Cheryl Strayed: Smart Writer; Stupid Hiker?

06 Sep Cheryl Strayed: Smart Writer; Stupid Hiker?

Even in the prologue to Wild, Cheryl Strayed adopts a somewhat cavalier attitude to embarking upon an epic journey: “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.”

Hmm….Give it a whirl? Nothing to lose but say, her life?  But that’s the point, isn’t it? Devastated by the loss of her mother to cancer and the subsequent demise of her family as she knew it (siblings become scattered and ties fragmented without their rock of a mother to hold them all together) and the painfully slow falling apart of her young marriage to the man she continued to call her best friend, Strayed unravels. Badly. She sleeps around (mind you, that is largely what led to her marriage falling apart), does heroin, and basically gives up on life. When she decides to hike the trail, she really doesn’t have much to lose.

It’s an engaging read right from the get-go. No doubt, she may have been one of the most naive, ill-prepared hikers of all time, but Strayed, it seems, was always a good writer.

Her style is simple but effective. Brutally honest, her story is entertaining without seemingly trying. I’ve never been bored by the book, always happy to keep turning pages, despite the fact not a whole lot happens on the hike–but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It opens with her history, the story of her close relationship with her mother and the very sad decline of her mother’s health as well as Strayed’s marriage. One has the feeling Strayed was always a lost soul given the way she betrays her loyal and loving husband and  gives up on herself.

It’s a great read, really! But not everyone thinks so–or at least a great many people take issue with Strayed’s naive nature and somewhat self-indulgent sorrow. I leave you with one such critic, taken from the Good Reads site.

Both she and I say, despite the “dimwit” moves, Strayed’s story  is worth your time.



Jeanette rated it 3 of 5 stars false

3.5 stars

What kind of dimwit would decide to backpack the Pacific Crest Trail alone with zero backpacking experience? Apparently the same kind of dimwit who would try heroin just because the stranger she spent the night with happens to need a fix.

If you can tolerate essence of dingbat and overlook her lousy choices and even lousier excuses for those choices, this is actually an enjoyable read. You have to roll your eyes a lot while working to the point where she hits the trail, but after that it’s quite engaging. I admire her tenacity in finishing what she started, given her cluelessness about backpacking that led to serious mistakes and potentially dangerous miscalculations. If you’ve never backpacked before, use this as a cautionary tale rather than an excuse to be a ditz. Many people with more backpacking savvy than Cheryl have lost their lives through poor planning or just bad luck.

The thing that saves this book is that Cheryl writes well. If I can say without unkindness that there’s a certain charm in her idiocy, this is what makes her story worth reading. And if you have any backpacking stories of your own, you’ll connect with so many of the little things that define the worldwide community of backpackers.