Saturday, January 11, 2014

Book: Cheryl Strayed's "Wild"

It's been over a year since I last read a book not published by a family member.  I did look for books to read last year but just didn't start any.  The first book I decided to read was on my list from last year: Cheryl Strayed's "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail".

I'd heard about it on some podcast (I don't remember which one) and, with my interest in the Appalachian Trail (AT), decided to give it a read.  The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is the AT's newer, west coast cousin.  It stretches from the Mexican border to the Canadian border and goes through the states California, Oregon, and Washington.  It is longer that the AT and, I believe, less hiked than the AT.

The book starts out explaining Strayed's background and what a background she has.  Her father left when she was very young.  Her mother dies at age 45.  After her death the family (Strayed's two siblings, step father, and herself) disintegrates.  Unable to handle the death of her mother, who she was very close with, Strayed has affairs which breakup her marriage, sleeps around with little abandon, and dabbles with heroin.  In other words, her life goes to hell.

After a terminated pregnancy and other bottom scrapping events, she finds herself in an REI buying a shovel when she sees a guide book for the PCT.  Not long afterward she decides to walk the PCT alone.  Unprepared and poorly planned she is dropped off in Mojave, CA where she will start her hike up to the California-Oregon border.

The book follows her adventure with a too heavy pack she nicknames Monster.  The narrative bounces between her downward spiral and the PCT.  She meets people along the way.  Has adventures.  Suffers from terrible blisters and foot issues.  She skips the Sierra Nevada due to a record snow pack and extends her hike to the Oregon-Washington border to makeup for the distance lost.  Along the way she defeats her demons - especially the death of her mother.

I liked the book to a limited extent.  I liked the PCT portions.  I did not like reading about her crappy pre-PCT life but as I read on I realized the story would not have been the same without this background.  Having said this I always felt myself rushing through the background paragraphs to get to the next PCT section.

One thing that grabbed me was the similarities between her experience on the PCT and my walks on the Camino.  There are trail angels on the PCT (people who help hikers along the way) and there are Camino angels who help pilgrims on their way.  The trail provides for the hiker and the Camino provides for the pilgrim.  I imagine the AT has a similar culture.  Maybe all long hikes/pilgrimages have that special culture.  I can't wait to find out for myself on the AT.

Her writing style is very informal and kind of feels like an expanded blog entry.  It kind of reminds me of my writing style ... if I took time to polish my style.

Recommended.  Also, the book will be coming out as a movie later this year.  Not sure if I will see it.  Movie adaptations of books rarely live up to the original.

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