Cheryl Strayed


Non Fiction


Date Reviewed:

May 6, 2012

expected Wild to be an account of Cheryl Strayed's attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. While it does include a good deal of material relating to her hike, there is much more information about her early life. Specifically, the reader learns a lot about the emotional death of her mother, Cheryl's love of horses, the difficulties of growing up in poverty and her dysfunctional family.

This more a memior than a travelogue. There is a lot less description of the vistas and landscape scenery than I expected. Perhaps it is because she exhausted herself carrying such heavy pack that Cheryl was unable to notice the wilderness beauty around her. Or perhaps it just isn't in her personality to appreciate the natural wonders of the wilderness.

Cheryl's personality is a mystery to me. She describes how she sabotaged her marriage with drug use and sleeping around with losers, while her husband actually sounded like a decent guy. I guess Cheryly has a self destructive streak? Yes, the reader learns that she was close to her mom, and that her mom's death was emotionally devastating; but if my mom died I wouldn't decide heroin is a good idea.

Nor can I understand the complete lack of planning for the hike. I understand buying too much gear at an REI (who hasn't envisioned themselves exploring the great outdoors?), but I can't fathom not trying on the pack and doing at least a few days of practice hikes before starting out. Why does it take Cheryl so long to ditch some of the extra stuff? Although she does eventually lighten the load, it sounds like Cheryl is still carrying a too-heavy pack at the end of her hike. The trip could have been a lot more enjoyable with some training and preparation. Cheryl seems to take a perverse pride in her heavy pack, even though it is entirely a self imposed burden.

I was surprised to discover that Cheryl did the hike in 1996, but the book didn't come out until 2012. This had me question some of the authenticity of the writing - especially the conversations. Yet everything is in quotes, as if what each person said was recorded. Who can remember what was said in a conversation 14 years later? Did Cheryl write summaries of her conversations with people down into a journal? Cheryl mentions a lot that she read books in her tent in the evenings, but I don't recall any mention of her writing at night. This is supposed to be a work of non-fiction, but given the long period of time between the hike and writing, much of the writing must be based upon distant memories.

Voicing these complaints, why then did I give the book four stars? Because even though I can not relate to the choices that Cheryl makes with her life, I found it interesting to read an honest account her early life. The sections about her mother are really heartfelt. All the people Cheryl meets on her trek (with the exception of some scary hunters) are helpful and cheerful, which will reaffirm your faith in strangers. For whatever reason, I found myself hoping she would make it to the end.

I don't know if there are other accounts about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Certainly this is the most famous, and it is unfortunate that it doesn't cover more description of the actual trail hike. Sort of like A Walk in the Woods, which is Bill Bryson's account of his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail - another complete amateur who has zero experience with backpacking. A Walk in the Woods veers off into all sorts of tangents, all of it entertaining and informative, and I recommend reading it, but it is not an account of a successful traverse of the full trail.