When Cheryl Strayed took her trek of 1100 miles over the Pacific Crest Trail in the summer of 1995, I was with her every minute of the way. The account she gives in her best- selling memoir entitled “Wild” was so beautifully expressed that the reader feels like a participant in this courageous undertaking embarked upon alone by a 26-year-old woman.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Cheryl Strayed - Wikimedia
When her mother died when Cheryl was 22 years old, her world fell apart. She was raised in poverty along with her sister Karen and her brother Lief when their mother, Bobbi, left her abusive husband and raised the children on her own. Cheryl managed to get a college education, but waitressing was the only job she had when she was young. Her stepfather Eddie was kind to her, but it was not enough to hold the family together after Bobbi died. They each went their own way.
Cheryl’s surname was actually Nyland, but somewhere along the way she changed it to the unusual name of Strayed. She married very young, just short of 20 years old to a kindhearted, loving man named Paul. Her mother’s death left a terrible void which Paul could not fill. They eventually divorced but remained friends, and Cheryl regarded him early on as her best friend.
It took a lot of courage, I believe, to relate the path she took after she experienced the devastation of her mother’s death. She tells candidly that she was promiscuous with many men, even when she was married to Paul, and smoked heroin with the encouragement of one of these men.
The idea of taking a journey of self-discovery through walking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) appealed to her sense of adventure. She needed time to examine her own life and her purpose therein; it seemed to be the only solution to coming to grips with her problems. The fact that she had never had any backpacking experience did not deter her. For several months, she saved her money from her waitressing job, even taking additional shifts, to finance a trip she knew nothing about. She purchased the books “The Pacific Crest Trail, Volumes 1 and 2, but did not read them until she was actually on the Trail.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Mohave Desert - Wikimedia
She planned to start on the Trail in the Mohave Desert in southeastern California, although the southern entrance to the PCT is at the border of Mexico. Her trip would end at the Bridge of the Gods at the beginning of Washington although the Trail does enter Canada. Places with names such asEcho Lake, Sierra City, Soda Springs, Hat Creek Rim, Burney Falls and Kennedy Meadows were a dot on the map of the Pacific Crest Trail.
In planning her trip, she was able to have supplies and money waiting for her at specific stops along the way. She had some difficulty rationing her food and water, and well as money, between these stops, which caused her stress throughout the trek. Her backpack, the largest on the Trail, weighed half of her own body weight. It wasn’t until she was ¾ of the way to the end of the Trail when a traveler convinced her that she should toss some of her equipment away, making her burden lighter for the rest of the trip.
Cheryl encountered rattlesnakes along the way, as well as coyotes and black bears, but never had a negative experience with them. Tales of sightings of mountain lions filled her with dread, but she never met one on the Trail. Although it was summer, parts of the Trail were impassable because of snow. Most people bypassed those sections. Cheryl was forced to leave the Trail at one point, but did have deep snow to cope with in one part.
Her biggest difficulty was the blisters and sores she would get on her feet, to the point that she was sometimes unable to go further without resting. She lost six of her toenails because of the rigorous walking that had to be done. It was also late in the game when she met a fellow traveler who pointed out that her boots were too small for her. He advised her to tell this to the boot manufacturer who would send her a larger size. She was able to have the new boots sent to a stop several miles ahead of her. It helped to solve the problem of her sore feet.
The people she met on the trail were all surprised that she was a woman traveling alone. She received many kindnesses from them because of that fact. She was often asked to stop in a camp for food and drink and conversation with mostly male travelers, who passed on information about the Trail and procedures for getting to the next stop.
Each night, Cheryl set up her tent under the stars and read for a while before falling asleep. She talked herself out of being fearful of animals and/or humans. Frequent showers and changes of clothes were out of the question. Designated stops along the way provided a bed for the night and a shower for those who had the money. Cheryl realized she underestimated the money she would need for a comfortable trip. At one point, she ran out of money with another few hundred miles to go before she reached a stop which would have a package for her which also contained money.
Pacific Crest Trail - Ritter Range - Wikimedia
During the last few weeks of her journey, she met three young men, younger than herself who were given the name “The Three Bucks.” Hikers on the Trail were usually given names by their fellow travelers. The Three Bucks gave Cheryl the name “Queen of the PCT” because she was a woman alone on the Trail, and was given special treatment by others because of that.
Through her adventure on the PCT, Cheryl did indeed relieve herself of the agonizing pain she experienced at her mother’s death. It gave her new confidence and self-esteem that she was able to accomplish such a feat. In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, she mentions her husband, Brian Lindstrom, a film maker, and her two children, Carver and Bobbi. She did not mention where and when she met her husband, which leaves me wondering, although it is definitely a happy marriage.
I cried in the last four pages of the book at the realization that Cheryl completed her journey and felt equipped to meet life head-on in the future. It took 94 days to walk the Trail. I loved every page of this book and will probably read it again. I have no desire to follow the Pacific Crest Trail, but I understand it has hosted a considerable increase of people since Cheryl’s book was published.
Reese Witherspoon - Google
“Wild” is now a motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl and Laura Dern as her mother Bobbi. I look forward to seeing the film.
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