Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Summary // Wild. 

Cheryl Strayed struggled with drug addiction, faced the death of her mother, and divorced her husband. At twenty six, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone. She walked from the Mojave Desert passing through California and Oregon to Washington State. Along the way she met multiple people who assist her throughout her time on the trail. People gave her tips on how to manage the trail, helped her lighten her pack, and taught her how to properly utilize tools, all while encouraging her along her journey. Strayed experienced one of her most profound moments while hiking when she encountered Vera, an old woman looking after a five year old boy, Kyle. This event forced her to reflect on the past fifty days on the trail and to look back on her previous experiences through her life. When she reached the Bridge of the Gods, she had the ability to see life as it truly is and left with a new sense of perspective and empowerment for the future. She commemorated the hike by bidding farewell to her past grief through finding a new sense of self. By completing this journey, Strayed found redemption and a new understanding of her purpose in life through nature (Strayed). 


Biographical Sketch // Wild. 

Cheryl Strayed is the author of the #1 New York Times best-selling memoir, Wild (Cheryl Strayed). Born in Pennsylvania and moving at the age of six to Minnesota, Strayed grew up surrounded by her mother, step-father, and two siblings. Throughout her childhood and teenage years, she was a “popular” girl, a star cross country and track runner, member of the cheerleading squad, and homecoming queen. Following high school, she continued her education at the University of Minnesota, where she earned her BA in english and later went on to achieve a graduate degree in fiction writing at Syracuse University. Although her life seemed to be perfect, Strayed faced many challenges involving her family and love life. This sparked her want for a change to develop a better environment for herself.

One of the life-changing moments that began to to derail Strayed’s life was the death of her mother. Devastated and heartbroken, her life took a turn for the worst, leading to a divorce and drug addiction. Fortunately, Strayed created an opportunity to change the course of her life for the better. She had the strength and ability to want to change.  In 1995, she set out on an expedition along the Pacific Crest Trail. Although there were times were Strayed felt the need to give up and go back, she persevered and complete her journey. When finishing her time on the trail, Strayed left with a new sense of accomplishment and relief in having the will-power and determination to put her previous life events behind her.

In 1999, Strayed remarried and received the opportunity to work at Syracuse University. She was given the opportunity to share her life story and hopefully impact others through her work. Later, in 2002, Strayed completed her first novel, Torched. Following in 2012, she released her moving memoir, Wild, comprised of her life stories that depicted her time before and during her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, including the trials she faced and had to overcome. Wild was recently transformed into a movie with further illustrated her time on the Pacific Crest Trail and what she endured to better her quality of life (Cheryl Strayed Biography).                  


Historical Context // Wild. 

Strayed began her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995. During that year, the World Conference on Women was held in China, proving to be one of the most prevalent events of The Women’s Rights Movement.  According to the United Nations, “The platform for action is an agenda for women’s empowerment” (The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, 1). This stride in female empowerment influenced Strayed to look past the status quo of this time period and take part in something bigger than herself, regardless of gender.

Strayed also mentions another significant moment in her memoir, the final concert and dismemberment of The Grateful Dead. Following their final concert, lead singer, Jerry Garcia passed away due to heart failure. This impacted her life during her time in Portland; Strayed attended a tribute concert to the band where she met Jonathan. Meeting this man, who she would later have sex with, helped her move on from the divorce of her husband and ultimately lead to letting go of her previous relationships. Having the opportunity to pay homage to The Grateful Dead gave her the opportunity to rejoin society through participating in the love of music and community.


Connections // Wild. 

Strayed herself as well as her memoir have been compared to other authors and novels.

Christopher McCandless experienced a similar story to Strayed’s (in Wild) in his journey documented in the novel Into the Wild in 1996. Both set out on a journey seeking self-discovery and answers at the expense of the country and nature. Both individuals came from unstable backgrounds and entered their journey looking for answers to their own experiences. Although the endings to each quest did not end in a similar manner, both sought to find deliverance and amends through the outdoors. Strayed and McCandless tapped into a theme of self discovery that has invested readers of all ages.

The theme of finding redemption from a previous life event or a situation through nature not only evidences instelf in Wild, but other novels as well. Novels and memoirs that follow this pattern include, Tracks, written by Robyn Davidson and Claiming Ground by Laura Bell. Both titles portray women who willingly decided to venture off the beaten path in an effort of self discovery. Additionally, the theme, adversity,  portrayed in Strayed’s memoir address overcoming addiction, grief, and other life situations also finds itself prevalent.


Reviews // Wild. 

Wild received many praises, including being a # 1 New York Times bestseller list, winning the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, becoming a Best Nonfiction Book of 2012 via Boston Globe and Entertainment Weekly, as well as becoming a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon alongside Laura Dern. All that said, Wild, received critical acclaim around the world by various critics.

