“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed – tackling grief and a difficult life with a long hike through the American wilderness

Cheryl Strayed made a decision to walk the Pacific Crest Trail in America, a 1,100 journey, following the death of her mother and the breakup of her marriage. She records her decision and the walk in her book Wild which details the landscape and the people she meets along the way. This is an established trail which is walked by many people and there are places where walkers rest, stock up and to where they can post ahead additional supplies. It’s not something which should be undertaken lightly because the terrain is isolated, you can’t guarantee that someone will be along shortly to help you if you have a problem and the wildlife can be dangerous. The author had never undertaken such a journey before and was short of money so she wasn’t ideally equipped or prepared.

The book takes you on a journey through the author’s grief as well as the American wilderness. Cheryl’s life collapsed after the death of her mother and she eased her pain with heroin and promiscuity which finished her marriage. She looked on the walk as a time to reassess her life and tackle her grief and the damage it was doing to her and those around her. The physical exercise and effort needed to complete the walk helped her to concentrate and think in an environment away from her old life.

I am never quite sure of the value of a long walk to change your life but this is not the only memoir to illustrate that it does. I will confess, however, that the author’s lack of preparation which made the walk harder (and probably a better subject for an interesting tale) did annoy me. She effectively risked her life and possibly anyone who might come to rescue her if she did get into trouble.

One of the main themes of the book is the people that you meet when walking such a trail. Each of them has their own story and their own peculiarities. Cheryl met only one person who she felt wary of and most of her fellow walkers were friendly and helpful. As she was walking on her own, however, that is the way that she spent a lot of her time.

I found this book interesting enough to read all the way through – the author knows how to grip her readers. I do retain some reservations about the trip but the author is clear about the value to her. In fact, this book has become a huge success and there has been a film made from it so she has done very well from the experience – which doesn’t in any mean that her grief was not real in the first place.

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