TITLE: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
AUTHOR: Cheryl Strayed
PUBLISHER: Vintage Books
PROCUREMENT: Bought it myself
RELATIONSHIP TO AUTHOR: None
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: movie review, audiobook review
With a pack so big she nicknames it Monster and boots so small she loses 6 toenails, Cheryl Strayed becomes a mini legend on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995. She is nicknamed Queen of the PCT, neither for her hiking skills nor longevity, but because she is a woman; therefore, people she meets are more likely to give her things that they typically don’t share (food, shelter, favors, rides).
As a young woman, Strayed is married at 19, but her only serious attachment seems to be to her mother, Bobbi. Nonetheless, Bobbi receives little kindness from a pretentious, and sometimes bitter, daughter who says things like she is much more sophisticated that Bobbi was at her age and that Bobbi doesn’t read “serious” literature, which is a waste of time. Bobbi’s optimism is a bit infectious: she says, “Well, my time has never been worth all that much, you know, since I’ve never made more than minimum wage and more often than not, I’ve slaved away for free.” Strayed is angered by her mother’s happiness, both in the moment and later on the hike. The intense feelings Strayed has regarding happiness says something about the hearts of American’s today. We feel anger about so much: bad pay, high rent, huge debt, decades of student loans, poor food, shoddy health care. Strayed’s reflections on her mother’s positive outlook suggest much can be made with little, and though Bobbi has little, she is able to live with love in her heart.
When she learns she will die, Bobbi does have a moment of panic: “I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life….I always did what someone else wanted me to do. I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.” At the time, Strayed doesn’t know what to do; she is young at 22. However, ending the section with Bobbi weeping about her personal identity gives the reader room to think about what it means to be “just you.” The complex web of Bobbi—wife, mother, daughter, student—demonstrates a social connectedness that makes her part of something larger that we all seek. Strayed can’t exist in that web without her mother, so the Pacific Crest Trail becomes what she connects to. There are no people in her web, since her brother, sister, step-father, and ex-husband have scattered and left her loose. The trail, the symbolic brown boots with red laces, and ridiculously heavy pack are the threads that Strayed weave to belong—to anything, really. In reality, she is no one’s daughter, mother, or wife. On the PCT, she is part or something.
It’s worth the time to read Wild. Strayed doesn’t romanticize her mother (in fact, she admits the reasons she could hate her mother, too). She doesn’t over-exaggerate her hiking accomplishments (Strayed admits she’d been lucky for most of her journey, that she was helped by many, and that saying she was ill-prepared is a massive understatement; she always seemed inches away from being another Christopher McCandless). Wild also isn’t a heavy reflection; sections about her mother are smoothly transitioned into the story, so the focus is on the hike, but the motives for the hike are not lost. Though she thought she would spend the 1,100 miles thinking about Bobbi, Bobbi’s death, and the resulting poor choices, Strayed admits she thought little about those things. Instead, she is physically and emotionally broken down and rebuilt by the inclines and declines of the mountains, predators (man, animal, and weather), and the literature she reads and writes.