Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
November 6, 2015
Imagine you’re a young woman in the mountains. It’s late August and you’re standing over a wooded cliff plunging hundreds of feet. You don’t have shoes on your feet and you’ve been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail solo for six weeks. Would you feel alone? Free? Terrified? Strong? Wild?
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a long distance hiking trail spanning 2,663 miles. It snakes all the way from the U.S Mexico border to the Canadian border. Hikers traverse through deserts, mountains, meadows, forests, and glaciers. They walk along lakes and rivers and encounter wild animals as they travel the outstandingly beautiful and diverse West coast. It’s been described as both hell and heaven by thru-hikers.
At 26 years old, Cheryl Strayed decided that she would be one of those either brave or crazy few to take on the challenge. Not only did she decide to walk nearly 3,000 miles without any previous experience, but she also decided to go by herself.
Now some might ask, why would anyone in their right mind decide to leave their job and family for months on end to walk through the unrelenting forces and unpredictability of the wilderness? Sometimes you need to get lost to be found.
Strayed seemed to have it all. She had been happily married to her best friend. She lived close to her mother and siblings. She was pursuing her dreams of being a writer. She was just beginning her life journey, and she was full of energy and excitement at the young and promising age of 22.
Then it was all taken away from her.
This book has many messages threaded into it, but I think that the most important one is this: life is short. Never take anything for granted.
Strayed’s life came crumbling down around her when her beloved mother suddenly died from cancer (and by suddenly, I mean 49 days after diagnosis).
For the next four years Cheryl quickly lost sight of herself and her dreams. She was sucked into a deep, spiraling vortex of bad decisions. While reading, you want to scream and throw the book out the window because you can clearly see how consciously self-destructive Cheryl became. She knew that she was burning all of her bridges, and she didn’t want to stop herself because she feared that the pain of facing reality would be too excruciating.
She became unfaithful in her marriage. She left her estranged husband and moved all around the U.S. looking for hope and a new start. She didn’t find happiness. Instead she found drugs, fleeting relationships, and an increasing distance between herself and her family.
Then, one day, Cheryl was in REI when a trail guide of the PCT caught her eye. She thought little of it at the moment, but something in her heart pulled her back to the store weeks later to buy it. After buying the book, Cheryl decided to set out on the adventure in hopes of finding herself again and gaining her life back.
For months leading up to her hike, Cheryl made frequent stops to REI to gather knowledge and supplies. Over the course of six months, she packed gear into the hefty backpack that would become her closest companion and savior on the trail; she named this beast of a backpack Monster.
After months of preparation, Cheryl was ready to start her long journey, physically and mentally.
She stood on the side of the highway in the Mojave Desert where she would begin hiking. Monster was on her back. Stiff new hiking boots were on her feet, and her mother’s necklace was clasped around her neck. She began.
For the remainder of the book, Cheryl explained how she pushed forward through nearly 1,000 miles of trail. It would be a shame for me to summarize and describe her actual adventure because for me, this was the best part of the book. Cheryl accomplished so much, ultimately healing herself in the treacherous three month process. There are so many scenes in the book that I marked to look back on because they hold so much hope and beauty.
Reading through Cheryl’s quest to save her life was as inspiring as it was motivating. Cheryl’s journey sparks the reader to take risks and to try something new because you never truly know how strong you are. It teaches one to not be afraid to start over. And no matter what, you can always reinvent your life.