Twenty-six year-old Cheryl is at rock bottom when she makes the most impulsive decision of her life. She will walk the Pacific Crest Trail. Over 1000 miles of mountainous wilderness, starting in the Mojave Desert heading north towards Washington State. And she will walk alone.
I’m not sure I would have ever picked up Wild if it weren’t a book group choice but I ended up enjoying it much more than I had expected. It’s one of those books cited as having changed people’s lives and thoroughly motivational, which I find off-putting, but I did like the idea of her solo walk along the PCT. And having read it, I did much more enjoy the parts about hiking over her life story.
Nothing bad could happen to me, I thought. The worst thing already had.
Cheryl’s life before the PCT was a sad one. She lost her mother to cancer and went off the rails a bit after that. Her family grew further apart and she pushed herself away from her husband. She turned to sex and drugs to fill an unfillable void in her life. I did find it a bit hard to grasp that she had been shooting up heroin the week before she started her hike yet had no signs of withdrawal. Perhaps she brushed over that part of her life on purpose but it really did come across blasé about drug use. She made it seem like it was something you could pick up and walk away from in an instant.
Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave.
Completely unprepared for the reality of hiking in extreme temperatures and at altitude, it’s amazing she actually survived to tell her tale. Her feet are ripped to shreds by her boots and she can barely lift her pack. She names her pack Monster and her destroyed feet become a recurring theme. Whilst other hikers she meets along the way have trained for years, Cheryl just marches straight out into the wilderness.
I believe she did the walk in the nineties, which makes it a much more isolated experience than now. She has no GPS or mobile phone, there’s no internet at her check in points to keep in touch with the outside world. Now, she could have taken an ereader rather than having to destroy books as she went. I imagine there were also a lot less people out walking than there would be today. However she is met with many acts of kindness from an array of characters that she meets along the way.
It was true that The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume 1: California was now my bible, but The Dream of a Common Language was my religion.
I saw that she has had a novel published and looked it up as I liked her easy style of writing. However it does seem to be heavily based on her life; a mother dying of cancer is the central plot as far as I can tell. So I’ll probably be skipping that although I do plan on watching the film adaptation.
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