Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is Cheryl Strayed’s personal memoir which includes the account of her experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the summer of 1995. Cheryl shares with her readers the physical, emotional, logistical, and spiritual challenges she faced while hiking from Mojave, California to the Oregon-Washington border. Flashbacks throughout the book tell readers about the struggles and pain that ultimately brought Cheryl to the swift decision that she should hike the trail. And the decision to hike the trail ultimately began her personal transformation.You won’t find the phrase “Adult Child of an Alcoholic” in this memoir. Not once. But I believe Cheryl qualifies for the club. She experienced dysfunction, trauma, and ultimately abandonment from her alcoholic father at a young age. The loss of her mother when Cheryl was in her early 20’s seemed to pop the stopper off of all of the grief in her life and her pain, old and new, gushed forward. Grieving, lonely, and lost, Cheryl engaged in sexual affairs, experienced an unplanned pregnancy, and began using heroin with a boyfriend. During this dark time, Cheryl was drawn to a guidebook about the Pacific Crest Trail and she made the hasty decision to hike it without any experience or much preparation. And this was the beginning of a fascinating chapter of her life story…
I really enjoyed reading this book and I deeply thank Cheryl for her honesty and authenticity throughout the entire novel. Cheryl granted her readers access to the good, the bad, and the oober-ugly experiences of her past by writing this book. And isn’t that such a brave and beautiful gift to give another person? The opportunity to connect to others by the sharing of a personal testimony? Allowing someone to stand witness to your experience so they may feel permission to share their own experiences and know they’re not alone? People don’t give each other this gift nearly enough.
It seems to me that Cheryl emerged at the end of her hike having allowed the sun, the air, and the alone-ness to clean out some very deep wounds inside of her. I do wonder about the extent of her healing during this time in her life; the possible limitations of the restorative nature of…well, nature. And I wonder what Cheryl did after the hike was over. Did she find a great therapist and dig into processing everything? Or did she stay quiet and reflective on her own for some time because she was used to it by then? I’d like to ask her if the term “Adult Child of an Alcoholic” resonates with her and how often she reminisces about her time out there on the trail. I’d like to know if that trail feels like a familiar childhood home – the kind you can visit but cannot return to ever.
Because this memoir reads as a modern day coming-of-age story to me. It feels like there’s a distinctness between the young woman she was when she started the hike and the emergence of the wiser woman she was becoming when the hike came to an end. It’s a coming-of-age story for Adult Children from dysfunction who want to feel better and move forward. And a coming-of-age story for young adults who’ve lost their parental figure and have to journey on in life without their original guide. Likewise, it’s a coming-of-age story from a culture that doesn’t honor transition the way I wish it did and therefore leaves it up to the individual to figure out on his or her own. And figure it out Cheryl did.
As a nature lover myself, I felt like I “got” this book and the soul-scrubbing effect of the sunshine on Cheryl’s life. If you’re experiencing grief or just wanting to hear an inspiring tale of someone taking drastic measures to take personal responsibility for their wellness, this might be a great book for you. And even better? There’s a movie starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl that you can watch after you finish reading! So whether it’s just by book or by movie as well, you can go with Cheryl on the Pacific Crest Trail from the comfort of your own couch and with access to your own indoor plumbing. Enjoy the journey! 🗺️
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