Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (2012)
In her early 20s, Cheryl lost her mother to cancer. For several years afterward she was adrift, seemingly on a path of self-destruction. She had affairs, her marriage ended, she did some drugs. Finally, she decided that what she really needed was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. Slightly unprepared, she set out on an amazing and difficult journey and lived to tell us all about it.
Strayed had a very close relationship with her mother. They went to the same college together, and transferred to a different college together. Just before graduation when her mother was dying, it was Cheryl - and not her other children - who stayed by her bedside. After her mother's death, Cheryl was understandably lost.
As she began her downward spiral into meaningless sex and drugs, I began to wonder if this might be one of those
memoirs in which people brag about their poor choices. But it wasn't - every bit of it was relevant background upon which she reflects during the most important part of the book, her long and arduous hike.
Wearing hiking boots in the wrong size and carrying a hopelessly heavy backpack (nicknamed "Monster"), Cheryl got on the trail. Despite a few mistakes (like bringing the wrong kind of fuel for her stove) and a noticeable lack of training, she wasn't completely stupid. She had a good trail guide that she followed religiously and had packed what she needed (and then some), and carefully planned her route, mailing resupply packages to herself that she would pick up along the way. When things went wrong - like having to skip impassable parts of the trail - she didn't back down. She figured things out and moved on, sometimes with a little help from strangers or new friends she met along the trail.
When she thought she couldn't go on, she just pushed ahead anyhow. I mean, there's little choice when you're in the middle of the woods, but every time she went through a town was an opportunity to give up and she didn't. Even though she seemed perpetually starving and out of money, even though at one point she ended up lost and wearing booties made of duct tape, she didn't give up. If you have an experience like this at the age of 26, what in life could ever seem insurmountable again?
Throughout the book I was struck by the kindness of strangers, the camaraderie between hikers on the trail, and surreal moments of beauty, such as the night Cheryl awoke to find herself covered in tiny frogs. But most striking of all was her strength and tenacity, her sheer will to do this thing, to prove to herself that she was strong and that she could change her life for the better. Truly an inspiring memoir.