Friday, November 28, 2014
By Cheryl Strayed
Along a dusty worn path, Cheryl Strayed begins the journey of a lifetime. She has set out on the Pacific Crest Trail, aiming to walk up through California's varied geographical landscape and in a matter of months, blistered, bloody and borne anew, she will cross into Oregon. This is the story behind the biography, "Wild."
After suffering the loss of her mother, Strayed finds herself estranged from her former self. In her devastation, she forfeits everything- her marriage, her jobs, and her very self. She experiments with drugs and casual sex to numb the pain that aches within her, until one day, on a routine trip to a store, she discovers a book that worms its way down inside her, unassumingly eating away at her cancerous grief. She becomes inspired to hike for over a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in the hopes of rediscovering who she is. On the trail, she pushes herself to her very limits, risking life and limb with every painful step. And somewhere amongst the forests and rivers she conquers, she discovers what she lost.
"Wild" is this journey seen through her own eyes and experienced with her own overworked body. She deftly details each excruciating experience with such vivid specificity, that at times, I felt myself wince and reach for my foot, expecting to see a blackened toenail. At times I wondered what could possess someone to purposely put themselves through such hardship. But then again, I have never lost a parent, and one never really knows how they will react to the cruel curve balls that life throws at them. It's this that made me reach for page after page; to discover what one's reaction would be when faced with such a personal loss.
During her hike, Strayed repeatedly insists on her novice hiker status. As the reader, I am able to see why. Though she kept a copy of of The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume 1: California with her, she seemed constantly surprised at the geographical and weather changes. This lack of expertise is apparent in her packing as well. Her pack is so burdened with non essentials and clutter, she nearly breaks her back and ankles hauling it for hundreds of miles.
While her oversight is understandable to most of us non-hikers, she does possess some skill. She describes her past experiences with camping and hiking, practically living the frontier-life with her mother and stepfather and siblings. This creates an odd imbalance in which the reader is torn between believing her insistence that she's untrained, and yet, she possesses more skills than a real layman would.
The benefit of a biography is also it's curse. Rather than a fictitious character, Strayed puts herself front and center to be commented on and judged. But it also takes someone else's real-life story to force the reader to look inward at themselves, and wonder what they're stories might be. In Strayed's case, "Wild" represented every aspect of her: her tumultuous past, her agonizing present, and the unseen future that laid ahead of her. She managed to conquer her life story and has now left an indelible mark on the trail.