The way Strayed portrayed her life and hardships she experienced throughout the novel had readers left wanting more. Oprah Winfrey commented on the memoir during her first selection of her Book Club 2.0, stating, “I was on the edge of my seat… It was just a wild ride of a read… stimulating, thought-provoking, soul-enhancing…” A review released by The Washington Post praised Strayed, saying, “Incisive and telling… Strayed has the ineffable gift that every writer longs for, of saying exactly what she means in lines that are both succinct and poetic.” Publications not only acknowledged Strayed for her approach taken when telling her story, but for the language and structure that she used to addressed harsh topics which captured the attention of all who came across her work.

Furthermore, Strayed also received affirmation from many other authors that were in awe of her writing. Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted, wrote, “A big brave, break-your-heart-and-put-it-back-together-again kind of book. Strayed is a courageous, gritty, and deceptively elegant writer. She walked the Pacific Crest Trail to find forgiveness, came back with generosity—and now she shares her reward with us. I snorted with laughter, I wept uncontrollably . . . A beautifully made, utterly realized book.” Another fellow writer, Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle, stated that, “No one can write like Cheryl Strayed. Wild is one of the most unflinching and emotionally honest books I’ve read in a long time. It is about forgiveness and grief and bravery and hope. It is unforgettable.” Strayed displayed the ability to compose something so moving, uplifting, heartbreaking, yet motivating that other writers who excel in their field recognized her and her ability to produce something so magnificent.

Not all reviews for this critically acclaimed memoir have been positive, however. Frances Stonor Saunders, from The Guardian, finds Wild to be a disconnected and repetitive mess. She speaks of the chapters dealing with the actual hiking to be “a thoroughly artless transcription of personal history, a kind of anti-Kerouac memoir where the heat of immediacy is sacrificed, maddeningly, to the cooler demands of meaningfulness.” (Wheeler 2) The descriptions of the physical walking appear mundane and create a disconnect with the author and the reader. Saunders also calls to question the obvious symbolic nature. “The fox can’t just be a fox, he has to be transformed into an integer of loss, a piece of mental taxidermy.” (Wheeler 1) Saunders sees Strayed’s ability to look for signs as “broken” and “uneven” for the structure and fluidity of the book.  With this being the only negative review that we found, we conclude that the country’s received the book overall in a positive manner that captured the attention of readers around the world. 


Works Cited // Wild. 

Ashlee. “Cheryl Strayed.” Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, 23 Oct. 2017, www.carnegielibrary.org/cheryl-strayed/.

“Cheryl Strayed.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 6 July 2016,   www.biography.com/people/cheryl-strayed.

“Cheryl Strayed.” Home – Cheryl Strayed, 19 Feb. 2018, www.cherylstrayed.com/.

“Cheryl Strayed.” WILD – Cheryl Strayed, 27 Mar. 2018, www.cherylstrayed.com/wild_108676.htm.

“Cheryl Strayed.” WILD – Cheryl Strayed, 30 Apr. 2018, www.cherylstrayed.com/wild_108676.htm

Dean, Michelle. “Cheryl Strayed Blazed a Trail-for Women to Write About Their Wilderness Journeys, Too.” Slate Magazine, 8 Dec. 2014, www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/12/wild_and_into_the_wild_cheryl_strayed_and_christopher_mccandless_compared.html.

Erbland, Kate. “If You Loved ‘Wild,’ Try Reading These 9 Books.” Bustle, Bustle, 20 Mar. 2018, www.bustle.com/articles/59363-if-you-loved-wild-try-reading-these-9-books-to

“Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/plat1.htm#statement.

Garner, Dwight. “’Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed, a Walkabout of Reinvention.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Mar. 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/03/28/books/wild-by-cheryl-strayed-a-walkabout-of-reinvention.html.

Goldberg, Matt. “Production Begins on WILD Starring Reese Witherspoon; W. Earl Brown, Gaby Hoffman, Kevin Rankin, and More Join Cast.” Collider, 11 Oct. 2013, collider.com/wild-movie-filming-begins/.

Hinrichs, Christie. “Cheryl Strayeds Next Chapter.” The Source Weekly – Bend, The Source Weekly – Bend, 12 Apr. 2018, www.bendsource.com/bend/cheryl-strayeds-next-chapter/Content?oid=2318304.

“Pacific Crest Trail History.” Pacific Crest Trail Association, www.pcta.org/about-us/history/.

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail: Chapter Summaries.” BookCaps, Golgotha Press Inc. , 2015, www.bookcaps.com/wild-chapter-summaries.html#.Ws5nXpPwYfw.

“Wild: History of the Pacific Crest Trail.” Time, Time, time.com/3615395/wild-pacific-crest-trail/.

Wheeler, Sara. “Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed – Review.” The Observer, Guardian News and Media, 6 Jan. 2013, www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jan/06/wild-cheryl-strayed-review.

“Writer’s Edit.” Writers Edit, writersedit.com/fiction-writing/book-reviews/book-review-wild-cheryl-strayed/.

“6 Reasons Wild Almost Didn’t Get Written.” Oprah.com, www.oprah.com/spirit/cheryl-strayed-interview-writing-wild/all.