“That perhaps being amidst the undesecrated beauty of the wilderness meant I too could be undesecrated, regardless of what I’d lost or what had been taken from me, regardless of the regrettable things I’d done to others or myself or the regrettable things that had been done to me. Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.”
After her mother’s death, Cheryl Strayed, author of the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, began sleeping around, using heroin, and divorced a good man. So she did the only thing she could think of: She set off to reclaim her life by hiking a majority of the Pacific Crest Trail in the summer of 1995. She was 26 years old, but it was as if she had no choice.
Her lack of preparation for hiking was among the many challenges she faced. After getting cut on a Joshua tree, she attempts to retrieve a Band-Aid only to have it whisked away by the wind over the side of the mountain. She nicknames her backpack “Monster” because of its extreme weight, and she buys the wrong gas for her stove, and is unable to have a hot meal until she can get it fixed in the next town. Her hiking boots are too small, causing her feet to blister, and she even loses a couple of toe nails.
Strayed’s memoir is not just about a hike; it’s full of stories from her life, including some anecdotes from people she meets along the way. She candidly describes some of the characters she comes across, but each person she meets adds valuable depth to her experience. She offers many memories from the innermost parts of her life, and her writing style is honest and literary. However, she seems to shy away from going into detail about some difficult decisions that she had to make, such as her abortion. It was merely mentioned, but not discussed fully.
But what I like best about Strayed’s journey through the wilderness is not just that she did this alone and was ill-prepared, but that she had the courage and determination to want to change her life for the better. She develops a new appreciation for things usually taken for granted, like how good Snapple Lemonade will taste when all you have to drink is water, or driving along in a car as the world flashes by when one can walk and suddenly recognize the sage growing along the trail, sparking comforting memories. Everyday things become new again, like seeing things through the eyes of a child.
Most of all, though, Strayed allows the trail to heal her troubled soul, and anyone who has gone through life-changing and difficult events can learn how we all have a place in this world, whether it is in Minnesota or along a dirt trail.