In her prologue, Strayed describes losing her hiking boots—yes, really losing them , knocked over the side of a mountain—in the middle of her quest to hike 1,100 of the 2,663 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. So, how much worse can this get? You wonder.
Plenty, and Wild details it all. But even as she suffered heat, cold, dehydration, hunger, pennilessness and a supreme loneliness, Strayed also found many kind people on her path (and a couple of very scary dudes). Her story is about triumph over adversity, about starting over and doing something really, really hard in the hope of proving to herself that she could be something better than what she had been.
“My hike on the Pacific Crest Trail hadn’t begun when I made the snap decision to do it. It had begun before I even imagined it, precisely four years, seven months, and three days before, when I’d stood in a little room at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and learned that my mother was going to die.”
Strayed was particularly close to her mother and her grief over her painful and untimely death from lung cancer appeared boundless. She was something like those hiking boots—she went off an emotional cliff, lost herself to sleeping around, cheating on her husband, to drinking and to heroin. The thing that she had most longed for just before her mother died was to be told she had been the best daughter in the world. Three years later, as she began to sleep around, she felt that she understood why a person would cut herself on purpose. “Not pretty, but clean. Not good, but void of regrets. I was trying to heal. Trying to get the bad out of my system so I could be good again.”
Of course, this doesn’t work. To get off ‘Planet Heroin,’ Strayed had to walk the PCT. “Which, it turns out, is not very much like walking at all. Which in fact, resembles walking less than it does hell.”
But this hell is purifying in the way Strayed hoped for. “I had to change. I had to change was the thought that drove me in those months of planning. Not into a different person, but back to the person I used to be—strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good.”
It worked. And this is what I love so much about this book. There are ways back to goodness. There are ways out of grief. Not easy ways, but deep, life-altering possibilities.
Many teens tell me how they think they’ve messed up and ruined their lives. Strayed’s story will inspire you to see that life is always about turning around, about second chances, about the do-overs that make us whole.
This is a beautiful, well-told memoir that doesn’t waste words. And a heck of an adventure story. Pick it when your teacher asks you to read an inspiring biography. Or when you feel that you’ve messed up and don’t know how to get back to the wonderful person you once were.