I just finished listening to Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”
Strayed was 26 when she decided to walk a good chunk of a hiker’s Holy Grail, the Pacific Crest Trail. Her hike ranged from the killing heat of Southern California to the Columbia River (though like most other hikers, she had to bypass much of the Sierras because 1995 was a record year for snowfall).
Strayed had never backpacked. She was in lousy shape. Right before she began her journey, she shot heroin with a junkie boyfriend. She was fresh off a divorce of her own choosing, and still in grief over the death of her mother four years earlier.
She artfully weaves these episodes into the story of her hike, lifting it beyond a mere travelogue into a pilgrimage that ends with her sense of wholeness and self-acceptance.
Her story is by turns hilarious and emotionally wrenching. She recounts her mother’s death and the breakup of her family with searing honesty.
She realizes that growing up poor taught her to get by on very little, and this minimalism is definitely an advantage as she slogs through the monontonous miles. Recording her journey at various log books along the trail other PCT hikers read her comments and by the time they meet up at occasional stops, they share a temporary comaraderie (she eventually gets the moniker, “Queen of the PCT”).
I don’t know how she endured the pain of boots one size too small (none of the helpful REI outfitters had hiked the PCT, either). I’m certainly not a long-distance hiker, but I could relate to her detailed fantasies of the meals she’d order when she gets the small amounts of cash in the resupply boxes her friend mails to various stops along the way.
I read on Wikipedia that Reese Witherspoon optioned Strayed’s book. I hope Ms. Witherspoon has the grace NOT to play the title role in the movie (Nick Hornby is supposed to be writing the screenplay). Kirk suggested Jennifer Lawrence would be the right actress for the part of this tough but vulnerable pilgrim and I agree with him.
(P.S. I’ve really taken to Audible.com. Listening to books teaches me to focus on the spoken word; it saves my eyes; it lets me walk the dog while absorbing a story.)