Oprah's Book Club 2.0 selection. A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe--and built her back up again. At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State--and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than "an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise." But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.
My first thought was that it was going to be like "Eat, Pray, Love". Instead of shirking her responsibilities to work and family and spending a bunch of money she doesn't have so she can eat grubs with toothless monks and have sex with strange European men, Cheryl Strayed takes a short cut and just hikes the Pacific Crest trail.
This kind of story is always bull. I couldn't get past the introduction without immediately disliking her.
In the first section, she presents herself as divorced, a drug user, an adulterer, homecoming queen, and cheerleader. And to boot, she colors Minnesotans as north woods cabin-dwellers with no electricity or running water. And I'm supposed to root for her?
In the first chapter, she's already hating her husband of four years (who she married at twenty) for no reason, despite the fact that he has been calling her every day (out of concern) while she's at the hospital with her dying mother. But nope, whatever connection she thinks they had "broke". No reason why, it just happened. No reason to make an effort to try and put things back together either. Solid. You sound like a valuable person to me.
Especially after you leave your husband and start doing heroin. Then he drives eight hours across the country to intervention you away from her dealer/boyfriend. With nothing to gain from it -- out of the goodness of his heart he does this. After a few months of dealing with the divorce and the death of her mom (and not having a job or source of income), she decides on a whim that she'll hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Based solely on a book she picked up.
Listen to me. You are not courageous. You are a screw-up that doesn't know you're a screw-up, and then wonders why there's consequences for your actions. You've been acting selfish all your life, then go out and do something selfish under the guise of "finding yourself", then write a book all about it because you can't fuel your ego enough.
You hiking up the Pacific seaboard without learning how to hike properly is not a struggle. It's you being stupid. Your sole source of information was a book published in 1989 (hike took place in 2006) and the pimple-face at REI. You don't know how to wear boots or pack a bag. I read "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson. That means I'm more qualified than she was.
But Strayed makes sure to mention each and every other book she reads on the trail (before she burns them for campfire fuel). Not that any of them help her -- it's all pretentious literary bull like "As I Lay Dying", "Dubliners" and "The Novel". And just in case we forget that she's "well-read", there's a handy list at the back for reference.
She's surprised that there's no such thing as a "bad hair day" on the trail. She's no longer worried about the intricacies of being thin or fat. Women have been discovering that for decades. Do you think Mia Hamm or the female American Gladiators worry about their hair? (Well, the gladiators might. They're on TV, after all.) This women is so deep in her self, the idea that anyone around her might have already discovered these gems or feels the same way never occurs to her. She thinks she's finding all these things herself for the first time. And then she doesn't even learn anything. She still has sex with anonymous partners. Just to experience "what a man feels like again".
And if that's not enough, if you get the Oprah Book Club edition, you can enjoy all of Queen O's laudations and notes about how she's so courageous, how she's such a good writer, all the passages she loves about "past-bloom flowers in the wind" and being in love with words. Make me puke.
The biggest example of her idiocy occurs midway through the book. A man in a car stops up and asks to her interview her for Hobo Times. "But I'm not a hobo," she says, "I'm a backpacker."
"Do you have a permanent home?" he asks.
"Are you walking on the road?"
"How many times have you slept with a roof over your head in the past month?"
"Is your backpack all you have in the world?"
"Are you getting around by hitchhiking?"
"Then please take this standard hobo care package."
Which she does. Nice. Way to stay true to your convictions. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck...
This book perpetuates the idea that people who break the rules get the breaks, while the people who follow the rules, go to work every day and do their job, get shafted. Please, women. Please don't look up to self-absorbed people like this for your inspiration.
Strayed is determination personified, to say the least. How she coped with the loneliness, extreme heat, bitter cold, deteriorating footwear, wild animals, record setting snow pack, and brain freezing boredom is beyond me. But cope she did.
