought I might check it out, what a harrowing journey of the mind, body and soul. It was your review, however, that convinced me that I must read this for myself. Thanks so much. Great review and I’m sure a wonderful book.

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    • It is indeed a great book, she has an excellent way of expressing herself and is brutally honest (not everyone’s cup of tea mind), but I liked it and her for not cutting anything out and showing all of herself to us, it’s no quick fix to take a journey like this, more a sign of a significant turning point in her life, as her story attests. I do hope you find a copy and enjoy the journey as well.

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  5. Pingback: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, 627 miles in 87 days | Word by Word

  6. I think this book has important lessons, but I was not interested in some of the things she wrote about (maybe because I hike, I joined the army at 40, and I am already used to the outdoors). I thought the movie was even better, and that is not something that can often be said!

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    • I quite enjoyed the personal journey, in particular the naivety twinned with the stubborn perseverance. I’m not sure about the lessons, I think we all have to learn those ourselves, we have to create our own challenges, but I enjoy Strayed’s perspective and honesty.

      Actually I just started watching the film a week ago while on holiday with my Dad who was visiting from NZ, I fell asleep but he made it through the whole thing and said he enjoyed it, which I thought interesting as he is a very traditional farmer and used to take us on hiking holidays (6 days and nights in a part of NZ where there are no shops or anywhere to buy anything), I remember we adopted a young Peruvian on that hike as he thought he could buy his food en route, we fed him for 6 days and then he came home with us and worked on the farm for a few months until that telephone call from a girl in Australia, we kids were devastated, but I think it instilled in us all a desire to travel to Peru!

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