Monday, March 18, 2013

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed is one gutsy woman. In her wonderfully written memoir Wild she takes the reader with her on an exhausting journey along the Pacific Crest Trail as she tries to come to terms with her unravelling life. Not only does she embark on this odyssey by herself, but she does so with only a rudimentary knowledge of long distance hiking.

Her writing is so clear, her descriptions so palpable, that every time I put the book down, I'd feel as dusty and sore as the author herself, as if I'd been walking right there alongside her. Her unrelenting thirst and hunger had me running to the kitchen for a cold drink and a snack. I did not envy these aspects of her self-imposed ordeal. It's so interesting to see what she does with all that solitude. I fantasize about solitude in such breathtaking surroundings, but always wonder what the reality would actually be like. I never got the impression that it was too much for her, though. She enjoys the sporadic contact she has with other hikers and people in the small towns she passes through, but she also craves her solo return to the trail.

As she walks, she remembers some of her past, and what it was that got her to take on such a punishing trek in the first place. It's difficult to witness some of the disastrous turns her life takes in the preceding years, and then doubly so witnessing some of her  rather self-sabotaging behaviours after that. But really, it sets up an unexpected sense of suspense that had me glued to the page. How can this woman possibly not only survive such an ordeal, but persevere to the very end, alive and intact? It would be interesting to know if she has any long term effects from her boot issues. The descriptions of her raw and blistered feet are truly cringe-worthy. How on earth . . . ?

The physical and mental changes she goes through, and the insights she gains, is indeed nothing short of miraculous.


A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe - and built her back up again.
At twenty-two, 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 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 faces 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. (back cover)

I was thinking only of moving myself forward. My mind was a crystal vase that contained only that one desire. My body was its opposite: a bag of broken glass. Every time I moved, it hurt. I counted my steps to take my mind off the pain, silently ticking the numbers off in my head to one hundred before starting over again. The blocks of numbers made the walk slightly more bearable, as if I only had to go to the end of each one. pg63

My new existence was beyond analogy, I realized on that second day on the trail.
I was in entirely new terrain. pg63

I could go backward in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go. The bull [moose], I acknowledged grimly, could be in either direction, since I hadn't seen where he'd run once I closed my eyes. I could only choose between the bull that would take me back and the bull that would take me forward.
And so I walked on. pg69

That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding. It had begun to occur to me that perhaps it was okay that I hadn't spent my days on the trail pondering the sorrows of my life, that perhaps by being forced to focus on my physical suffering some of my emotional suffering would fade away. By the end of that second week, I realized that since I'd begun my hike, I hadn't shed a single tear. pg92

Monster [the author's backpack] was my world, my inanimate extra limb. Though its weight and size still confounded me, I'd come to accept that it was my burden to bear. I didn't feel myself in contradiction to it the way I had a month before, It wasn't me against it. We two were one. pg190

Foot speed was a profoundly different way of moving through the world that my normal modes of travel. Miles weren't things that blazed dully past. They were long, intimate straggles of weeds and clumps of dirt, blades of grass and flowers that bent in the wind, trees that lumbered and screeched. They were the sound of my breath and my feet hitting the trail one step at a time and the click of my ski pole. The PCT had taught me what a mile was. I was humbled before each and every one. pg191


Heidi’sbooks said...

Beautiful quotes. I find it fascinating that she called her backpack "Monster"--I guess it would feel that way while hiking.

Daisy said...

I've heard so much about this book, but haven't read it. It sounds like a gripping tale.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I like the quotes you chose; this is one i want to listen to.

Trish said...

Heidi - yes, her backpack was like another living thing! It was funny to read from the comfort of my chair, but in reality I'm sure it was quite monstrous.

Daisy - It's better than I thought it would be. She is so incredibly focused on her task.

Diane - I imagine it would work well as an audiobook, too. The quotes! There are so many good ones I never got around to adding. I loved her clear, thoughtful words.

Book Dilettante said...

This trek is something I'd love to do, but can't, so I'll have to read this book instead! Nice review!

Trish said...

Aren't books great that way?