Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wild: a book review

Don't you just love to pick up a book and be hooked by the first chapter?  You had me at:  "My boot was gone.  Actually gone."

The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California. Moments before, I'd removed my hiking boots and the left one had fallen into those trees … disappearing into the forest canopy below, impossible to retrieve. My boot was gone. Actually gone.

Cheryl Strayed had never been hiking, never been overnight camping.  She saw a guidebook for the Pacific Crest Trail while standing in a checkout line.  She found it interesting, put the book back on the shelf and went on.  But the idea took root in her mind, waiting for the right time to appear, which happened to be about four years later when she was at rock bottom, searching for answers.  

I returned and bought the book. The Pacific Crest Trail wasn't a world to me then. It was an idea, vague and outlandish, full of promise and mystery. Something bloomed inside me as I traced its jagged line with my finger on a map.  I would walk that line, I decided…
She bought all the recommended equipment and packed her backpack, only to find she could not lift it.   Weighing more than half her weight, she dubbed the pack Monster and proceeded to bear its weight on her slumped shoulders.  Along the way the pack's size and weight diminished slowly along with the personal burdens she was carrying. 

My pack rose up like a mantle behind me, towering several inches above my head, and gripped me like a vise all the way down to my tailbone.  It felt pretty awful, and yet perhaps this was how it felt to be a backpacker. I didn't know.  I only knew that it was time to go, so I opened the door and stepped into the light.

The hike of over 1100 miles and later the book about her experience were both part of personal catharsis to work out issues with the death of her mother from cancer, and a few other little personal issues like divorce and abortion and heroin use.

I tend to avoid drama like the plague in books, TV, movies, thinking that there is enough drama already in my world, why add more?  But on the other hand, sometimes watching or reading about other people's problems makes yours not seem so bad.  I love to read about hiking adventures and admittedly I skipped over most of the drama parts… just reading the hiking parts.  What?  It is allowed. 

Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told.  I decided I was safe.  I was strong.  I was brave.

Cheryl writes this about Fear on her first day on the trail. She is talking about her fear of rattlesnakes and mountain lions and serial killers.  Boy does that sound familiar.  I won't hike alone for fear of snakes and bears, just to name a couple of excuses, I have many more.

I gazed at my bare and battered feet, with their smattering of remaining toenails. They were ghostly pale to the line a few inches above my ankles, where the wool socks I usually wore ended. My calves above them were muscled and golden and hairy, dusted with dirt and a constellation of bruises and scratches. I considered my options. There was only one, I knew. There was always only one.  To keep walking.
I am an armchair hiker.  I love to read stories of long-distance hikers, their stamina, courage, confidence, persistence.  I cheer them on to reach their goals.  I mourn the loss of their toenails.  I share their joys of simple things like ice cream and trail magic.  I envy their toned muscles, clear minds, strong backs.  There are many reasons people do long distance hikes - the reasons are as varied as the people themselves, and of course the reason is a big part of their stories. 

I got to the end of this story and found discussion questions and answers by Oprah (this happened to be an Oprah Book Club copy).  Some good points were made, maybe I should go back and read it more closely.  Or maybe I will wait for the movie, rumor has it that Reese Witherspoon's production company has purchased the movie rights.

An adventure and a half, great vacation reading - and did I mention it is a true story? 


Gypsy Quilter said...

That sounds like a good book. Thanks for sharing.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

My favorite part: "I skipped over most of the drama parts… just reading the hiking parts. What? It is allowed." Oh, yeah! Reading a book is not about making sure you've gotten all the "facts" down pat, but enjoying the reading experience. I'm glad you experienced this book and skipped all "the drama" that didn't interest you.

And now I may have to read the book myself -- to discover what she did about that runaway (with the help of gravity) boot. I'm quit sure she didn't hike one-booted a thousand miles. Or even a hundred.

Good review!

The Jones Family said...

Ok, I think I am hooked too and am going to have to get this book. I am what would probably be called a "novice hiker" but this book sounds like one I would like. Thanks for the review.