”The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the thing that was so profound to me that summer---and yet also, like most things, so very simple---was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay. As I clung to the chaparral that day, attempting to patch up my bleeding finger, terrified by every sound that the bull was coming back, I considered my options. There were only two and they were essentially the same. I could go back in the direction I had come from or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go. The bull, I acknowledged grimly, could be in either direction, since I hadn’t seen where he’d run once I closed my eyes. I could only choose between the bull that would take me back and the bull that would take me forward. And so I walked on.” (Page 76)
Written with passion and never maudlin, this is one memoir I can heartily recommend. As she ticks off the miles and gets ready for the final push to the Oregon/Washington border, I found myself cheering her determination, her gritty performance and her possibilities for a wonderful life.
She's totally inexperienced. She does some smart things, including having a friend ship a box of food, money (a constant worry at stopping points), and a new book, to strategic locations spaced along her trip. She does lots of not very smart things, too. Her backpack (nicknamed "Monster") is heavier than those carried by the largest men she encounters, and her shoes are a constant problem. Despite the downward trajectory in her life, her willpower is extraordinary. "I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. . . . Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid." She can't imagine anything worse happening than her mother dying anyway.
That is not to say she doesn't have many, many scary moments, some natural, some human. Quitting comes to mind frequently, especially at the outset. She's nonetheless driven to complete the mission she assigned herself, not to change her into a different person, "but back to the person I used to be - strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good." The woman who begins the hike is nowhere near being that person.
She is adept at conveying the deprivations, the physical challenges and pain, so that the reader fully understands the relief of crawling into her tent at the end of the day and reading a book. At times she looks like "the victim of a violent and bizarre crime . . . as if I'd been beaten with sticks." As she gets stronger, however, she also is adept at conveying the beauty that surrounds her (the daily "unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail"), the joys of meeting comrades on the trail, and magnified significance of small kindnesses.
The books she is reading are important to her throughout her journey. She even managed to hit me with a book bullet for The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermout, a Dutch novel that sounds like it deserves to be better known. Close to my heart, the most important book to her, that she keeps with her the entire way, is one of the first poetry books I fell in love with, Adrienne Rich's Dream of a Common Language. A common language of love, pain, hope. You will enjoy sharing that common language with Cheryl Strayed on her journey in this remarkable book.
The thing is, she was twenty-six when she did this. Twenty-six-year-olds are obnoxious. But she didn't write the book when she was twenty-six; she wrote it in her early forties. (I don't at all doubt there is hard-core self-loathing about aging behind the constant emphasis on being the most beautiful woman in California.) When you read Julie & Julia, for example, you come out of it thinking, "God, Julie Powell's an obnoxious twenty-something," but that's what she was when she was writing it. It's perfectly possible to write a memoir looking back on your early twenties and detail that you were a hot mess, and why, and do it affectionately. There's no insight in this book. It's as if Strayed can only see the timeline of her mother's sudden, early death and the events that followed; she doesn't see any causation or feel the need to get into it if she does see it. For a book in a self-reflecting genre, it's bizarrely lacking in any actual self-reflection. She tells a story about being too cool for therapy because there's nothing "a man" (her words) can tell her about herself, and for three hundred pages she treats her readers like that therapist (I know everything about my own psyche, so I don't have to tell you, and I don't sleep around because I have daddy issues, I do it because I'm so beautiful, and did I mention that my husband on whom I cheated drove 1700 miles to rescue me when he heard I was doing heroin?). I haven't the faintest idea why I finished this book.
At 22 Cheryl thought she had lost everything. Her mother had died, her family was scattered and her marriage was soon history. Four years later with nothing more to lose, she made a spur of the moment decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington and to hike it alone. She was not an experienced distance hiker and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But Cheryl thought it just may pull her life back together.
She came face to face with rattlesnakes and black bear. The heat was unbearable and she suffered record snowfalls. But she also learned the beauty of this trail & of nature. And she learned to be alone. The story is told with suspense and is imbued with warmth and humor. Cheryl describes the horrors and the wonder of forging ahead against all odds on a journey that frustrated, strengthened, and in the end healed her psyche.
