It has been a while since I was ‘taken’ by a book like the way I was taken by Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. But when I do get taken in like that, I end up reading the book cover to cover in three days flat.
In a nutshell, Wild is the story of the author’s experiences hiking the Pacific Crest trail in an attempt to find herself in the aftermath of her mother’s death and her own divorce. She walks across the country as she attempts to snap out of her self-destruct mode comprising of her many infidelities and heroin addiction but the spirit of this book is more than just that. I really don’t know what this book was meant to convey or evoke but I do know that it shook me up from my very insides.
The story in Wild is everything I fear would happen to me and yet everything I wish did. On the surface of it, Wild is a brave hiking story but on a deeper level it is about everything else. About loving and losing, and finding oneself. It is about navigating through life.
In the early 90s, Cheryl Strayed decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail which begins at the Mexican border and goes almost 4200 kms towards the US-Canadian border passing through the states of Oregon, Washington and California.
The book details her experiences while hiking this trail as a novice hiker, the people she meets, the places she sees and most importantly the lessons she learns. She shares her experience of losing her toe nails, one by one, encountering bears, rattle snakes and receiving a massage from hundreds of tiny frogs. She shares the kinship she forms with other fellow hikers, the way she pushes herself and her body to the extremes. And finally she writes of her redemption:
“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
The obvious wonder in the story is her courage to complete this entire trail alone, being a woman and she describes her way of dealing with this fear in a succinct way:
Towards the end of the book, I found myself a bit changed too. I found myself full of energy and hopes for the things I want to do but was too scared to. I found myself crying and laughing. And mostly I found myself with one question:
So tell me, what do you plan to do with yours?