Wild by Cheryl Strayed (March 2012) has been wildly popular...and I waited a month and half for my name to come off the waitlist. Thanks to Oprah, this summer everyone seemed to be reading about long distance hiking on the PCT!
I'd expected to follow a grueling physical journey punctuated by descriptions of magnificent beauty. I hadn't read any of the reviews; all it took for me to get excited to read the book was the backpacking boot on the cover!
But this isn't that type of memoir. Yes, Strayed emerges from her 1100 mile solo trek as "The Queen of the PCT", but her journey flashes back along an emotional highlight reel that almost got so depressing that I ended my trek after 4 chapters. I didn't expect the author's travels from the Tehacapi Pass in Southern California to the Bridge of the Gods on the Washington border to share quite so much about sex, drug use, and grief over the loss of her mother. But Strayed is a masterful storyteller, who grabbed my attention and kept me turning page after page.
While in the end Strayed completes her travails spiritually uplifted, I didn't quite get the inspiration I'd hoped -- the one that was going to spring me from my day job for my own epic hike. Strayed's ill-fitted hiking boots, overweight hiking backpack, and lack of physical training contributed greatly to what sounded like a god-awful experience. Unlike Bill Bryson and his fellow AT thru-hikers in A Walk the Woods, Strayed had the hardest time liberating herself from non-essential gear like her stash of condoms. But the way she faces down immense physical dangers like rattlers, dehydration and the loss of her hiking boots does make for an inspiring tale of individual courage and perseverance.