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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed, 2012, * * * *

Cheryl Strayed was 26 years old in 1995, and a novice hiker, when she decided to embark on a solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a scenic footpath that zigzags over the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain for 2,650 miles between Mexico and Canada.  Her memoir, Wild,  opens with the impetus for her journey: the sudden death of her 45-year old mother just 49 days after being diagnosed with lung cancer.  Despondent and disoriented in the wake of her loss, Strayed self-destructs.  She cheats on, and then leaves, her beloved husband, shoots heroin, has an abortion and adopts a new last name.  Not sure what she is in search of and woefully unprepared, she sets off with a guidebook, a collection of poems, hiking books that are too small, an ice ax she doesn't know how to use and a ridiculously overweight pack dubbed "Monster."  Strayed's writing conveys the rigors and rewards of long-distance hiking: aches, pains, loneliness, persistent hunger, and blistered, bloody feet.  There are bears and rattlesnakes, the real threats of dehydration and hypothermia, and camp rangers who call her "baby" and invite her back to their cabins. She talks about moments of lust, desire, and kinship with other hikers with satisfying frankness. Having tackled the Appalachian Trail over three decades ago, I found her book to be a fascinating physical and psychological journey through a wilderness of despair to a renewed sense of self. Strayed portrays herself as both weak and strong, daunted and determined, desperately lonely and fiercely independent.  As she moves through her contradictory feelings during the three months on the PCT, she becomes someone new.  It is a remarkable journey. 

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