Taking it to the limits

This is a memoir of an 1,100-mile solo trek on The Pacific Crest Trail, a journey that started on the Mojave Desert in California and ended In Washington State at the Bridge of the Gods.

Wild: From Lost to Found

On the Pacific Crest Trail

By Cheryl Strayed

Knopf Publishers

This is a memoir of an 1,100-mile solo trek on The Pacific Crest Trail, a journey that started on the Mojave Desert in California and ended In Washington State at the Bridge of the Gods.

I have to tell you straight off that the author of this book was a most unlikeable character at the beginning of her tale, and only slightly more tolerable by half-way. She did have her reasons for being a pill, but they do not become evident for some time; it was tempting to abandon the book.

She lost her 45-year-old mother to cancer when she was 22. Her family, one brother and one sister, grieving in their own ways, abandoned the idea of family. The loss of her mother and her family was devastating and sent her into a tailspin of bad decisions, divorcing the man she loved, using heroin and specializing in one night stands. She was grieving in a very self-destructive way, but somewhere in all that madness, she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

There was no real preparation done for this difficult hike. She didn’t train, or do much investigation of conditions or needed supplies, other than to buy a book. When she had packed her backpack, its weight was more than half her own; the water container alone weighed 11 kilos.

She says, “As I hiked, I tried to force myself not to think about the things that hurt, my shoulders and upper back, my feet and hips . . .”

The hike on the spine of the Sierra Nevada, treated the author to 45C temperatures.

She is worn down by the terrible heat and in her mind she planned a trip to Alaska, to quit the PCT for good, but soon she meets fellow travellers, who are impressed with her guts.

They call her “Cheryl of the enormous backpack.”

She was obliged to by-pass areas with unseasonably high snow pack, but the journey proceeded, with more aches and pains and blackened toe nails, (which eventually dropped off.)

Running away from troubles has always been an iffy business, but there is no better place to think things through, apparently, than when you are all alone in a dark forest, chopping steps into an ice pack, or avoiding rattlesnakes on the trail.

The scenery, the survival, the characters that she meets on the trail are all well described and she is not a bit kind to herself, but she is gaining a bit of sense along the way.

The last chapter in her odyssey quotes Mary Oliver, the poet: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do . . . With your one wild and precious life?”

She reads, she thinks, she aches, but she carries on and one day Cheryl Strayed finally has it figured out, and she’s not really a bad type at all, you know?

Peggy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Red Deer.

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