Cheryl Strayed’s memoir is a heartbreakingly honest account of her solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, a physically and emotionally taxing journey that helped the then 26-year-old exorcise the demons plaguing her life since the death of her mother four years prior. Dealing with the tragic loss of her mother, residual pain from her father’s abuse and abandonment, the dissolution of her young marriage, topped off with a heroin problem, Strayed’s is not an easy life.
But she decides to reset, heading out on an 1,100-mile trek from California to Oregon, a grueling journey propelled only by her own two feet and force of will.
Woefully unprepared for the realities of long-distance hiking, weighed down by a backpack she dubs “Monster,” combating ill-fitting hiking boots, damaged feet, loneliness and inner torment, Strayed’s undertaking manifests all of her psychic distress as a physical battle. Her life is boiled down to a literal struggle to just take one more step forward, a task that helps ease her pain and eventually makes everything in her life seem somehow more manageable.
As Strayed’s slow progress along the trail unfolds, she dips back further and further into her memories, from the time spent at her dying mother’s bedside, to her hippie childhood living in the wilderness with her siblings and stepfather. Her unflinchingly honest and detailed memories will break your heart as the book evolves into a true survival tale with Strayed battling the elements both on the trail and in her head.
Despite Strayed’s misery and physical pain on the trail, Wild definitely inspired me to get outdoors, even if the New York equivalent of hiking means scrambling around some large rocks in Central Park. The cleansing beauty of nature and the peace Strayed finds in the undisturbed wilderness is so inspiring and calming that you may be motivated to pack up your gear for a night or two in a tent as well.
Even if you don’t get the urge to strap on a backpack, I can guarantee the book will make you want to call your mom. While this is undoubtedly Strayed’s personal story, at its heart is a love letter and farewell to the woman she lost too soon, a mother who was loving, fun, complicated, flawed and ultimately dearly missed and very present in Strayed.
All in all, a moving and thought-provoking read for your summer vacation!
If you’re on the West Coast, check out Cheryl Strayed’s event appearance schedule. She’ll be at Point Reyes Books tonight at 7:30 p.m. If you can’t see her in person, here’s Strayed talking about her life-changing trek: