14 June 2017

Cheryl Strayed: Wild

When this post goes up Meg and I will be one day away from
heading into the backcountry of Fundy National Park on a 3 day hike and we are definitely going to die. This hike was the whole reason behind adventure month, and our departure is the perfect week to post about Wild. Let's get serious, Wild is the sole reason we're going on this hike and we're as naive and inexperienced as Lorelei Gilmore suggesting she wanted to "do wild". I've already packed my copy of Adrienne Rich's The Dream of a Common Language. We'll never have the guts to do a longer one, or to do it alone like Strayed, but here we are doing the best we can. 

You may have noticed from our author post on Strayed, our list of favourite book to movie adaptations, our valentines day special on books to help you get over a break-up, or our most recent list of books to get you excited for an adventure, that we really love this book. I'd say we'll stop talking about it after this review, but I can't even promise that. It's the first memoir I've read of its kind, where we watch a woman put herself through hell to dig herself out of a personal hell and I both envy and reject this kind of self-punishment, which makes it the perfect reading material for me.

wow do I need this outfit
In case you've been living under a rock, Wild is about Strayed's three month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). She's recently lost her mother, divorced her husband, developed a heroin addiction and developed a habit of reckless promiscuity. She sees a brochure for the PCT and decides this is the challenge she needs to pull herself out of the rut she's fallen into. When I think about this book, which is a lot, I always come back to this decision because I will never understand it. I hope I never come to a point so low that I'd be incented to hike for three months alone, but I also wish I could understand this type of courage. These are the quotes I think about when I wonder about Strayed's choice:

The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the thing that was so profound to me that summer—and yet also, like most things, so very simple—was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay. "

I don't think I've ever done something I can't back out of... I don't know if I ever want to or will... I'm even expecting to call Meg's sister after our first 5k and suggest she come back for us. 

Within forty minutes, the voice inside my head was screaming, WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO? I tried to ignore it, to hum as I hiked, though humming proved too difficult to do while also panting and moaning in agony and trying to remain hunched in that remotely upright position while also propelling myself forward when I felt like a building with legs.”

There's a lot going on in this book that could appeal to a lot of people but there's nothing bigger than Strayed's relationship with her mom. Throughout the book she's constantly reflecting back to her childhood, or when they both were in school together, on moments in their relationship. Some of them are so painful to read through, knowing that she's died, it honestly makes you sick. One of my close friends' mom died when she was younger and it makes me wish I talked to her about it more, but also really glad I never did. I'm not equipped for these types of conversations. 

Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon as Strayed and her mother in the movie adaptation.
Strayed and her mother seem a lot closer, I think, that most mother-daughters I know, but I think that's part of reading someone's writing about someone that's passed. A scene from the movie or passage from the book that stuck with me a lot is of Strayed criticizing her mom's favourite author, and insinuating she was somehow better for not enjoying that type of frivolous writing. It honestly makes you cringe because you can think of a thousand moments like this with your own mother, where you were a brat for no reason. I actually had the nerve in a moment of rage and exhaustion a few weeks ago to tell my amazing, gives-us-everything mother that I thought she was prouder of my sister than she was of me. I feel guilty about this and cringe every single time I think of it. I've since apologized but I know it's sort of beyond apology. 

One of the worst things about losing my mother at the age I did was how very much there was to regret. Small things that stung now: all the times I’d scorned her kindness by rolling my eyes or physically recoiled in response to her touch; the time I’d said, 'Aren’t you amazed to see how much more sophisticated I am at twenty-one than you were?' The thought of my youthful lack of humility made me nauseous now. I had been an arrogant asshole and, in the midst of that, my mother died. Yes, I’d been a loving daughter and yes, I’d been there for her when it mattered, but I could have been better."

