Since this blog is dedicated to both words and wild things, I have decided to start doing a little series of book reviews. The books I choose might not necessarily strictly be 'adventure books', but they are probably all related to the outdoors in some way or another... simply because all my favourite books tend to be based in the wild somewhere. And what better way to start the series than with a book of that very name; 'Wild' by Cheryl Strayed.
"Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave"
Wild follows the story of Cheryl Strayed, who at the age of 22 loses her mother to cancer; what follows is a series of destructive events such as the breakdown of her marriage, a distancing from her family, and her addiction to heroin and sex. One day, some years later, Cheryl makes the impulsive decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail - an 1,100 mile hike on the West Coast of America. With no prior experience of long-distance hiking, and just the determination and desire to escape all the things that had shattered her life, Cheryl sets out on the trail that sees her life truly change. Wild is a story about physical challenge and spiritual discoveries, all while walking one of America's most famous and beautiful hiking trails.
I first read this book when I was cycling the Pacific Coast Highway 1, around two years ago now. On a journey that sometimes had me afraid, lonely, and feeling just about every other emotion you can imagine, reading this book honestly gave me strength and a lease for life. I read this book every evening in my tent and it made me feel strong and eager to wake up and head out on the road every morning. It made me feel less alone to be a woman on a solo adventure. There are so many terrific quotes in the novel that are empowering and emotive, and truths that Cheryl shares that grip you with their honesty and bravery in admitting.
A good book, I believe, should incite a whole range of emotions; it should make you smile, cry, laugh and ask questions. Cheryl Strayed's Wild does all of those things, and not only that but for a lover of hiking and the great outdoors, it inspires a desire to travel to that part of America and experience the wild and rugged landscapes Strayed describes with such vividness and love. A particular highlight of the book is the moment in the hotel room when Cheryl first attempts to put her backpack on her back - it reminds me of my own struggle to fit those last few items into my bag in a Morisson's carpark, before heading out on the West Highland Way in October. Another part I love is the descriptions of the friendship Cheryl forms with others on the trail. It is something that I, and others who have travelled, will recognise in their own fleeting friendships from the road.
Yet what struck me most about this novel is the beautiful, flowing, honest and emotional way Cheryl writes. It grips you from that very first sentence - "The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California" - until the very last - "How wild it was, to let it be." It is the kind of book that I will come back to whenever I feel I need strength and courage; the kind of book I will read before and during many journeys in my life.
I would urge you to read this book before or while you are heading out on your own journey. Wild is a wonderfully sincere and emotional story that will inspire a journey into the wild like no other.
"It was my life - like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be,"
Let me know in the comments below if you've read this book and your own thoughts on it. Or please suggest any other outdoor-adventure themed novels you think I should read.
Happy wild reading!