Wild: A Journey From Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed

Mary Tweed

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to walk a long way? A really, really long way? I’m not just meaning spending a pleasant summer’s day Nordic Walking through 18 miles of Suffolk’s glorious countryside on the path from Bury St Edmunds to Clare, rather 1100 miles across America from the Mojave Desert near its border with Mexico to the border of Oregon and Washington State. If you have considered turning your back on the rat race for a few months and taking off on an exciting adventure then Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found could be just the book for you.

Cheryl Strayed was 26 when her mother died suddenly, leaving her lost and bewildered. Both her family and her marriage fell apart and she descended into a drug-taking, promiscuous vacuum of confusion. A chance perusal through a bookshelf in a local shop planted the seed of an idea, which later grew into a fully formed plan to hike the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT), alone on a journey to rediscover herself.

If this sounds a little corny, then I apologise, but this is no sentimental journey of discovery. It is a fascinating tale of how an inexperienced walker, who can’t even read a compass, conquers challenge after challenge and faces fears on a daily basis. Carrying a pack that is heavier than any carried by the men she meets on the trail, her feet quickly succumb to agonising blisters and raw patches of skin and yet she perseveres through extreme temperatures and climates that range from scorching deserts to snow-bound mountains. Along the way, Cheryl meets an array of fellow PCT hikers, who all have their own reasons for attempting the route, and encounters many examples of genuine humanity. She interweaves descriptions of the landscapes through which she travels and stories about her fellow travellers with reflections on her past, which she slowly comes to accept and with which she makes peace.

I was gripped with the descriptions of the landscape, which varied so hugely over the course of her three month journey. I hadn’t imagined that anywhere in America could be so isolated, desolate and untouched for mile upon mile in this day and age. She brings the loneliness to life and does not hold back from the realities of walking day after day and having to survive only with the contents of her backpack. I should make it clear that she undertook this journey in 1995, before mobile phones became ubiquitous and so her only means of communication in case of emergency was a whistle. Any romantic ideas I might have harboured about following in her footsteps began to grow a little fuzzy when she came across fresh mountain lion scat within her first week of walking. All romantic illusions were shattered when she describes coming face to face with a black bear just a few days later. She proves to be incredibly brave.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel, walking, adventure and stories of endurance. The book has recently been turned into a film, which is high on my wish list of films to watch. Although, as the descriptions in the book are so vivid, I just hope the film lives up to expectations.

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