I know that scores of people loved this book. And while I found it to be fairly interesting & I did want to know how it ended, it just didn't quite work for me on many levels. But hey, that's just me.
But all the while we hear of blistered and broken feet, pain from walking, the day to day monotony of walking and the contrast of that to the utter and irrepressible beauty of the wilderness she is going through. The focus of her mind on immediate needs like water, food, safety and rest allow her to realise what her priorities were and what they might be in future.
I loved the memories of my own solo walking and travelling this book brought back to me. The accomplishment felt at the end of a trip for simply making it through the times when it felt impossible is something that stays with you. And this author not only had such a wonderful story to tell, she told it superbly. She is able to describe the banal act of walking in minute detail- the feel, the fear, the pain and the utter aloneness that makes your fate completely up to you
My mother's "death had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we'd left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could fill. I'd have to fill it myself again and again and again."
Cheryl seeks out solitude to find herself, to forgive herself. To just be. She impulsively sets off on a hike across the Pacific Crest Trail, traveling through the Mojave Desert, up through California and Oregon to Washington state. An impressive enough undertaking, but to add to the craziness...she does this by herself. Alone.
Let me share just one of the mishaps of this insane trip:
My pack "toppled over onto my boots, clipping the left one is such a way that it leapt into the air as if I'd thrown it. I watched it bounce--it was lightning fast and in slow motion all at once--and then I watched it tumble over the edge of the mountain and down in to the trees without a sound. I gasped in surprise and lurched for my other boot, clutching it to my chest, waiting for the moment to reverse itself, for someone to come laughing from the woods, shaking his head and saying it had all been a joke.
"But no one laughed. No one would. The universe, I'd learned, was never, ever kidding. It would take whatever it wanted and it would never give it back. I really did have only one boot.
"So I stood up and tossed the other one over the edge too. I looked down at my bare feet, staring at them for a long moment, then began repairing my sandals with duct tape...."
Don't you want to read more? It is one of the finalists for this year's Oregon Books Award, to be announced in April.
There were a couple of really well written, engaging passages such as one about putting her mother's old horse down. But most of it read like someone's journal--pretty boring.
Some of the things that drove me insane about this book:
-- The boots that didn’t fit but didn’t slow her down at all then there were her toenails and the ripping of them off and that didn’t slow her down either. Then hiking the mountains in sandals covered in duct tape, come on, really?
--All the men she thought wanted to have sex with her, honey you have been hiking through the mountains you are dirty, sweaty and just plain nasty, this is all in your head!
-- She also seemed to have the quickest and easiest heroin withdrawal of anyone I’ve ever heard of, she just decided one day to quit and never had a single withdrawal symptom or DT’s or anything
--Do I really care that you are too tired to even masturbate? No, really, No, I never needed to know that and why you chose to keep that in the book makes no sense to me.
Some of the things I liked about this book:
Umm well there was…..
Yeah there was the part…
Um no not that either
Oh what about….
No not that.
Well you get the drift.
Cheryl Strayed's story is great: Flattened by the death of her mother, she walks the Pacific Crest Trail as a way to move through her grief. She's 26 and completely unprepared for the hike, so her adventures along the way are gripping. So I can see why this book is popular now; it's a page-turner. Strayed reminds me a lot of Mary Karr in her hip voice and extraordinary narrative skills. Her opening pages describe one of her boots falling off a cliff mid-hike--what a brilliant beginning! (And also very much like Karr's opening to THE LIAR'S CLUB.)
So Strayed has a great plot, but books get their life-force from the connection between outer and inner events, and I found her inner story lacking. Yes, the death of a mother is wrenching, but most of people who lose mothers don't obsessively cheat on their spouse, spiral into addiction, and persevere on a sadistic and dangerous hike. What else made this loss so profound? How exactly did the hardships she encountered on the trail transform her grief? The links between the outer events and her inner transformation were never clear to me.
