So as you probably gathered, book #16 of 2015 is done, and it was Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I’m kicking myself for waiting this long to read it, because I absolutely loved everything about the book. I have this weird aversion to reading books that my mom’s book club reads, because they tend to be the “early adopters” type when it comes to books that blow up like Wild did .So I guess I’m a subconscious snob who hates to admit that I like what everyone else likes.
Oh well. It was full of beautiful human and nature descriptions, and countless life-revelations. I think I was inspired in some way or another on every single page, all 300+ of them, so that was a nice feeling. Reading a book doesn’t compare to traveling 1,100 miles on foot (probably the only thing that can compare to traveling 1,100 miles on foot, is traveling 1,100 miles on foot…) but in a way I did feel like I was with her, or at least weirdly growing closer to her as I traveled with her. I don’t know how to explain it. I loved it though.
Above all, it made me want to travel so badly it hurt. Half of the life-revelations that sort of slap you in the face throughout the book pointed (for me) to traveling. As well as the fact that life is short, unpredictable, and doing something is going to be more rewarding than doing nothing with it. And all of that seems like a cliche for whatever reason, probably because that same idea is repeated endlessly on stupid social media websites, in cool fonts over pretty pictures. But somehow it’s still very easy to forget that as far as we know, we only get to do this life thing once. That’s really what it kept coming down to as I read Wild.
I guess I’m assuming that the general population has read the novel already, but the story is about a woman who loses her mother, her family, and her husband all in her young to mid-20s. She wanders around aimlessly, makes some poor decisions, makes some dangerous decisions, and finally makes the decision to backpack the Pacific Crest Trail, an insane 1,100 mile+ journey on foot, beginning in California and ending in Oregon.
Cheryl Strayed is a very good writer. She’s pretty ill-equipped for the journey at the beginning (an understatement) (but she’s still more prepared than I would have been) and reading those early sections of the book had me constantly cringing. She goes into quite a bit of injury detail throughout the whole thing, but they occurred more frequently at the beginning and I remember my shoulders being tensed a lot. I felt guilty reading some of those passages from the comfort of my bed, and would have to lay down on a hardwood floor to keep reading, just to feel more comfortable with myself.
That makes no sense, but I feel like it also does. How could I live with myself reading about this woman’s inability to stand straight for miles of walking, her intense dehydration, her millions of blisters and chafing areas, in my soft, warm bed? I couldn’t.
Another interesting thing in this book: the idea of traveling alone as a woman. She describes a lot of her fellow hiker’s reactions when they first come upon her, making the trip alone. People are more shocked and in awe than incredulous, I would say, but even that is kind of frustrating. She encountered men making the hike alone, and they were just hikers. She was the woman hiker alone, which seemed to really change people’s perceptions of her. And obviously what she did is incredible and the bravest thing I’ve maybe ever read about. It’s just a bummer that, just because she’s a woman, the experience has to be quantified in a way that makes it more than just the incredible journey. It was the incredible solo journey, made by a woman.
I’m actually flying to Arizona tomorrow to visit a friend who moved out there. Tonight I was telling my dad that her and I plan to hike Camelback Mountain on Friday, and he asked if her boyfriend was going with us, explaining that he’d feel better about our hiking if it wasn’t just two 22-year-old girls. It was frustrating, and I wonder if she felt frustrated at people’s surprise after experiencing it often enough.
Switching subjects and moving away from her hike altogether, more than any other book I’ve read, this book made me want to hug my mom. And actively cherish and appreciate all those I love in my life. She writes about losing her mother in a way that inspired instant tears any time she alluded back to her mom later in the novel, even if she was remembering a fond memory instead of the sickness or death itself. Strayed was so good at slipping in quick, simple sentences throughout that served as a reminder of the pain she was in constantly, which was both hard and rewarding to read.
This has been all over the place, but Wild was such a good book. It not only made me want to travel, but it also made me (maybe recklessly) confident that I could travel. Reading about her tribulations, each one somehow worse than the last, and then reading about her moving forward because that was really her only option, was incredibly inspiring.
It’s a simple concept, but it instills confidence: we are equipped with an instinctual drive to survive. No matter what happens, we’re built to keep going. We almost never have the option – in travel or any situation – to just stop, or to go back. Which is amazing and terrifying. So why not sell everything, travel somewhere random, and do something you want to do? It reminds me of some quote that I’m too lazy to look up, expressing the idea that my track record for surviving horrible days is 100% so far, or something like that. It’s true though, nothing’s as bad as it seems initially, and even in the really bad situations, what else can we do but keep surviving? Whether that’s in the wild or just in life, it’s a promising thing to keep in mind.
So! Everyone read this book, and then let’s all talk each other into some crazy backpacking trip wherever we want to go. ◊
(PS: shout out to my friend Emily for mailing me her copy of Wild from her own little personal PCT-ish experience. You go.)
It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental.”
– page 207