“I was in the midst of such reverie when I skidded on pebbles and fell, landing on the hard trail facedown with a force that took my breath away. I lay unmoving for a good minute, from both the searing pain in my leg and the colossal weight on my back, which pinned me to the ground.”
Cheryl Strayed falls. She gets lost. She gets confused. Her unbroken-in boots cause her immense and intense pain. They are the wrong size. She gets blisters, she loses toenails. She carries more than she needs and gives her backpack a name. Monster.
She runs out of water. She heads into town for supplies and encounters various situations, some good and some bad. She runs low on money. She is showered, occasionally, with kindness and occasionally takes a shower. She finds some beauty, gets into a rhythm, and ponders her past. She craves lemonade and cheeseburgers.
I’m writing this review a bit as a consumer guide. The cover sold me—a beat-up, worn-down hiking shoe. That is a great cover. Kudos to the designer. I thought I’d spend the entire book on the edge, eating nuts and berries and learning how a non-hiker and non-wilderness person survived a long trek up the Pacific Coast Trail. If you put me in an armchair and want me to travel, I want to spend about 99 percent of the trip “in country.”
But Strayed spends about half of “Wild” either getting ready for the trip, fixing problems in town along the way, or reminiscing about her personal history. So, be forewarned. I was reading this book in line at the Post Office and a woman spotted it and started raving to me how much she loved it and, after exchanging a few comments, it was clear she loved the non-hiking parts. So, there. It clearly has an audience and, alas, I found out after reading it that there was an Oprah connection. Not that it’s a bad thing, but I should have known.
“Wild” is as much interior journey as it is footsteps on the trail. Strayed has a colorful past with lots of problems and issues and this makes for the many layers to the book. There are memories of her father and her mother and her brother shooting a horse (probably the toughest scene to read in the whole book).
I will say the book is a snap to read. Strayed has a good writing style. There is energy on the page. I read it easily. She pulled me along. Other than cringing at all the mistakes made by a novice travelling alone in the woods, I really don’t understand why she waited 17 years to put it together. That gap, in fact, gives my journalism-trained brain some pause. She says she used extensive journals to write the book but, again, I wonder: why did she wait?
The end was the biggest problem, at least for me. Certainly, I hoped for some payoff—some nugget of insight from the fair amount of navel gazing. Perhaps the 17 years was needed to process what happened, to look back and recognize the changes.
It just didn’t happen. After all hiking mishaps and all the wildlife encounters and dangerous moments here and there, the end of “Wild” comes quickly. She reaches Ashland, Oregon and then it feels like a flash to the finish.
“Wild,” it turns out, isn’t necessarily about where Strayed heads. It’s as much about her as it is her environment. So, be prepared.