In part this is because Strayed highlights other titillating elements of the story (sex, drugs, alcohol) above her grief. The book's climax is a two-day sexual encounter with a stranger in Ashland, on break from hiking. These scenes get far more attention than Strayed's grief but they only illustrate how little she's been changed by her trials. Sure, they're a great read. But they don't work to support the character's central journey.
I also wished for more narrative distance throughout. Strayed 26-year-old-self has no perspective on her grief. I imagine the author does, now, or at least I hope so, and I want that insight to give me compassion for this young woman. As it reads, I just felt annoyed at her.
Okay, so I want emotional awareness from my authors and I don't want titillating material to obscure a book's heart. Hurrumph. Now go enjoy this book.
Cheryl Strayed is a gifted writer, and I was involved in her story immediately. She decided to solo-hike a large portion of the PCT almost on a whim, and is miserably unprepared for the reality of the undertaking. The book intersperses physical trail challenges (injuries, wild animals, scary terrain crossings, etc) with self-reflection on her messed-up life to that point. When she describes her experiences on the PCT, she doesn't spend a lot of time describing the beauty all around her. Instead, it is about the emotions she experienced on the trail, how the trail affected her, and how the distance from her "real life" gave her the courage to grow up. And it's very powerful stuff.
First off, yes, Cheryl Strayed was half-crazy to even conceive of making a solo hike across the Pacific Crest Trail, and she made lots of mistakes, before, during, and undoubtedly, after. She's lucky to be alive to write about some of the mistakes she made, and rather than taking this book as a how-to, much of it should be taken as a how-not-to.
Don't be born into a household where your dad beats up your mom.
Don't live in poverty after your abused mom leaves your abusive dad.
Don't marry when you're too young to understand or make a long-term commitment to another person.
Don't let your mom die of cancer.
Don't drop out of college when you have only one more semester to go.
Don't sleep with endless men to try to fill the mom-shaped hole inside you.
Don't snort, smoke, or inject heroin.
Don't shoot your mom's horse because you don't have the money to pay a vet to euthanize it.
Don't depend solely on written material to prep for a two-month-plus solo expedition in the wilderness.
Don't go hiking in boots that don't allow room for your feet to swell.
Don't load a backpack too heavy for a sane person to carry.
Don't forget to watch for rattlesnakes.
Don't mispack the cash in your resupply boxes.
But, if you HAVE done any/all of the above:
Do love your mother deeply.
Do bond closely with your sister and brother.
Do everything you can to bring comfort to your dying mom, even when it's hard and her suffering is horrific.
Do read everything you can get your hands on.
Do make such a friend of your ex-spouse that you can call him and know he's still got your back.
Do get an absolutely awesome horse tattoo in honor of your mom.
Do make friends cool enough and reliable enough to mail your resupply boxes exactly when and where you need them.
Do name your outrageously heavy backpack "Monster."
Do use all the sign-ins along the trail.
Do ALWAYS use your water filter and/or iodine tablets to prevent giardia and other icky water-borne diseases, no matter how thirsty you are.
Do shred and burn books to lighten your load.
Do peel off dead toenails as necessary.
Do pick up a ski pole or walking stick at the first opportunity.
Do keep a journal and take photos of your adventure.
Do by-pass the sections of the trail socked-in by snow when all the more experienced hikers are doing the exact same thing.
Do make friends and allies along the trail, and listen when they help you lighten your pack.
Do use condoms if/when you have spontaneous sex along the way.
Do trust your gut instincts and avoid skeevy people.
Do use your journey to help your head, heart, and life get into the right place.
Do write an account of your journey, and submit it for publication.
Do enjoy "overnight success."
