Monday, August 26, 2013


I have heard so many things about this book, good and bad, and it's been on my wish list for a long time. Then when I had forgotten my book at home when I went on vacation to Florida- I finally picked it up at the airport. It was this or one one I had already read. It was like destiny was telling me now was the time to read the book.

And it's taken me so long. The entire summer in fact. It's not that it wasn't good, it's just heavy. It has taken me a few days to compress it, think about it, roll it around in my head, and then read a little more.

Wild - Cheryl Strayed
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. 
Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

You can read the comments section of the reviews on Goodreads and see you'll get people who really love the book and people who are more of the "she's a grossly ill-prepared brat who hikes along and gets special help on the trail and she's basically a whore" group. Now, while I see the point about her getting "special treatment" along the trail, and how perhaps this isn't the trip to take if you know next to nothing about hiking and self survival skills, and I don't condone reckless sex and drug use. 

But at the end of the day? I got it. It's about the inner struggle she has with life and what she is supposed to do after her mother dies untimely of cancer. And I maybe wouldn't have really gotten this even a month ago, but after hearing about what my own mother is facing- it was like the light bulb came on and I just got it. Because a 20-something year old girl needs her mother. Hell, even at 31 I need my mom. There are things in life that we need our moms for and those who don't have a mother have hardships that they maybe don't even know they are having because they don't know the difference. I have had my mom with me when I got married, when I had kids, when I struggled my way through adulthood, and it's not enough. It's like a rite of passage for daughters is watching their mother age and going through that with her to prepare ourselves. 

I also have to admit that part of me wanted to have the guts to do this. I'd really like to have the balls to pack up what things I could into a backpack and just hike my ass along the Pacific Crest Trail and just get through it. Be bad ass, hopefully not lose any toenails, and accomplish something that most men can't even do. 

The moment of the book that sealed the deal for me? Was towards the end- when the anger of her mother's death basically comes to a head: 

"It was wrong. It was so relentlessly awful that my mother had been taken from me. I couldn't even hate her properly. I didn't get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I wished she'd done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. It had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we'd left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could fill. I'd have to fill it myself again and again and again. 

Fuck her, I chanted as I marched on over the next few miles,  my pace quickened by my rage, but soon I slowed and stopped to sit on a boulder.  A gathering of low flowers grew at my feet, their barely pink petals edging the rocks. Crocus, I thought, the name coming into m mind because my mother had given it to me. These same flowers grew in the dirt where I'd spread her ashes. I reached out and touched the petals of one, feeling my anger drain out of my body. 

By the time I rose and started walking again, I didn't begrudge my mother a thing. The truth was, in spite of all that, she'd been a spectacular mom. I knew it as I was growing up. I knew it in the days that she was dying. I knew it now. And I knew that was something. That it was a lot. I had plenty of friends who had moms who-no matter how long they lived- would never give them the all encompassing love my mother had given me. My mother considered that love her greatest achievement. It was what she banked on when she understood that she really was going to die and die soon, the thing that made it just barely okay for her to leave me and Karen and Leif behind." 

And I just got it. It hit me to my core because no matter what happens with my own mom, I know she loved me. I know she knows I love her. And when we were little she used to tell my brother and I that it's "one for all, and all for one" and I thought I knew what that meant. But I didn't really until now. When we were little she gave everything she had to us and in the end, it's our job to give everything we have to her. 

So while I don't necessarily agree with Cheryl losing her shit, divorcing a really great guy, and then having reckless sex and abusing drugs... I get it. We all grieve differently, that's for sure, but I get it. I understand how she felt about her mom because I feel the same way about mine.  


Tales of a Misfit Housewife said...

I am sooooooo glad you loved this book! I loved it so much I have lent it out. My mom died a year ago very suddenly from cancer and I identified with this book so easily. People do grieve differently. I ate my grief, my sister pretends its all OK cause it was God's will, my brother refuses to talk about it. I also loved the adventure part of it. When I was a teen I was going to hike the Appalachian Trail. THat never happened. And now as an overweight adult living in the most beautiful state in the country, I have taken up hiking and I love it! I am buying my first backpack this year and next year Ill try it out. I won't be going on the PCT (although I think it would be AWESOME and empowering) I am determined to quit being fat and get out there and live. Thanks soooo much for reviewing this book.

Brenda said...

Sara, what a wonderful post. Hugs to you.

Martha Hokenson said...

I love that you gave this such a balanced review. All the "best book ever" and "worst book ever" reviews on Goodreads made me put off picking it up because it felt like there was so much love/hate bias toward the author!

Steff said...

I still need to read this! I've checked it out multiple times but ended up needing to return it to the library for a hold. Now it's back on the list!