I recently discovered that I can borrow audiobooks from my local library via an app on my phone, which has completely revolutionised my reading and I’m finally making some headway on my reading challenge for the year! Wild by Cheryl Strayed is the first book I downloaded and whilst it took a few minutes to get used to the American accent, I really got stuck into it and finished it in no time.
After the sudden death of her mother and a string of extramarital affairs, Cheryl is lost. Wild, a true story, is the simple tale of a woman walking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), trying to get her life back on track. She’s incredibly unprepared but sets off on this three month long journey all by herself and learns a heck of a lot about herself, strangers, strength, family and more. Admittedly, I was drawn to this story because people raved about the Reese Witherspoon film adaptation when it came out, but I was worried it was going to be incredibly clichéd. I thought it was silly that people read this book and suddenly felt the need to go and “find themselves”. Eye roll. But then I read it and, you guessed it, all I wanted to do was pull my hiking boots on, walk off into the distance and just spend some time with… me.
Cheryl Strayed’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. She alternates between telling you about her journey on the PCT and the significant events in her life that brought her to the trail. We learn about her family’s suffering and how she acted out by sleeping with lots of men, leading to the breakdown of her marriage. She was living a life of self-destruction and she doesn’t try to hide that or sugarcoat it in any way. Her behaviour was reprehensible, which distanced me from past Cheryl, but drew me closer to present Cheryl. Her story is raw and real and whilst nothing hugely “exciting” happens to her on the trail, this slow burner will keep you hooked from start to finish. Cheryl doesn’t spare the gory details of how tough a three-month solo hike is – especially for someone who has never been backpacking before – and you’ll follow her on her journey as she loses her toenails one by one.
Her story is riddled with misfortune but she writes about it in such a matter of fact way that you can’t help but warm to her. At times, she’s even downright hilarious. She optimistically packs some condoms for this solo hike and then realises that she’s barely washed, she’s covered in scrapes and cuts, and definitely hasn’t shaved her legs or lady parts so there’s no way she’s going to be getting down and dirty with anyone she meets along the trail. There is lots of mention of sex, even drugs, including shooting heroin, which made me feel a little uncomfortable to listen to so if you’re even the slightest bit squeamish, you might want to skim past those sections.
Wild is entirely written in the first person and the focus is very much on Cheryl’s own spiritual journey. Yet I felt like I got to know all the secondary characters very well as Cheryl narrated her life story. There’s her loving ex-husband Paul, who was a real stand up guy from beginning to end. After hearing about all she did to him and her experiences with other men, I wanted to shake her and scream “he’s a keeper!” We’re also introduced to her tough best friend Lisa, who is determined for Cheryl to get back on the straight and narrow. She helps from afar throughout her time on the PCT by sending her letters and boxes of supplies to all her stops. Of course, there’s also her mother, whose passing kicked off this entire journey. We learn all about what happened to her from the moment she’s diagnosed with cancer to the moment she passes away, including the drama with her siblings along the way.
I most loved reading about Cheryl’s interactions with other Americans, either fellow hikers on the PCT or strangers at the pit stops she’d make every so often. I marvelled at the kindness of these strangers and can’t help wonder what it would be like to hike the PCT today, when we live in an increasingly closed-minded society. Would people be quite so welcoming? The real Cheryl Strayed walked the PCT way back in 1995 (the year I was born!), and I can’t help but feel the experience must be very, very different today.
All in all, Wild by Cheryl Strayed is a story that took me by surprise and exceeded expectations by far. It’s an inspiring tale that will both make you want to stay at home and hold your loved ones close but also run into the wild with nothing but a few essentials on your back. I’d highly recommend this to anyone thinking of going hiking or solo travelling, it might just help you pluck up the courage to actually set off. I’d also recommend this to people who are comfortable where they are right now, this might inspire you to get up and try something new.
Buy Wild by Cheryl Strayed:
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