I live near a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which runs from the border with Mexico to the border with Canada. One of my sisters wants me to hike it with her. I admit it’s tempting. But I’d have to spend too much money in gear. And find a pack big enough for my bed.
One thing that whetted my fascination with the trail was reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, which is about his trek along the Appalachian Trail. While he can be a bit hard on the forest service, the book made me laugh.
So when my sister gave me Cheryl Strayed’s new book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, I was excited to read it. Unfortunately the excitement didn’t carry through many pages.
The author hiked the trail to deal with a life that spiraled out of control after the death of her mother. The book took loss, and put it in a unique setting. The writing is polished, the pace moves right along, and the people she meets on the trail are interesting. And in one case scary.
What seemed to be missing, for me, was balance. Meaning by about two-thirds through, I decided I’d had enough navel gazing (and I have to admit, what felt like whining) and not enough of the trail. When the author finally had her breakthrough in dealing with her mother I felt relieved, as if I could now get on with the business of hiking. Unfortunately the book remained on the same path. I wanted more details than just how heavy the pack was or how many toenails remained at the end of the day.
There are a lot of uncomfortable passages and one scene with a horse that is terrible. None made me think or question or grow. They just made me squirm. And I think the analogy Strayed tried to draw with the memory of the horse didn’t work.
In the places where the author did talk about the trail, she did okay with descriptions. I could see the views and feel the weather. But it felt like a tiny snippet of trail, which then segued into a large hunk of grieving. The problem for me, then, was a lack of balance between outer and inner worlds. Plus the fact that, to be honest, the inner world got a bit tiresome.
If you want a book on moving forward after loss, on a life that was self-destructing and slowly pieced back together, then this might be worth reading, though I found it more self-centered than similar memoirs. If you want a book on hiking in the wilderness, read the Barefoot Sister’s books, or Bryson’s. His may not be about the PCT but when he realizes his friend just chucked all the toilet paper over the cliff because it was too heavy, you’ll find yourself standing right next to him.
In Wild, I never found myself on the trail.