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Friday, April 27, 2012

"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed: A compelling, honest, and inspiring memoir.

A view from my hike of Mt. Wrightson in Southern Arizona.

When Cheryl Strayed was 22-years old, her 45-year old mother died.  This loss is the tinder that fuels Wild, Strayed's memoir about hiking alone on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 1995, four years after her mother's death.  Wild is a wonderful book.  Strayed's story breaks your heart, inspires your ambition, informs, entertains, and captivates.

What is particularly elegant about Wild is how Ms. Strayed blends together the story of  her life with the story of her experiences on the trail.  She is a novice hiker setting out to walk a stretch of the PCT running from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State.  The trip is not merely an opportunity to see the PCT, but a challenge to meet, alone and on her own, despite the expected fears and unexpected difficulties along the way.

Meeting this challenge is important because Strayed is trying to re-group after getting a number of hard blows from life.  Some of these blows were unforeseen, such as her mom's illness and death, and some blows she walked right into.  Strayed is very honest about what I'll call her youthful 'rock-and-roll lifestyle':  her sex life, experiments with drugs, her early marriage and divorce.  She writes that at the time she decided to walk the PCT, "I was living alone in a studio apartment in Minneapolis, separated from my husband, and working as a waitress, as low and mixed-up as I'd ever been in my life."  Strayed's decision to hike the trail, when set in the context of the rest of her life, makes the trip a real journey. "I'd made the arguably unreasonable decision to take a long walk alone on the PCT in order to save myself," writes Strayed. 

Wild is a terrific memoir which I highly recommend.  In addition to being an great read, Wild is also a documentation of personal freedom.  In Ms. Strayed's book, she is making the choices and decisions, be they wise or not, about her own life.  The publication of her story is exhilarating to consider when, in other parts of the world, speech is censored; women must conceal their bodies in burka and are prohibited from merely driving a car or attending soccer matches.  And when here in the United States, right-wing extremist radio host Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown University law student who testified before Congress about contraception a "prostitute" and a "slut".  When viewed in this broader context, Wild is heady reading, an inspiring account from one woman about her journey.  Wonderful!

Knopf 2012

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