I realize that the book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, has been thoroughly reviewed by seasoned critics and a passel of hiker/readers over the past two and a half years. However, with Wild, the movie, soon to burst onto movie screens across the globe, I feel the irresistible urge to comment on the book.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is a well-crafted story of personal transformation — grappling with loss, addiction, and a series of poor life choices — where Cheryl Strayed just happens to use the rigors and solitude and beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself. The trail is the metaphor of her journey, personally and figuratively. The PCT is but a character in this much larger story.
Wild was published in March, 2012, and has been translated into more than thirty languages. It debuted at No. 7 on the “New York Times Best Seller list” in hardcover nonfiction and by July 15, 2012, it reached No. 1 and held that spot for seven consecutive weeks. This is unprecedented in the world of specialized hiking literature. Why the Wilderness Press guides, which have for years set the standard for PCT literature, only topped 100,000 copies sold.
In so many ways, Strayed’s story shouldn’t have worked. It all happened nearly 20 years ago. She walked less than half of the length of the trail and skipped some of the most dramatic sections (the HIgh Sierra, the North Cascades). She did almost everything wrong. Yet, Strayed’s story touched the heart of mainstream America … hikers and non-hikers alike … in a way that other accounts of walking the PCT never have. It did so because readers could identify and/or empathize with her personal struggles apart from the trail story.
When I have asked by friends regarding my opinion about Wild, I have resisted labeling it a PCT story in the tradition of The High Adventures of Eric Ryback, Tom Marshburn’s Six Moon Trail, or Cindy Ross’ Journey on the Crest. It is not a particularly good PCT story but it is a very good memoir and uplifting account of re-discovering one’s lost self.
My hope for the movie is that it does not try to be so much a PCT story but that the trail gets best supporting actor in a much larger story … and that justice is done to Strayed’s lost boot(s) episode (my favorite part of the book).
What do you think?