“Wild” is the true to life memoir of 28-year-old Cheryl Strayed who sold everything she had and spent months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail through California and Oregon to escape from her dismantled family, the death of her mother and the destruction of her marriage. After serving as a caretaker for her mother, who eventually died of cancer, Strayed lived the life of a heroin addict and a sex addict. The loss of her mother, which felt like the loss of herself, sent her into such a deep depression that she was unable to graduate from college, repeatedly cheated on her husband whom she loved and put herself in repeated danger with an addiction to sex that had nothing to do with physical pleasure but that was an outward expression of an inner pain that was eating her away.
In her mind she believed that days spent walking through snowy mountains, piney woods and sandy deserts would lead her towards a rejuvenated version of herself that would know exactly what life she wanted to live.
Strayed learned very quickly that a vagrant lifestyle in the wilderness is not only exhausting and challenging but, at times, especially if you are virtually inexperienced like Strayed was, relentlessly tortuous. It did not take long for her to realize that she was not only not a backpacking expert, but not “a hard ass motherf—ing Amazonian queen.” There were days when she did not have enough to eat, enough water to drink or the proper equipment to get her across icy slopes or sustain her in mind-numbing heat. The physical strain of carrying all of her belongings on her back, sleeping night after night on the hard ground and hiking at times up to 19 miles a day over treacherous terrain took a huge toll on her body. Her backpack, which she named “Monster,” rubbed huge pieces of skin off of her hips and her feet were a bloody, gnarled mess from hiking a large portion of her trip in the wrong boots.
However, the people she met along the trail and at the little towns that served as her resupply stations along the way taught her a lot about what was necessary to survive on the trail and showed her kindnesses over and over again that reestablished her faith in what it is to be human.
I won’t tell you if she found herself or if she even made it. I’ll let you read for yourself.
We are all searching for our identities, and after every crisis, whether it is the death of the woman who raised us like it was for Strayed or whether it is simply a failed midterm, we all long to feel a sense of identity. It is easy to lose yourself after a loss and even easier to hide away and succumb to the depression that accompanies it.
At the risk of sounding cliche or stereotypically teenage: YOLO. You only live once and that one life is pretty damn short, so don’t let the bad things that happen keep you from taking a risk and living life to its fullest.
I will end by asking a question by Mary Oliver that Cheryl Strayed included in her memoir: “Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”