Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Cheryl Strayed

Book cover

I read this whole book over the course of two days, one of which had me stuck in the SFO airport nearly all day waiting for a delayed flight. It’s really deserving of the popularity it has enjoyed. CS, the narrator and protagonist of the book, is a singular character. She has a very disarming writing style, both a little rough around the edges and a little vulnerable, and often quite funny. She does some extremely stupid things, foremost of which is that she sets off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail without ever having backpacked a single night in her life, replete with so much stuff that she literally cannot lift her backpack once she has packed it in the hotel room. But in other ways, she clearly knows how to take care of herself.

One aspect of the book that I found interesting was that it described the experience of backpacking from the point of view of a working-class person–while it is generally a pretty upper-class pursuit. She has $20 in each of her boxes waiting at the next post office, and that is literally all of her money. She often ends up with less than a dollar left, sometimes with a startlingly long way to go. Of course, some parts of the experience are the same as they are for an upper-class backpacker like myself, others different.

Another striking thing about the book, and something I love about hiking in general, is how almost universally kind people are to CS on the trail. She jokes about this being because she was a single woman, and I think there is some truth to that, but I also think that something about the act of hiking, backpacking, and camping inspires a kind of solidarity that you rarely see elsewhere. There is also something very moving in the way that very small acts of kindness, such as leaving a peach for another hiker, assume magnificent proportions due to the circumstances. In fact, there is only one place in the book where a person clearly does not go out of their way to be kind to her–they won’t let her stay at a tent camping site when she doesn’t have the money to pay for it–and you read it with a kind of shock and disbelief. It’s funny how something that is completely run-of-the-mill in the “normal” world–not letting someone have something unless they pay for it–can be transformed into an apparent affront by the context.

As I think Elise said, it didn’t necessarily make me want to hike the whole PCT, but it definitely made me want to go backpacking!

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars