I really regret that I listened to the nay-sayers and put this book off for SO long. Ridiculous. A few of them really turned out to be shamers, which is awful and sad. I really wish I could find the review I read that said Wild (Strayed, 2012) was a drug and sex filled orgy. The hell?!? Yes, both are mentioned and are, at some point, part of the author’s life. She is brutally honest and upfront about her struggles and how she deals with them. She doesn’t recommend trying heroin. She definitely feels guilt about cheating on her husband. Did I agree with all the conclusions she seems to draw? No. But I still felt it was a good book worth reading.
As a hiker myself, I can say Cheryl starts off as what is possibly the worst prepared thru-hiker in history. I cringed as I read the descriptions of her gigantic pack (aptly named Monster), the way she buys guidebooks but doesn’t read them, and instead of preparing in the last week of her trip, spends it hooking up with a guy that she already knows is very, very bad for her. I wanted to shake her, and I suspect I share that feeling with most of her friends and remaining family at the time. After her mother’s illness and death, Cheryl makes a string of bad choices involving cheating on her husband – a man she continuously claims to love and probably the best relationship to ever come into her life, at least the way it is portrayed – and using heroin. As she approaches rock bottom, she knows she needs to make changes but seems to lack the willpower to do anything at all. She changes her name, and not just back to her maiden name, but a new name she picks almost straight out of a dictionary because it is the only thing that “feels” right. She goes with her brother to put her mother’s dying horse out of it’s misery (thank you, Cheryl Strayed, for making me ugly-cry). Her divorce is finalized – but her relationship with Paul is far from finished. THAT, is probably the part of her story I am least understanding and sympathetic to. She cheats on this man that she admits is lovely to her, who will TAKE HER BACK after her multiple affairs, and yet, she still can’t let him go. Darling, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I’m assuming she’s figured that out in the 20 odd years that have passed since this part of the story. I hope so. Her description of the notarizing of their divorce decree was a bit unsettling. But, each person’s story is different. Who am I to judge?
Afterwards, we leaned against the cold bricks of a building and kissed, crying and murmuring regrets, our tears mixing together on our faces…snowflakes were melting onto his hair and I wanted to reach up and touch them, but I didn’t.
Her time on the trail is by turns painful and cathartic. As expected (by me, reading this, though obviously not by her), she spends most of her time completely exhausted and in constant pain from her pack, her boots, dehydration. At the same time, I really felt she was a kindred spirit in the way the act of hiking made her feel.
I realized I was having a kind of strange, abstract, retrospective fun. I noticed the beauty that surrounded me, the wonder of things both small and large.
It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental.
Yes. Yes it is. And it is why we go outside and torture our feet and backs again, and again, and again. Because nature feeds us, even as we pay the price our soft modern bodies grudgingly give up to her.
Cheryl experiences a lot of growing pains during her PCT time, not all of them physical. What stood out most to me, was how very, very concerned she was about her appearance – to men. Every time she meets a new male on the trail, she starts to worry about her hair, her smell, her hairy legs. Sure, she’s horny as hell – she’s a 20-something female that doesn’t see anyone for days on end – and that’s great! Sexual appetite doesn’t bother me, in fact I think it’s awesome she’s so open about it in a society that traditionally shames women for being sexual beings at all. The issue is that she felt her worth was determined on her sexual attractiveness to men, not that she wanted to fuck. She actually only ends up with one guy during her time on the trail (orgy, my ass).
What really makes the book worth reading (besides all the other interesting things that happen while she’s on the trail), is how she slowly grows out of that poisonous mindset. She becomes a more powerful woman in her own right. She doesn’t need anyone else, definitely not men, to prove to her that she is beautiful and strong and worth something, no matter what anyone else thinks or says. THAT, to me, was the takeaway value of the whole book.
4/5 stars. Despite my disagreement with how Strayed handled some of her life choices and relationships, in the end it’s HER life, not mine, and what she learned during her adventure on the PCT is a story worth reading.