At one point in the book, Strayed eats her mom's ashes as an attempt to keep them together, and to hold herself together, and it seems extreme but I wonder how I would behave if I was in a similar situation... My mom is a gleaming frigging lighthouse for me. I don't make a single choice in my life without consulting her, thinking about how she'd react, or wondering what she would do. I think I'd have to eat her ashes too just to keep my feet on the ground.  

...nothing bad could happen to me, I thought. The worst thing already had.”

The next major 'topic' throughout the book is Strayed's relationship with men. Before the PCT she divorces her husband Paul, who she married quite young and when her mother was still alive. There's a
Thomas Sadoski (as Paul in the movie
adaptation) sporting matching tattoos
with Strayed. He is such a hunk.
lot of stress involved in this because she doesn't not love him anymore, and nothing has happened in their relationship, but she's just literally not the same person anymore and I can imagine its probably very hard to walk away from a great guy because of that. Next to doing the hike altogether, leaving Paul solely for her personal health is what I consider to be Strayed's bravest decision. I have a personal soft spot for Paul because he's played by Thomas Sadoski in the movie adaptation.  

After (and during the end of) Paul, Strayed runs through men looking for a high and acceptance and a lot of other stuff that she was never going to find. I think this really damages her relationship with men, and this can be seen even as she meets other hikers on the trail. There's one part where she is made to severely cut back on the items she's packed in her bag because she can't carry it, and she wonders why she packed condoms for the hike. I think every female as some version of a damaged relationship with men, and this element of the story is relatable on a lot of levels. 

Lastly there's the solitude/courage/walk a thousand miles to serenity plotline that really just grabs you. it's actually quite scary the effect that this book has had on Meg and I because everytime we're even the least bit stressed it's "let's quit our jobs and hike the Camino"... like, what? We're obviously losers but, if you read this you will crave the freedom, the bravery, the quiet that she finds out there. I really believe this is why the book was so popular, we're all looking to feel those little pieces and likely never will in our real lives. 

The staying and doing it, in spite of everything. In spite of the bears and the rattlesnakes and the scat of the mountain lions I never saw; the blisters and scabs and scrapes and lacerations. The exhaustion and the deprivation; the cold and the heat; the monotony and the pain; the thirst and the hunger; the glory and the ghosts that haunted me as I hiked eleven hundred miles from the Mojave Desert to the state of Washington by myself.”

Along with this comes great sections about hiking in general, the best boots to buy, how to mail stuff to yourself well in advance. It's honestly very cool and while I'll likely never do a hike that long these facts make for great talking points. It's cool to learn about Western geography, how she battled different weather conditions, the things she missed the most when she was removed from civilization (Snapple), and the things to be scared of that you might not have thought about (other hikers that are not good people). 

Strayed was 26 when she hiked the PCT... I will be 26 next month with the bravery level of a 5 year old.
My favourite passage is perhaps the most cliche part of the book, but also the most honest:

What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I'd done something I shouldn't have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I'd done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn't do anything differently than I had done? What if I'd actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn't have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”

There's a message here that we've all heard a thousand times about how our choices, even the bad ones, lead us where we're meant to go. I've never been sure if I believed in this message but, I do believe in what Strayed is saying here. We're allowed to do dumb shit and we're allowed to forgive ourselves for it. End of story. Some of us may need to hike a thousand miles to be able to do that, some of us can just go to bed and wake up the next day and start fresh. Either way.

This is the perfect book to inspire you to start making some choices about your own life. I'd recommend any female read it. If you're not used to memoirs it may be a challenge, as it's not just this nice story that keeps you hooked always, but it's not long and it's worth pushing through. There is a movie adaptation, and its really good, but you do lose some of Strayed's inspiring inner thought process. It's definitely one where I'd recommend reading, then watching. 

A great quote here that has definitely resonated with Meg and I as we make majorly poor life choices (this whole hiking trip being number one on the list):

But a woman who walks alone in the wilderness for eleven hundred miles? I’d never been anything like that before. I had nothing to lose by giving it a whirl.” 

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