As a woman, a hiker, and a native to the Pacific Northwest, the first time I heard about this book I knew I had to read it. After all, it is about a woman hiker who spends at least part of her time in the Pacific Northwest. So I figured it was up my alley —and I was right. But Wild is so much more than a woman’s book, or a hiker’s book, or a Northwesterners book: it is a story of survival. Not just survival in the wild, but survival of life and everything it throws at us.
In Wild, Cheryl writes the story of how she grew up poor and spent most of her life living away from civilization with her mother, stepfather, and siblings in Minnesota. She married young to a man named Paul and they were happy. Then Cheryl’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, and the author’s whole world stopped. She details throughout the book what it was like watching her mother die and then dealing with the emotions that followed—one might say plagued—her for many years. Her mother’s death was what eventually led the author to divorce her husband and set out to accomplish something big: hike the Pacific Crest Trail, solo. It was during this journey that she finally could face her emotions and come to terms with life as it is, not as she wanted it to be.
Throughout the narrative, the author goes back and forth through time, flashing between her childhood, college years, time leading up to the hike, and the hike itself. This allows the reader to get only bits and pieces of the author’s story at once, so we are left hanging at times and surprised with what we discover at others. The story is not chronological (except for the hiking portion), but it makes sense, and as we learn more about Cheryl, we want to keep reading to find out what happens to her. Herein lies the author’s greatest success: the reader cares about Cheryl and wants to see her overcome not only every hiccup on the trail, but life itself.
But this book should not only appeal to those looking for a woman’s story of recovery. Anyone who has ever backpacked could find themselves in some aspect of Cheryl’s hiking stories. Whether it’s packing too much (she calls her pack “Monster” due to its size), blisters, pumping water, craving “real food,” or meeting others on the trail, the author covers the terrain, if you will, rather well. My favorite passage in the whole book is this one because it resonated with me as a lover of the outdoors:
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. [p 212-213]
Readers should find not only deep thoughts and sorrowful, meaningful stories in this book, however. They will also find laugh-out-loud tidbits and heartwarming encounters between the author and her fellow hikers. This is a story not only of Cheryl, but of the world and people around her—and around us all. Readers, prepares yourself for a journey that is at times fun, twisting, frightening, tearful, and most of all, enjoyable.