Book Review: Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

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I actually finished this book a week ago, but never got around to writing about it. As one who is stimulated by the idea of traveling and learning about the scenery though, I knew I wanted to read it ever since I heard the National Library Service narrator Jill Scott talking about it at the last convention of the American Counsel of the Blind.
The full title is Wild, from lost to found on the Pacific Coast Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. Even her last name, Strayed, was no happenstance. She says she chose it to reflect her wandering spirit and the attempts to find herself that were obviously a big reason why she took this trip.
The story starts with tales of life on a farm in Minnesota, getting used to a stepfather and trying to get along with her brother and sister. It progresses with she and her mother deciding to enroll in college together, though vowing to allow each other the space to develop freely, and then with her mother becoming inexplicably sick and discovering that she has advanced cancer. The conclusion of that revelation is fairly obvious, but I won’t give it away.
After these events unfolded, she felt that the only way she could get herself back together would be to take a long hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from about midway through California, up through Oregon, and ending at the Bridge of the Gods, which spans the Columbia River and connects Oregon to Washington. Along the way, she encounters a series of characters that challenged her thinking, resulted in new friendships, and on a couple of unfortunate occasions, caused her to fear for her safety.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and particularly the descriptions of what it took to trek through the snow, attempts to survive blistering walks through the sun, and other experiences the likes of which I can only imagine. I think she probably went a bit overboard with some things though, exposing the reader constantly to thoughts of sexual desire and other off-color things. However, I guess these were pretty central in her mind during that time, being alone for large stretches and having been quite a bit unprepared for the rigors this journey would exact on her body.
One of the ways she especially soothed herself was through music. I liked her talk of a “mixtape in my head,” as I definitely use this to get through most of my workdays. Some of the songs she mentioned were Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Box of Rain by Grateful Dead, and one called Red River Valley which I guess is some sort of folk song. I listened to all of these titles via YouTube, bringing the story a bit more to life for me.
I think this story has inspired me to someday attempt hiking our version of that trail, the Appalachian Trail. This runs from Georgia to somewhere in Maine I think, and I’d be interested in perhaps taking in at least a bit of it. I’m not sure how much of an outdoors person I am, but think that every type of travel in which I could engage could be beneficial. She definitely showed me that a lot of thought and preparation need to go into that sort of venture if one wants it to go as smoothly as possible. Heck, I suppose I’d be lucky not to be eaten by a bear.
Aside from the somewhat overboard talk of sex I mentioned earlier, there is also a pretty intense scene involving her and her brother’s attempts to put down their old horse. I’d say if you have a particularly hard time reading about harm to animals, just be aware of that. They do explain why this needed to be done though, regretting somewhat the exact course of action that was taken.
I’d still say I can recommend this book as a way to get out of the normal pattern of modern life. Do check it out.

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