Wild is a powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an 1100-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe - and built her back up again.
At 22, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State - and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.
Strayed faced down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
©2012 Cheryl Strayed (P)2012 Random House
“No one can write like Cheryl Strayed. Wild is one of the most unflinching and emotionally honest books I've read in a long time. It is about forgiveness and grief, bravery and hope. It is unforgettable.” (Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle)
“While reading Cheryl Strayed’s stunning book about her arduous solo journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, I kept asking myself - what would I do if I were stripped bare of everything - money, job, community, even family and love? Thoreau once said, ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world.’ For Strayed, it is clear that in wildness was the preservation of her soul. She reminds us, in her lyrical and courageous memoir Wild, of what it means to be fully alive, even in the face of catastrophe, physical and psychic hardship, and loss." (Mira Bartók, author of The Memory Palace)
“Cheryl Strayed can sure tell a story. In Wild, she describes her journey from despair to transcendence with honesty, humor, and heart-cracking poignancy. This is a great book.” (Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia and Seeking Peace)
Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always."
There are 12,000+ ratings on Audible as I write this, so I wondered if I had anything to add by reviewing Cheryl Strayed's "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" (2012). Three things happened this week that made me decide I did: I did a solo summit of Mt. San Jacinto, which is on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT), on a May day with temperatures in the 30's and 40's and winds gusting to 65 mph; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an editorial about hiking the PCT with his daughter; and a day later, the New York Times published, in print and on Audible, a long, thoughtful and unforgettable piece by Jess Bidgood and Richard Pérez-Peña called "Geraldine Largay's Wrong Turn: Death on the Appalachian Trail" (May 26, 2016).
Strayed's "Wild" is soul searching and soul searing. People who've reached rock bottom and are clawing their way out, 'no fix' by 'no fix'; no drink' by 'no drink'; and most of all, pebble by rock by boulder out of profound grief will find courage and solace. It's most definitely worth the listen.
It might also inspire folks to try hiking, but it is by no means is it a hiking guide, much less a guide to the PCT. In fact, it's more of a 'what NOT to do when hiking'.
Strayed hiked the PCT in 1995, before the Internet and before Amazon could restock on the trail - no cost for delivery for Prime customers, and same day service sometimes available. Strayed planned supplies ahead and had a friend mail her boxes on the trail, but she ended up both overweighted and underprepared. REI was in business then and now, but hiking gear - from backpacks to boots to winter jackets - was so much heavier. Many things are much different two decades later - but some things are the same, like the absolute solitude.
When I summited San Jacinto (it's the mountain you take the tram to from Palm Springs and hike on from there - the peak is 10,834 feet), I ran into three young-but-still-adult-hikers on the PCT who'd started out in Mexico, carrying about 20 pounds of gear each. They were moving at a steady pace and quite excited to reach the first high peak. In contrast, Strayed had about 75 pounds of gear and badly fitting boots that really hurt her. Two weeks into her journey, she was in survival mode, not sheer-joy-at-being-alive wonder mode. Kristof, a lifelong hiker who raised his own hiker children, was incredibly happy to spend the time with his daughter as they hiked part of the PCT, beyond the reach of modern technology for hours or days.
Strayed, the trio of international and ecstatic hikers I ran into on the PCT, and even me on my challenging but still 'just a day hike' - and I'll guarantee you Kristof, although I've never met the man, much less looked in his backpack - all had someone in common: maps and compasses we knew how to use, and piercingly loud whistles to summon help in case things went wrong.
The doomed Geraldine Largay, who wrote a heartbreaking journal in the 4 weeks it took her to die of starvation and exposure on the Appalachian Trail, had, as a hiking friend said, "no sense of direction"; was totally out of cell phone/GPS signal range; she could not have had a compass and a map she knew how to use. Largray was found two years after her death, where she'd camped the entire time, just half a mile from the trail.
True hiking trails - not those graded, groomed, smooth and wide paths so well cared for they are easier to walk on than most sidewalks in the City of Los Angeles - are easy to lose. Trees fall. Rain, wind and snow obliterate the footprints of those who've used the path. Natural drainage swales look right - until they don't, ending uphill in a thicket of impenetrable manzanita bushes, or downhill in a pool of brackish and debris filled water. Rattlesnakes insist that it doesn't matter where you think you're going, you're not passing them. Yes, I'm speaking from experience - very recent experience. I lost the path coming down from the peak of San Jacinto. I was off path for a good hour, and Google Maps or Waze? I might as well have been a member of the Soboba Band of Lusieno Indians who roamed the land back when they were first recognized by Chester Arthur in 1863.
It was disconcerting, but when I realized it, I went from hiking to orienteering. Orienteering is land navigation in unfamiliar terrain using a map and compass, and it requires careful concentration and frequent stops to check bearings. I eventually, literally, found myself back on path.
So, if you're going to hike the PCT, use "Wild" for inspiration, but talk to the good folks at REI for the real "how to." They even have classes. And if you're on the trail and looking for advice, ask the old trail hand whose wearing dusty boots with gaters; whose backpack is held together by duct tape; and who has an old Government Issue Phosphorescent Lensatic Compass strapped to a web belt. Don't go with the person whose wearing the latest Garmin and with a brand new never unrolled Marmot sleeping bag attached to a $400 back pack.
I don't know how the book compares to the Reese Witherspoon adaptation of "Wild" (2014) - I haven't seen the movie.
The title of the review is a quote from the book.
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The classic story of loss and redemption left me unsatisfied and ultimately I struggled to sympathize with the writer. I had made allowances before beginning the book that the author was troubled, but the ignorance was more than I could stand. The last few chapters were a painful chore. I felt it was long winded, self indulgent, and I wouldn't recommend it. I'm happy she worked through her pain, but felt the book could have been a lot shorter.
I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson's account of his adventures on the AT (I've read and listened to it a number of times). This story, however, seems a bit off. I'm not sure if it is due to the fact that it was written so long after it occurred but it partially seems real, partially over romanticized and sometimes seems only fantasy written as reality. Such is the way we often view events of our past... It's too bad really because Cheryl does have a good story to tell of her adventures of living out of her backpack for several months. This story does not seem genuine.
The story was OK but I felt like I was supposed feel bad for her and I didn't. Shooting up heroin and then hiking 1000 miles and having a hard time doesn't make me feel anything for the person.
This book starts out fairly interesting, but drugs on and on going over the exact same idea over and over. By the end of 14 hours I was ready to drive off a cliff. I don't care for this new modern approach to writing where art is lost and speech is
I listened to this because someone recommended it and because it is coming out as a movie with Reese Witherspoon. Not good enough reasons. Although the descriptions of the trail and scenery were interesting, I could have done with much less about her dead mother.
The narrator mispronounced quite a few words. Is there no QA by Audible?
While the PCT part is really interesting, it got really aggravating to have to hear the same old stuff about her mom. Losing a parent is awful, but cheryl's problems go a lot deeper than that. This is a book about a struggling woman-- hardly about the history of the PCT.
OK story...it's no Into the Wild.
Fair writing. Fair narrative performance. Maybe if I weren't a hiker I would have been more interested.
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