It’s the book I just finished reading!
Wild is the true story of Cheryl Strayed’s eleven-hundred-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. At the age of 26, a few years after her mother died of cancer and her marriage ended, Cheryl decided to start walking, all by herself, in the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon all the way to Washington State. She was not an experienced hiker and was at a very low place in her life. At times, her journey across the land seemed to break her down even further. The book starts like this:
“The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California. Moments before, I’d removed my hiking boots and the left one had fallen into those trees, first catapulting into the air when my enormous backpack toppled onto it, then skittering across the gravely trail and flying over the edge. It bounced off of a rocky outcropping several feet beneath me before disappearing into the forest canopy below, impossible to retrieve.”
I was hooked! I needed to know how she could have hiked even just a little bit without one boot. But this story is about so much more than hiking. It’s about surviving and maybe even thriving. There were rattlesnakes, bears, “moose”, snow, heat, friendly and not so friendly fellow hikers. I got more hooked. Cheryl shares many difficult moments that she faced both on and off the trail. And this story is about so much more than the trail. It made me think about all of our lives and the difficult moments and choices and journeys that we all face…
Like when Cheryl talks about being scared on her trip, she says, “Of all the things that convinced me that I should not be afraid while on this journey, of all the things I’d made myself believe so I could hike the PCT, the death of my mother was the thing that made me believe most deeply in my safety: nothing bad could happen to me, I thought. The worst already had.” It struck me here how she had turned her deepest heartbreak into bravery, but it was not an unfeeling, numb kind of brave. She had previously done that with drugs and sex. On the trail she didn’t let fear hold her back from her feelings or a great accomplishment. What if we could all feel our feelings so bravely, use something that brought us down to do something big?
Then, one day, when she looked up and saw a bull charging at her on the trail, Cheryl yelled at the animal, jumped into the bushes on the side of the trail, closed her eyes and blew her rescue whistle. When she opened her eyes the bull was gone, but she did not know in which direction it went. She contemplated how few choices she had on this hike and said, “I could go back in the direction I had come, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go. The bull…could be in either direction. 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.” Because, really, what choice do we have but to go forward if we want to make it, anywhere?
And at a milestone in the hike, when Cheryl is just about to leave California and enter Oregon, she thinks about how she would traverse the entire length of the state if she reached her goal. She wondered, “Who would I be if I did? Who would I be if I didn’t?” Good questions! I’m sure I’ll be using these on myself. Who will I be if I do? Who will I be if I don’t?
You should read this book! Who will you be if you do?