Saturday, August 4, 2012

"Wild," by Cheryl Strayed

"Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" (Knopf, 2012), by Cheryl Strayed, is not the type of memoir I would normally read. A book about a long, tough, physically and mentally bruising 1,100 mile solo hike? For this not-at-all-athletic, camping-averse reader, there was nothing compelling about the prospect of reading a 300-plus-page book about a young woman's trek up and down mountains, through alternately freezing and steaming weather, encountering bears and rattlesnakes, carrying a backpack that is so heavy that the author calls it the Monster, experiencing aches and pains and blisters and calluses that she has never imagined, often going days without seeing another human being, and sometimes suffering hunger and thirst, among other hardships. Strayed had had no experience with long-distance hiking, but decided it was the challenge she needed in order to deal with the blows life had dealt her and the unhealthy ways she had been living in order to blot out those blows. The most devastating loss was her mother's death when Strayed was only 22. She then embarked on aimless traveling, used destructive drugs, and entered unhealthy relationships. But after four years of this, she pulled herself together to plan and earn money for the big trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. The story of her adventure is both painful and inspiring. Despite my initial reservations about the book, I found myself completely caught up in Strayed's recounting of the journey, as well as her flashbacks to the earlier events in her life. There is an honesty and openness in her writing that is hard to read but also makes it easy for the reader to connect with the narrative and the narrator.

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