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. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
After Strayed’s mother dies, she copes by blowing up her marriage with multiple affairs and adopting a mild heroin addiction (not that she would describe it as such, according to her this was a whim and she could stop and start as she pleased. This is why she shot up – near her ankle because they couldn’t find a usable vein in her arm – right before embarking on this hike…). When her friends and ex-husband stage an intervention (once again, my terminology not hers – she doesn’t have a problem) she decides to escape to the PCT to find herself and to start fresh in Oregon.
I was struggling to understand how this book has received such rave reviews but I’ve developed a theory for that. I have to assume that this book is adored by an audience who likes the idea of disappearing into the wilderness to discover oneself, but has spent very little actual time outdoors. Unfortunately, having real-world camping or hiking experience will ruin your possible enjoyment of this book. I think the alternate title here should be “How I Survived, Despite Actively Trying to Die in the Woods.”
There is not a single decision that Strayed made while on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that made sense. Backpack overstuffed, requiring half of your belongings to be strapped to the outside and weighing almost as much as you do? Yes, struggling through the weight and pain is ideal over repacking and leaving unnecessary objects behind. Life-saving literature about what to expect alone on the trail with limited exposure to the outside world and how to use a compass? Pack it. You’ll need something to read once you’ve already started your journey. Make sure you don’t start it on the flight, you wouldn’t want to prepare too much for something that could kill you. One of your hiking boots fell off a cliff? Throw the other one off the cliff as well. Barefoot or wearing cheap sandals on both feet is infinitely better than only on one. Limited budget and possible unforeseen expenses? Snapple, every chance you get. It started to drive me crazy. Strayed never turned down an opportunity to make the dumber, more dangerous choice. I don’t care how unprepared or inexperienced you are, everyone has basic instincts that would have been screaming not to do what she did.
More than anything, I found this to be the most bloated, self-indulgent narrative. The book seems to exist, not to describe how being alone for weeks on end and having no one but yourself to rely on for survival can help you to heal and become a better person, but to make sure everyone knows that if they met her, they’d be impervious to her sexual charm. She makes sure to pack condoms for her wilderness adventure, which is handy because she seems to run into an awful lot of people for someone who is trying to be alone to heal from the loss of her mother. And she is such a beacon of womanliness and sex appeal that everyone she meets wants her, no matter how old they are, how long they’ve been hiking for, or how long it’s been since her last shower.
I suppose I expected a lot more introspection from someone so isolated and grappling with some pretty big issues. However, since it appears that Strayed thinks all of her problems only exist because her mother died, she doesn’t actually have too much work to do there. This is great news – if she had only herself to blame for her extramarital affairs and drug use, she probably would have wanted to work through that while she was out there. The level of awareness and reflection in the narrative is to be expected from someone who had just completed their journey, exhausted and delirious after strenuous effort and isolation. Imagine my surprise that this was written over a decade after she tackled the PCT.
Please, do not use this as a guide when planning your own solo hike, unless you plan to do the opposite of everything Strayed writes about. Also, if for some reason you were hoping that she would be able to guide you to emotional closure, I’ll just say that her big epiphany was that …
… she shouldn’t change a thing. And she also ate her mother’s cremated remains so she’d stay with her always …
… That’s the level of emotional stability you’re aligning yourself with. I would like to be very clear here, I am in no way trying to slut-shame or judge another woman for her choices. But if she’s going to package up her poor choices and try to pass them off as revelations and self-help I think it’s important to add my voice to the other sane ones out there poking holes in her self-righteousness. A solo hike like this has always been a seemingly unachievable dream for me so I’m very aware that I’m taking the downfalls of this narrative personally. I just wish it had either lived up to the hype, had actually been about the hike, or that Strayed had actually prepared and taken the whole thing more seriously.