In 1995 - and with little experience - Cheryl Strayed made a drastic decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone from the western edge of the Mojave desert in Southern California to the Oregon/Washington border.
Wild is the memoir of her incredible 1,100-mile journey.
The idea of the trip actually started in Minneapolis, where Strayed was living at the time. She was standing in the checkout line of an outdoor store waiting to purchase a foldable shovel when she noticed a book called The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume I, California.
She casually picked the book up and scanned through it, learning that the Pacific Crest Trail runs along the crest of nine mountain ranges and is 2,663 miles long. It starts at the Mexican border, running through California, Oregon, and Washington, and ends just over the Canadian border.
Strayed looked at the pretty picture of a lake on the front cover of the guidebook, which was beautifully surrounded by boulders, and then placed the book back on the shelf. She paid for her shovel and left. Shortly after, she returned to the store and bought the book.
At the time of her unexpected purchase, Strayed’s life was a mess. She was ending her marriage. Her mother had recently died of cancer. She was shooting heroin, and she was having casual sex with men she barely knew.
Strayed knew her life needed to change. She also needed time alone - to think, to heal, to regroup and to figure out what she wanted from life. So, naively she acquired all the equipment she thought she would need for her adventure and headed for Mojave, California and the Pacific Crest Trail.
From the first day, the journey was much harder than Strayed ever expected. She struggled to carry her huge backpack, which she nicknamed Monster, and she quickly discovered she was less prepared than she could have every imagined. Even so, she wasn’t going to give up.
Her three-month-long trip was grueling, challenging, emotional, and fascinating. Along the way, she encountered wild animals, extreme heat, snow and ice, new friends, physical hardships and memories that she would never forget.
Wild conveys Strayed’s difficulties, fears, and struggles, both on and off the trail, with painful accuracy. In fact, to describe Wild as a “feel-good” book would be misleading. It is more of a “feel real” book because of its raw honesty.
Especially in the beginning chapters of Wild, its brutal openness makes you want to just shake Strayed and say, “What’s wrong with you?”
But partway through the memoir, you find yourself appreciating her candid words. Her realness about herself adds to the meaning of her journey and the importance of her success – on the trail and within herself.
What’s even better is that at the end of the book, Strayed describes her life now and discusses what happened to a few of the people she befriended on the Pacific Crest Trail all those years ago, giving the book and her excursion a sense of completeness.
Today, Strayed is a successful author who lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and children. She has also written the books Torch and Tiny Beautiful Things.