- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
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).
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.”
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