After the unexpected death of her mother and its life-altering aftermath, twenty-six year old Cheryl Strayed instinctively embarks on a lone journey to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, exploring the extent of her self-reliance. Intermittently recounting past experiences, Strayed takes the reader on a retrospective journey through the life events that led her onto the trail. In Wild, Strayed traverses the landscape of much more than the PCT, she traverses the landscape and texture of her life: the tragic, the incriminating, and, in due time, the triumphant.
When my sister lent me her copy of Wild by Cheryl Strayed a few months ago, I had the intention of reading it as soon as I could. Instead, it cluttered my room for a couple of months, migrated to my closet when I decided to organize my room, and then weighed down my book bag for a few weeks before I gave it the chance it deserved. I had read the front and back covers and figured it would be a superfluous description of the PCT’s natural beauty. I couldn’t possibly imagine how I could drudge through 300 pages of someone hiking!
To my surprise, a few minutes into Chapter 1, Strayed’s vulnerability and matter-of-fact voice gripped me. Right away, she shares one of the most emotionally brutal events in her life: her mother’s terminal prognosis. Although it occurs years before she even hears of the PCT, this is the most pivotal in a series of events that eventually lead her onto the trail.
Wounded by the death of her mother, confounded by the subsequent dissemination of her family, and shaken by the end of her marriage, Strayed begins the PCT incredibly vulnerable. Aside from all that, she is hardly an experienced long-distance hiker, at first packing an impossibly heavy load. Intertwined with the obstacles she faces daily on the trail, she chronicles the most defining moments of her young life.
Wild is a survival tale. By hiking the trail alone, Strayed places her entire survival in her own hands. Not only that, her hike mirrors the life-saving internal transformation that occurs throughout those three months on the trail. Her story is relatable because it is undoubtable that at one point or another everyone encounters a situation in which they feel out of control, disoriented, and untethered, just as we all understand the very need to challenge ourselves and explore what we are capable of. The way that she harnesses the restorative power of that is what is really compelling in Strayed’s story.
Aside from the personal account shared by Strayed, the way that she shares it is equally engaging. Her prose is magnetic. In detailing the complex internal travail that she engages, the reader’s empathy is easily evoked. She is able to build suspense simply, but effectively. With every page that I read, I wanted more.
In sum, Wild was an absolute pleasure to read. I would recommend it to everyone, but especially to young women. I think it’s easy to doubt what we are capable of, and Strayed’s novel serves as a reminder that, despite hardship, we can overcome. Young women have the power to assert themselves and really redefine and rework what is meaningful to them, no matter the circumstance.