Just Finished Reading: Wild – A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed (FP: 2012)
It all started with bad news, very bad news. The Mother she doted on was dying of cancer and 26 year old Cheryl (played by Reese Witherspoon in the 2014 movie adaptation) didn’t know what to do. Without her mother to ground her, to keep her centred, she had nothing to stop her flying in all directions at once. Within months she was divorcing a husband she loved, sleeping with any man who would buy her a drink in the bars she frequented and taking drugs to make the fear and loneliness go away for a few hours. She was indeed lost. Until, on impulse, almost by accident, she picked up a guide to the Pacific Crest Trail, and made the crazy decision to walk over 1100 miles up the West Coast of America – on her own. For seven months she planned, saved and organised the trip with way points, packages to pick up, and advice from the stores where she bought her equipment. Finally the day arrived to set off on her journey of a life time. In her motel room at the beginning of the trail she packed everything into her backpack and only then discovered that she couldn’t pick it up, she just didn’t have the strength.
With gritted determination she started her trek weighted down by useless items, few navigational skills and, the final indignity, boots a size too small. Cheryl found very quickly that what little preparation she’d put into the trip was nowhere near enough but she couldn’t back out now. She had to go on, no matter what it cost her in lost body fat, hardened skin, strained back muscles and lost toenails. Slowly, over weeks of hard graft, her body became tougher, she learnt skills that she never thought to have needed and met some wonderful people along the way who both lightened her backpack to more a manageable size and, eventually, lightened her soul too.
This was a totally impulsive buy at my local supermarket because it looked ‘different’. It was certainly that! As a biography this was a warts and all account of a young woman adrift in the world with no clear idea of who or what she was. It is also the tale of a woman with an incredible amount of grit and determination who, apparently, amazed everyone she met with her simple ‘can do’ attitude. Just like the Pacific Crest Trail itself this narrative was occasionally hard going – especially at the beginning when describing her mother’s illness and ultimate death – but there was also a fair amount of humour, anxiety, wonder and beauty too. It was essentially an interesting tale rather well told. Not exactly as ‘inspiring’ as the reviewers would have you believe – at least not to me – this is still worth a read especially if you have ever considered doing something as crazy as Cheryl evidently did. Just one (or two) piece(s) of advice: Do your research, do some prep before you go and for god’s sake make sure that you have the right sized boots on!