ADVENTURE: Reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed
WEEK OF: August 18th, 2013
WHERE: Usually in my bedroom, but also in airports, on planes, in cafes, and anywhere else I have a free moment!
Alright, before you go accusing me of copping out of chasing some actual physical adventure this week, I have to inform you of a belief that I have held very close to my heart for my entire life:
Reading is an adventure in it’s own right.
It’s true. When I was a kid and I was living in a small suburb outside of Ft. Worth, Texas, reading a book was the most incredible adventure I could embark on during the long summer days when it was way too hot to play outside during mid-day. I escaped daily into all kinds of different worlds – the worlds of Goosebumps, the Boxcar Children, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Roald Dahl and whatever else I could get my hands on. Sure, we had TV and I watched my fair share of it, but to me there is nothing better than curling up with a book and getting completely immersed into the world of entirely made up people. Or, even better – reading about real people embarking on incredible adventures.
In the case of Wild, that is exactly what the reader is embarking on – an incredible adventure alongside Cheryl, a 26-year-old woman who journeys along the Pacific Coast Trail alone, all the way from Southern California up to the southern border of Washington State. The ambitious backpacking trip is undertaken because Cheryl was trying to make sense of what was a very screwed up life. Her mother had died a few years before of a horrendous, quickly deteriorating cancer, and afterwards her life had become a wasteland of self-destruction and self-hatred, culminating in a series of affairs, a divorce, and a growing heroin problem. Even though she’d never been backpacking in her life, Cheryl felt like the only way to clear out the bullshit in her head and find some clarity was to walk alone, in the wilderness, for about 100 days, with nothing but the (outrageously heavy) pack on her back.
Now, this book isn’t so much an action-packed adventure tale as it is a story of personal redemption. To be honest, not a lot of crazy, dangerous shit happens to Cheryl on her journey, except maybe a few minor bear run-ins (they ran away when they saw her), a close call with dehydration after a planned water source was dry, and the time she accidentally knocked on of her hiking boots off the edge of a ravine and had to hike a few days in flip flops until she could buy another pair. But despite the lack of real physical obstacles she faced, this book is an entertaining, heart-wrenching and breathtaking read because of the personal catharsis and emotional cleansing that Cheryl goes through as she spends day after day walking, sometimes with new friends she meets along the way, but mostly entirely on her own.
I loved this book because I loved Cheryl’s honesty. She lets the reader see every part of her, from the hopeless, penniless sex and drug addict to the empowered, forward-looking “Queen of the PCT” that she is at the end of the book. You cry with her, laugh with her, worry for her, and you desperately root for her to make it to the end of her journey in one piece.
The book was also incredibly inspiring – while reading it, I started fantasizing about going on some multi-day backpacking trips on my own. Like Cheryl, I’ve never done anything like that on my own, or even with a group, and while I find it a little frightening and even more intimidating, I welcome the challenge of relying entirely on myself and what is in my pack to survive for a few days and I would so love being alone with only the nature around me as my company. I was so pumped for the idea half way through reading this book that I bought a sleeping bag and a tent so I’d be ready when I have a spare few days to make it happen!
Yes, reading is an adventure, but even more so, reading books (and blog posts, if I dare be so bold) about other people’s adventures is a great way to find inspiration for finding adventure in your own life. Usually, it leads to asking yourself that all important question – if they can do it, why can’t I? And that question usually spurs you into action. And I love that. More, please.
On a related note – does anyone have any adventure book recommendations for me? In particular, I’m looking for books that have something to do with SE Asia or Nepal. I’ve just booked my 2 month trip there for early next year and I want some reading material to help me fuel my excitement as I count down the days until I leave!