Everyone’s writing about Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling book, Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Oprah even made it the first selection of her newly revived Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Time magazine did a piece on her column in Rumpus, and Poets and Writers magazine interviewed her in its March/April edition.
Why all the buzz?
In Wild, Strayed attempted to come to terms with her beloved mother’s death by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. She set out alone at 26 with no experience as a long-distance hiker on a dangerous journey that ultimately helped her to heal. She battled the elements, endured blistered feet and scary encounters with two- and four-legged creatures, all while carrying a massive pack on her back.
My respect for her grew page by page as she stoically moved through each setback, planting one foot in front of the other, duct-taping her sandals, doing without food and water when she ran out, and sometimes being saved through the kindness of others.
Faith and Denial
Strayed believed absolutely that her box of money and supplies—pre-packed by her and sent by friends—would be at the right destination at the right time to sustain her along the trail. She expressed concern that bad weather might stall her arrival, or she might need to reroute, or even get lost, but she never doubted that her box would be there or even that she might not have remembered to put something crucial into the box when she packed it before setting out. And when those things did happen, she figured out how to manage. I don’t want to give away too many details because each one is an interesting part of her journey, but Strayed used her last money to buy an ice cream cone. That’s faith with just enough denial to keep going.
I was awed at the physical risks she took as a young woman alone in the wilderness, but her fearlessness in openly talking about her life was nothing short of remarkable. To put her vulnerability, darkest secrets, deepest hurts, even her callous treatment of others under such an unrelenting light is not something most of us could do.
Strayed’s book set off a string of memories about my own life at 26, my daughter’s age now. Reeling from my father’s death and a little bit lost, I embarked on my own, much less dramatic but still courageous journey into adulthood.
Strayed’s book reminded me it’s never too late to recapture some of that youthful faith and fearlessness. I can open my heart a little more, be more vulnerable, and look at some of what I might still keep locked in its own secret room. If the author’s example is any barometer, it turns out it can’t hurt you, it can only help.