I discovered Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (Vintage) in my car last March after a 2,500-kilometre road trip from semi-wet Squamish, BC, to semi-arid Whitehorse, Yukon. This copy of Strayed’s memoir about a summer spent solo hiking the Pacific Crest Trail travelled by car from Lloydminster, Alberta (not Saskatchewan), to Calgary, Alberta, where it boarded a plane to Vancouver, BC, then caught a lift in a car to Squamish, where it strayed from its original owner’s possession into the trunk of my hatchback. A promising start for a book about being lost then found. Strayed’s journey on the PCT is a response to her mother’s sudden diagnosis of cancer and quick death thereafter at age forty-five, the self-destruction of Strayed’s marriage, the dissolution of her family and other traumatic events. All this before she was even twenty-five years old. It’s a heavy burden for a young woman to carry, but she does, fumbling, scrambling and fucking up along the way.
Strayed redeems herself not by being “good,” but by acknowledging her flaws and pressing on as best as she can. I probably won’t read another memoir about a woman recovering from grief or a crisis by going on some life-altering journey—at a certain point I thought I was back in the pages of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. But Gilbert and Strayed are very different narrators. While Gilbert was practising abstinence in her memoir, Strayed is on the verge of jumping the bones of just about every manly hiker she comes across. I’m exaggerating slightly, but this smart woman did start her hike with a family-size pack of condoms in her backpack. Her struggles to overcome the physical and logistical demands of the PCT—not to mention the challenges of her emotional landscape—will resonate with backpackers. The spectacular prologue will have any backpacker whose feet have been blistered or broken by the hiking boots that are supposed to save their feet cry out loud, “Damn those boots!” Last time I saw my copy of Wild, its pages were dog-eared and it was asking a woman with a shopping cart for directions to the Greyhound station.