Cheryl Strayed (2012) Wild: A Journey From Lost to Found.

I’d picked this book up and put it down several times. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild was nearer Lost than Found. I got it was some kind of travel journal. Cheryl Strayed had walked part of the Pacific Crest Trail that stretches from the Mexican border in California to the Canadian border and goes through a lot of places I’ve little or no knowledge but might be vaguely interested in because of the naturalist John Muir (a fellow Scot and honorary American). That doesn’t sound interesting enough for a book.

But I was wrong. Strayed nails it, while walking most of the way and loosing six of her toenails in boots that are too small for her and carrying a backpack far too big for her called Monster.

She segues in and out of the life she had been living. Her mother had married her father when she was nineteen. He beat her and was a violent presence in their little lives, but they didn’t know that because they were children. Three children. How her mum found the courage to leave and find the cheapest apartments and worked as a waitress to live and somehow survive. They gained a stepfather along the way, Eddie, who broke his back. Then her mum got cancer and died, when she was 42.

Cheryl was 22. She was carrying a lot of grief on the trail. Grief for her marriage to a good man she’d fucked up, because she wasn’t mature enough yet to settle down. How her new man got her into smoking heroin. Then injecting. But she wasn’t a junkie. Not really. She was just trying to live. Trying new things. Joe went one way. She went another.

Her determination to walk the 1100 miles of the trail is dented on the first day. She can’t lift her pack. She needs to cross the ice and snow of the Sierra Madre. Where Humphrey Bogart cheated and got cheated by another fusty old prospector in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. And she had to cross deserts and avoid stepping on rattlesnakes. But first she had to get the Monster on her back. She couldn’t do it. It was too heavy and cumbersome. Hiking hurt, even before it started to hurt.

‘I didn’t know how living outdoors and sleeping on the ground in a tent each night and walking through the wilderness all day almost every day had come to feel like my normal life,  but it had. It was the idea of not doing it that scared me.’

Strayed brings what it feels like to be alone in the world, but figuring out the costs of not being alone, of being someone she was not. She had to bury her mother, not in the ground but in remembering her as she was. Fully human. Fully alive. Read on.