I loved this book, and loved it more because Cheryl was NOT perfect, and didn't pretend to be. If anything, she emphasized her mistakes, and minimized the many, many things she did right, despite the reality that her father's domestic violence, and her mother's death, left her with deep soul-wounds. She tells this story with humor, with honesty and poignancy, and no, it's not a travelogue describing all the stunning features one might find along the PCT. There are other books which do that. This woman went looking to get her life and soul back on track, and she did it.
I’ve never started a review with a quote before – but this one just spoke to me so deeply that I knew I couldn’t begin any other way. I am a runner, not a hiker, but the feeling is the same. In “wild” by Cheryl Strayed, she takes on the unbelievable quest to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I’ve NEVER come CLOSE to that sort of physical and mental challenge, but there have been some longer runs where each step seems impossible – and even more impossible is the fact that there are so many more to take.
The journey detailed in this book was completely engrossing. From the details of her life and the events that led Strayed to choose this path (the scene where she learns her mother has died reads like a punch in the gut) to the description of what she experienced and felt while on this 1100 mile solo hike, this book sucked me in.
“Within forty minutes, the voice inside my head was screaming, “What have I gotten myself into?” I tried to ignore it, to hum as I hiked, though humming proved too difficult to do while panting and moaning in agony and trying to remain hunched in that remotely upright position while also propelling myself forward when I felt like a building with legs.”
So much of what she thought about her life, herself, her readiness for this journey, turns out to be much more and less than she imagined. Unable to find a path forward in the life she has known, she chooses a completely different path instead. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone proves to be the ultimate physical, mental and emotional challenge. A hike that seems like it would be governed by mostly external forces turns out to be an internal struggle the likes of which few of us will ever experience.
“Before I began hiking the PCT, I’d imagined that I’d sleep inside my tent only when it threatened to rain, that most nights I’d lay my sleeping bag on top of my tarp and sleep beneath the stars, but about this, like so much else, I’d been wrong. Each evening, I ached for the shelter of my tent, for the smallest sense that something was shielding me from the entire rest of the world, keeping me safe not from danger, but from vastness itself.”
Strayed takes the months long trip to fully confront the grief and losses she’d experienced. The biggest one, and the catalyst for the others, was the death of her mother. Four years after the fact, she still tries to grapple with her feelings.
“One of the worst things about losing my mother at the age I did was how very much there was to regret. Small things that stung now: all the times I’d scorned her kindness by rolling my eyes or physically recoiling in response to her touch; the time I’d said, “Aren’t you amazed to see how much more sophisticated I am at twenty-one than you were?” The thought of my youthful lack of humility made me nauseous now.”
Most adult daughters can look back on similar things they’ve said to their mothers. But most adult daughters get the time and perspective they need to make up for that, for them to acknowledge that “youthful lack of humility”. But Strayed’s mother died when they were both too young.
Cheryl Strayed shares much more with the reader than the path she followed from the Mojave Desert to Washington State. She shares every part of herself…so much so that when she finally arrives at The Bridge of the Gods, it was all I could do not to cheer aloud.
“I had arrived. I’d done it. It seemed like such a small thing and such a tremendous thing all at once, like a secret I’d always tell myself, though I didn’t know the meaning of it just yet.”
I am profoundly glad she chose to share that secret with the world. Without walking the 1100 miles in her boots, I feel as if I made the journey with her.
I received this book from my Aunt, who happens to be very active and athletic. She said it was phenomenal, and my immediate reaction was,'Really? I mean, when was the last time you saw me do anything athletic?! How am I going to be able to relate to a hiker? And am I really going to like reading about a woman hiking some Crest Trail?' So, alas, it sat on my bookshelf until I decided I should just read it, maybe I would at least learn something about hiking.
Now, I am kicking myself for not reading it sooner. I don't know how to feel now that I am finished. I feel like I was just let into the darkest corners of Cheryl Strayed's life, and how she overcame so much while trying to find some peace in her life. Sure, the book has plenty to do with hiking, and her trials and tribulations on the trail (which were incredibly interesting, to my surprise), but at the center of this memoir is the story of a broken woman trying to make herself whole again. Reading this book felt like I was reading a kind of therapy session. That this was Strayed's way of finally 'closing the book' (no pun intended!) on a difficult yet enlightening period of her life.
