BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wild’: A Memoir About Life Changes — and Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Wild': A Memoir About Life Changes -- and Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
Cheryl Strayed spent three months in 1995 on a solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mojave, CA to the Columbia River separating Oregon and Washington state. She’s just published her account of the journey, one that just about everybody advised her to skip — “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” (Vintage Books quality paperback edition of a hardcover book published in 2012 by Alfred A. Knopf, 336 pages, map, no index, $15.95).
  Cheryl, Cheryl, Cheryl!….what took you so long to publish this captivating memoir/travel story? Not that waiting hurt: “Wild” is the first selection of Oprah Winfrey’s 2.0 Book Club and actress Reese Witherspoon has bought the movie rights  and plans to play Strayed. Witherspoon is also planning on filming Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel of 2012,  “Gone Girl.”I found the narrative engrossing, reminding me of the wilderness writing of a number of  people, including Sebastian Junger (“A Perfect Storm”).She finds humor in her adventures and misadventures in what was a big leap: 1,100 miles of mountain hiking for a woman who — as her soon-to-be  ex-husband Paul put it — had never done any serious hiking. An attractive young blonde woman alone on a trail that could have been dangerous, and I’m not talking about bears or mountain lions or rattlesnakes.

In her own words she writes about what compelled her to tackle a big chunk of a trail that runs from the Mexican border to Canada:

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.

The staying and doing it, in spite of everything. In spite of the bears and the rattlesnakes and the scat of the mountain lions I never saw; the blisters and scabs and scrapes and lacerations. The exhaustion and the deprivation; the cold and the heat; the monotony and the pain; the thirst and the hunger; the glory and the ghosts that haunted me as I hiked eleven hundred miles from the Mojave Desert to the state of Washington by myself.

And finally, once I’d actually gone and done it, walked all those miles for all those days, there was the realization that what I’d thought was the beginning had not really been the beginning at all. That in truth 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.

For some oddball reason, I was at first reluctant to go along with Stayed on her journey, but her writing won me over. People who have a bucket list of things to do before they kick the bucket will find inspiration in “Wild.”

About the author

  Cheryl Strayed (born September 17, 1968) is an American memoirist, novelist and essayist. Her second book, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”  was published  by Alfred A. Knopf on March 20, 2012 and has been translated into twenty-eight languages.


 In June 2012, Oprah Winfrey announced that “Wild” was her first selection for her new Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. The actress Reese Witherspoon optioned “Wild” for film before it was published, with plans to star in the production as Strayed. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel “Torch”, which was a finalist for the Great Lakes Book Award and was selected by The Oregonian as one of the top ten books of 2006 by Pacific Northwest authors;  “Wild”; and “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from
Dear Sugar”. Her stories and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine,
                                                                                                                                                                                Cheryl Strayed
Vogue, The Rumpus, Self, The Missouri Review, and The Sun. Her essays have been included in the Pushcart Prize anthology and twice in The Best American Essays. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Her website:

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