As I sit here in the relative comfort of the climate-controlled library, on a sturdy, ergonomically-engineered chair, with access to hi-speed Internet and, of course, all the wisdom of the Western world around me, I am about as far removed from Cheryl Strayed as a human could possibly be.
Who is Cheryl Strayed, you ask? She is the gutsy, strung-out, effusive, dejected, brave, strong, and, ultimately, triumphant author of a new memoir entitled Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.
I am the anti-Cheryl Strayed not because she is an author and I am a librarian. I am the anti-Cheryl Strayed because she endured a grueling, physically and mentally challenging 1,100-mile hike along the rugged Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) when she was 22. All by herself. Because she wanted to. The most physical discomfort I am willing to tolerate is a relatively low thread count on my sheets.
I can and did relate to Strayed’s mind-boggling memoir because I once hiked the East Coast equivalent of the PCT – the Appalachian Trail — when I was about Strayed’s age, which was a looong time ago. Full disclosure: I only hiked about 20 miles of it, and I had my husband with me. But I still have nightmares about the ill-fitting hiking boots I was forced to wear, and I haven’t been able to choke down a granola bar since.
Ill-fitting boots figure prominently in Strayed’s memoir, and are an apt symbol of all the hardships she endured. Never mind the wind. Never mind the rain. Strange animals, strange people. Filtered water, faulty equipment. And we will not talk about the bathroom facilities (or lack thereof).
But Strayed took them all on. She was a woman on a mission. At the time she took her first footstep on the PCT, her life was out of control. Her mother had recently died; she was newly divorced and trying to extricate herself from an abusive relationship and a dangerous flirtation with heroin. Hiking the PCT would be her way of atoning, of trying to figure out if climbing the continent’s highest peaks would help her overcome her life’s low points.
Fans of adventure and travel memoirs as well as those of personal growth (think Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love or Mary Karr’s Lit) will enjoy this candid, captivating, and courageous woman’s account of a daunting but determined spiritual, emotional and physical journey.