I related to her in so many ways. I grieved with her in so many ways. I pitied her in so many ways. And overall, I rooted for her every step of the way.
I will be playing this story over and over in my mind for a long time, I have a feeling. SO worth the read. One of the best books I've read all year, or ever for that matter.
Strayed, an avowed risk-taker, is also impetuous – not a safe combination. This would, in fact, lead her into serious drug experimentation, promiscuousness, and the keeping of some rather dubious company. But it was that same impetuousness that placed her on the Pacific Crest Trail to begin the 1,100 mile personal journey that would turn her life in a new direction. That is the good news; the bad news is that she was totally unprepared for what was ahead as she began her walk through California and Oregon.
Thus begins one of the most grueling solo treks imaginable for a young woman as unready as Cheryl Strayed was when she took her first steps on the PCT. She began by making two critical mistakes that would combine to make her miserable for weeks: wearing shoes that were probably a full size too small (a decision that would cost her more than half her toenails) and carrying a pack that weighed more than fifty percent of her own body weight. Less painful perhaps, but much more dangerous, was her neglect to research the terrain and weather conditions she would face as her elevation rose and the temperature dropped. All of this makes her accomplishment even more remarkable.
Reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is almost like walking along side Strayed and listening to her think out loud. This is a very personal book, less about hiking the actual PCT than it is about what placed Strayed on the trail in the first place. Strayed recounts enough incidents of stress and personal danger to enthrall even the most experienced hiker (many of which, I suspect, will be particularly meaningful to women who must cringe at the thought of being as personally vulnerable as she made herself on this hike) but even her periods of methodical, downtime-walking are not wasted.
Cheryl Strayed has written one of the more compelling and honest memoirs of recent years. She holds nothing back, making it a real pleasure to read (and difficult not to cheer aloud, in the process) the final few pages of Wild.
Rated at: 4.0
In this memoir, she talks about her mother's life and death, her own complex, difficult, and often self-destructive emotions, her experiences along the trail, what she expected her journey to do for her, and what it actually did. It's all very well-written. Her difficulties and emotions are conveyed with a remarkable and often rather painful honesty, and her descriptions of her days on the trail ring very true. I've never done anything remotely like her wilderness odyssey, but in the places where her experiences overlap a bit with my own much more limited ones -- particularly hiking through the desert while tired and dehydrated -- I found myself thinking, "Yes, she's captured it. That is exactly what it's like."
I must confess that Cheryl herself -- her personality and her choices -- resonated much less well with me than her perceptions of life on the trail. At many points, I found it difficult not to feel judgmental towards her for behaviors and attitudes that seemed to me flighty, irresponsible, or self-absorbed. Although, in fairness, her narrative voice as she recounts all this decades later does give the impression of having gained some thoughtful maturity. And, given that, the openness with which she is willing to reveal her flawed younger self to readers, with neither whitewashing nor excuses, is admirable and appreciated.
Also, she is kindof an idiot. Hiking an 1100-mile trail is not the time to go all Blanche DuBois and depend on the kindness of total strangers (who are all awestruck that a WOMAN is HIKING by HERSELF because WHOA and you'd better let us help you out there, li'l missy!). I get the feeling she's just lucky she happened to choose hiking the PCT instead of, say, climbing Everest. Because then she would have died. And there would have been no book. I will allow that at least one of those events would qualify as a tragedy.
I won't deny that parts of it made for an interesting read, though. There's a reason there's so much trashy reality TV these days -- other people's stupidity can be surprisingly compelling.
OK, I know, not my place to insist she tells us all the bloody details. So, it is a good book, and I do recommend it, I'm just saying I was dsappointed.