It’s 1995 and we’re on the 2 633 mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with a young woman who’s using 1 100 miles of it as life repair. She’s in the middle of nowhere, her feet are a bloody mess (in all sorts of senses) and she’s lost her boots, irretrievably tumbled down a mountain. And this is just the wonderfully written Prologue…
The PCT runs from the Mexican to the Canadian border through unforgiving mountains, breathtaking scenery and heart-stopping wildlife. Combining gruellingly long, hot waterless stretches with ice-cold peaks and, to be fair, those spectacular vistas, this is - to mangle the cliché - nowhere near a walk in the park, even if she staggers through a fair few national ones along the way. Quite the contrary. It’s a body-mauling, soul-stretching, character-battering-yet-forming pilgrimage dedicated to her mother, whose early loss to cancer 26-year-old Cheryl has not grieved. As we will find out.
Strayed wrote and published this enthralling memoir 15 years after the events she writes about: she clearly wrote good journals and – spoiler – there are bears, rattlesnakes and dodgy characters aplenty; but there aren’t any Sasquatch, bigfoots or yetis. There are some warmer, nicer characters too; but they are mostly bit parts. Our heroine, centre stage, is Cheryl. With the PCT a close second.
Wild is an honest appraisal of a life more than a bit off the rails and needing some serious introspection and processing. Most people would go meditate up just one mountain or talk to a therapist. Cheryl Strayed changed her name – read the book to find out why – and then went serious walkabout in the wilderness to piece her chaotic life back together.
Here’s an extract from the middle of the book: a chapter called The Accumulation of Trees. She’s good on chapter headings – try Corvidology; Range of Light; Lou out of Lou and Box of Rain. In this one she writes about: "…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. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild…" A wild, she goes on to say, that "would both shatter and shelter her".
So this is a story of woman vs Nature and also woman vs her own nature. Is it redemptive? You’ll have to read it to find out but I can promise you one thing: it will be well worth the journey, lost boots and all.