We have all had the desire to walk away from things in our lives at times. A death or a lost love thrusts us into questioning who we are and the need to just to get away for a while a figure things out comes upon. Cheryl Strayed found herself in such a quandary. And in turn she walked the Pacific Crest Trail through the rugged hinterlands of California, Oregon and Washington states. She documented her journey into a book called: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. And that book has now meandered it’s way to the movie screen.
My solo three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings. There was the first, flip decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it. There was the quitting my job as a waitress and finalizing my divorce and selling almost everything I owned and saying goodbye to my friends and visiting my mother’s grave one last time. There was the driving across the country from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon, and a few days later, catching a flight to Los Angeles and a ride to the town of Mojave and another ride to the place where the PCT crossed a highway.
At which point, at long last, there was the actual doing it, quickly followed by the grim realization of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected doing it would be and I was profoundly unprepared to do it.
And then there was the real live truly doing it.
Strayed has documented her journey up to and along the PCT in a lyrical yet simple fashion here. It is easy for the mind’s eye of the reader to envision the sights she describes and to feel the pains she had endured. Strayed has overcome difficult challenges in her life but her journey documents a moment of change for her which should be a guide for many people.
I walked the rest of the afternoon with my eyes fixed on the trail immediately in front of me, afraid I’d lose my footing again and fall. It was then that I spotted what I’d searched for days before: mountain lion tracks. It had walked along the trail not long before me in the same direction as I was walking – its paw prints clearly legible in the dirt for a quarter mile. I stopped every few minutes to look around. Aside from small patches of green, the landscape was mostly a range of blonds and browns, the same colors as a mountain lion. I walked on, thinking about the newspaper article I’d recently come across about three women in California – each one had been killed by a mountain lion on separate occasions over the past year – and about all those nature shows I’d watched as a kid in which the predators go after the one they judge to be the weakest in the pack. There was no question that was me: the one mostly likely to be ripped limb from limb. I sang aloud the little songs that came into my head – “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” – hoping that my terrified voice would scare the lion away, while at the same time fearing it would alert her to my presence, as if the blood crusted on my leg and the days-old stench of my body weren’t enough to lure her.
It is no surprise that this book was made into a movie. (Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, screenplay by Nick Hornby and starring Reese Witherspoon) Strayed has crafted a considerate and heart-tugging book filled with emotions here. It is an easy read but one that one thinks about after one is finished with it.
I reached for a washcloth on the shelf near the tub and scrubbed myself with it, though I was already clean. I scrubbed my face and my neck and my throat and my chest and my belly and my back and my rump and my arms and my legs and my feet.
“The first thing I did when each of you was born was kiss every part of you,” my mother used to say to my siblings and me. “I’d count every finger and toe and eyelash,” she’d say. “I’d trace the lines on your hands.”
I didn’t remember it, and yet I’d never forgotten it. It was as much a part of me as my father saying he’d throw me out the window. More.
I lay back and closed my eyes and let my head sink into the water until it covered my face. I got the feeling I used to get as a child when I’d done this very thing: as if the known world of the bathroom had disappeared and become, through the simple act of submersion, a foreign and mysterious place. Its ordinary sounds and sensations turned muted, distant, abstract, while other sounds and sensations not normally heard or registered emerged.
I had only just begun. I was three weeks into my hike, but everything in me felt altered. I lay in water as long as I could without breathing, alone in a strange new land, while the actual world all around me hummed on.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed is a lyrical and remarkable read that has meandered its way to the movie screen. The book may have one person’s feelings in it but it touches on thoughts and emotions we all have encountered.