A couple of weeks ago, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (an Oprah book pick and New York Times bestseller), was in my hometown in Mendocino, California talking about her book.
Her story details how, burdened by a pack she names “monster” (sounds like 80-100 pounds), she sets off from the town of Mohave with the intention of hiking the PCT. She is completely unprepared (despite buying every possible piece of “essential” gear she could find at REI), destroys her feet from boots too small and her body in general from the pack’s weight. It’s the story of her struggle to literally survive on the trail and figuratively from a life gone wild and out of control. She even packs a dozen condoms as part of her survival gear.
Strayed says the death of her mother from cancer just seven weeks after the diagnosis sent her into a tail spin: she cheated on her husband (which led to a divorce) and was having regular one-night stands with strangers; met a heroin addict and became his boyfriend (and an addict) and, as part of her crazy behavior, decided to set off alone — with no experience — on the PCT. She even made up her last name, Strayed, after getting a divorce. Instead of going back to her maiden name, she picked “Stayed” … I guess because her life strayed off course.
Ultimately, Stayed only covers about 1,100 of the PCT’s 2,600 miles and totally missed 400 miles of the Sierra because the year she hiked there were record snowfalls. But that’s kind of beside the point of her book. Light backpackers will find the story of the pack and its weight enough reason to read the book. It’s beyond belief.
A New Kind of Hero
Sadly, it is becoming more common for people to do stupid or careless things in the wilderness — and because they survive — are hailed as heroic. Apparently Oprah sees Cheryl Strayed that way … heroic like Aron Ralston, who went solo canyoneering, didn’t tell anyone, got his arm caught under a boulder and had to cut it off. His so-called brave act garnered him big money from his book, Between and Rock and a Hard Place and his movie, 127 Hours (I read the book and saw the movie). No doubt Cheryl Strayed is looking at a movie down the road.
Strayed was 22 when she started to spin out of control. She’s now in her early 40s and has settled down with a new husband, two children and a book tour.
Wild is a well-written, fascinating tale. And Strayed is very charming and authentic. She noted in her talk that she and her new husband plan to take the kids and hike the entire PCT. No doubt there will be a book in that, too.