Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I approached Wild, Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her solo long distance mountain hike, with trepidation because of a review in Booklist. The phrases "woefully unprepared" and "experienced backpackers will roll their eyes" I took as warnings that I, too, might roll my eyes. I have little patience for reading about people who attempt foolhardy things like crossing the ocean alone in a tiny boat, for example. Getting shipwrecked is different. I like those kinds of survival stories.

Anyway, my heart went out to Strayed almost immediately. Her grief over the sudden death of her mother and the subsequent dissolution of both her family and her marriage left her feeling empty, shipwrecked and adrift. Filling the hole inside her with casual sex and heroin wasn't working, so off Strayed went to be alone in the wilderness. Strayed walked about 1100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, which encompasses nine mountain ranges and stretches from Mexico to Canada. She saved herself... and I like those kinds of survival stories.

Books and poetry accompanied Strayed on her pilgrimage. She introduces one section with my very favourite quote from Mary Oliver: "Tell me, what it is you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?" Strayed mentions the books she kept for herself while packing her mother's things after she died, including titles that I remember fondly, like The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston and I Always Look Up the Word "Egregious" by Maxwell Nurnberg. I couldn't help feeling like we were kindred spirits.

Sometimes trail signs are not clear.
Me in France in 2009.
I've travelled for weeks on foot through Tuscany and southwest France, so I have some idea about the challenges of backpacking. When Cheryl lists all the things she has to fit into her backpack on her first day, my eyes widened. I wondered how she was even going to lift it. And, sure enough, she couldn't. Weight is something I pay attention to, even though my kind of backpacking is very civilized. A shower is waiting for me at the end of each day, along with a bed. I don't need to carry food for more than one day, nor cooking equipment, nor a tent. Still, the wear and tear on your body -- especially your feet! -- that comes from walking for miles while carrying everything on your back is something I understand completely.

I was surprised and happy that Wild touched me so deeply and I recommend it wholeheartedly. I listened to the audiobook [Random House: 13 hours] read by Bernadette Dunne.


Claire G said...

Dear Light-travelling Lindy,
Do you think that 'Strayed' might possibly be a pseudonym?
Best wishes,
Baggage carrier.

Lindy said...

When Cheryl got divorced, she realized she could choose any surname she wanted. Strayed was the name that came to her. It's an interesting choice, don't you think?