At the age of twenty-six, Cheryl Strayed - a broken woman suffering from a painful divorce and the devastating death of her mother - decided to heal herself by completing an 1,100 mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. She started in the Mojave Desert, hiking through California and Oregon, and ending her journey at the Washington border. She was not an experienced hiker at the time, learning as she went, and it was this ignorance that both plagued her and saved her. If she had known better, she wouldn't have endured so many trials and tribulations, from a too-heavy pack to too-small boots. On the other hand, if she had known better, she might not have attempted such a profound challenge in the first place. For this reason, I'm glad she was ignorant. Otherwise the world might not have been given the gift of her memoir, Wild. And of all the things the world needs, books like Wild are at the top of the list.
You might think that a 311 page book about one woman's very long hike might get boring after a while. I thought so too, but I was so glad that Strayed proved me wrong. The passages we get of the PCT are sharp and lyrical, acknowledging both the beauty of nature and the relentless way the trail is ravaging her, physically and mentally. This is not an easy hike, and Strayed never lets us forget this. And yet, for all her lost toenails, exhaustion, hunger, and discomfort, I found myself wanting to do something similar, longing for my own pure, raw, life-changing experience. This is the wonder of Wild - even at it's most gut wrenching moments, the reader wants to be there, too.
And Wild is not all on the trail. We also get flashbacks to Strayed's life before the PCT, the mistakes and tragedies that led her to the decision to complete this pilgrimage. We learn about her mother, her father, her step-father, her siblings. We see the way our loved ones can disappoint us, break our hearts. We watch Strayed destroy a marriage with a man she truly loves, understand the way sex can be both a way out and a way in. We meet people on the trail, fellow PCT hikers, who offer advice and companionship, who share the joys and hardships of the trail for miles at a time. And, finally, we discover the meaning of strength, of bravery, of what it means to be alone, to be whole, to be healed.
I'm trying my best to be vague in this review. I want Nathan to read Wild next, but I fear I've already told him all the good parts because I can't keep them to myself. I won't make that mistake here. I'll just tell you to read Wild as soon as you can. It's one of those books that will make you feel as if you - like Strayed - have traveled a long way in order to learn new truths about yourself and about the world. And at the end of the journey, you'll feel the sort of change that only the best books can foster.