Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

November 21, 2016
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail Book Cover Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Cheryl Strayed
March 20th, 2012

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
(via Goodreads)


One of my best friends is a HUGE traveler. She is also quite a reader and reads a lot of travelogues. That is how I discovered Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. My own feelings for travelogues is mixed. But, when someone I knew decided to hike the PCT this summer, I knew I had to read this book. And I’m glad I did.


Pacific Crest Trail Map

Cheryl Strayed has had a rough few years. Particularly after the death of her mother, she began to make a lot of poor life decisions. Everything from cheating on her husband to heroin to a divorce. Things just were falling further and further out of reach and control for her. Then one day, Cheryl was in line at REI and saw a book titled The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume 1: California while she was waiting in line. With nothing to lose, Cheryl decided “Hell with it.” She sold everything she owned, grabbed a backpack, and decided to hike solo from Mojave, CA to the Bridge of the Gods at the OR/WA border. Her goal? Get her life straightening out. This journey would take her 94 days and be filled with the unexpected.

Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.

I imagine most travelogues on a spectrum. On one end, we have Eat, Pray, Love. The focus is on the philosophical and spiritual journey, relationships, and a smattering of places. The other end, we have A Walk in the Woods. Here the focus is the physical journey, the people sharing this journey, and the occasionally philosophical or personal reflection. I expected Wild (for some reason) to be closer to Bill Bryson’s works. I was mistaken. While not on the far end of the spectrum with Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl’s story was reflective of the events which pushed her to undertake this journey as well as the physical act of hiking.


Lakeview Ridge

What I appreciate most about Cheryl’s reflections of those incidents is that she describes these life experiences without trying to rationalize or explain her mistakes. She isn’t proud of the way she has acted in these situations, but she isn’t apologetic either. Cheryl addresses that in the moment she acted on what she thought was best at the time. While that’s not what other people would think of as “best”, that doesn’t matter. And this frankness follows her onto the PCT. We meet a critical character early on: “Monster”. Monster is the backpack Cheryl takes on the journey with her. Only, she didn’t really know much about backpacking before she left– so Monster weighs a TON. Cheryl owns this mistake and carries it (literally) with her on the whole trip. They don’t always get along, but Cheryl’s acceptance of how her own actions and decisions will shape her trip allow her to persevere in the worst of conditions.

The universe, I’d learned, was never, ever kidding. It would take whatever it wanted and it would never give it back.


Cheryl and Monster on the PCT

My favorite parts of Cheryl’s story always had to do with the interactions she had with others. Hiking the PCT solo doesn’t mean you’re in the woods for 1200 miles all alone. Over her journey, Cheryl ran into many people which both helped and hindered her journey. Most people helped. It was lovely hearing the stories of how humanity is loving and caring. But, not all people helped.

There was one portion of Cheryl’s story that really resonated with me. When she ends up off the PCT for a brief time and runs into two gentlemen… and suddenly Cheryl doesn’t feel safe. I was incredibly moved by the way she clearly articulated her experience. I have never before experienced such a resonant reaction to the fear and anxiety of being in such a situation. I have been there.

Sierra Nevadas

Sierra Nevadas

While listening to the audiobook I was terrified for her, but I could also hear myself saying, “Yes! Exactly! That’s exactly how I feel!” I want to buy my own physical copy of this book just so I can carry it around and share this with my male friends who cannot relate or do not understand this experience. I feel like these life experiences really ended up defining me as a person and controlling a good portion of my life. Plus, the psychological aftereffects of moments like this and how they follow you for days… Thank you, Cheryl, for articulating this for those of us who have not been able to.


I knew that if I allow fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. 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. Nothing could vanquish me.

In the end, I’m glad I read this book. I learned a lot about hiking and the PCT. It really restored my faith in humanity quite a bit, as well. I strongly recommend this to anyone interested in travelogues for sure– just know there will be a lot of flashbacks.

3 stars

What do you think?

  • Do you read many travelogues? What is your opinion of the genre? Any you’d recommend, or suggest to avoid?
  • Did you see the film Wild starring Reese Whetherspoon? What did you think? If you read the book as well, can you compare them?
  • Do you go hiking? Have you ever done anything like this? What was your experience like?


  • LizScanlon November 21, 2016 at 10:23 am

    This sounds intense and interesting… I love hiking, absolutely love hiking and in my previous.. well.. past life I have had many hitch-hiking travels across my home country Estonia where I met so many fabulous and horrible people so I can only imagine what all happens during Cheryl’s trip.
    I haven’t seen the movie… I think the fact Whetherspoon was acting put me off.. all I can see with her is Legally Blonde.. and, yes there’s a good moral to the Legally Blonde but it’s just -gag- for me with all the fluff and pink.. WHICH of course cannot be said for Wild. So, my lesson learnt here! 😀

    PS! Loved the way you hide the spoiler in your blog. Such a funky piece of capability! 😉

    • Jackie B November 21, 2016 at 5:17 pm

      You are braver than I to have ‘ventured into the world of hitchhiking! Most of Cheryl’s stories are positive ones, thankfully. Are the majority of your hitchhiking stories positive? I hope so! Anything extra exciting worth sharing? I do love a good story. 🙂
      And thanks for <3-ing my spoiler functionality! I really adore it, since sometimes the best parts of the stories to address are the spoilery parts. Its saved my butt many times.

      • LizScanlon November 22, 2016 at 3:52 am

        Ha, yes, brave definitely, but hitching was also a necessity for me when I was a student… when you’re broke then hitching is like the best way to travel to/from school/home…
        Yes, I had many positive meetings with people. Thankfully, also more positive than negative.
        I think my most memorable hitching stories would be:
        1. an older man who was just such a trickster. he would ask questions from me about teachers etc and then bluff such believable lies about the teachers I truly believed he knew them all… of course he admitted that he was just having fun in the end. I was mind blown for the rest of the day 😀
        2. Hitching in the middle of nowhere, 160KM to go until I got home, 2 young men stopped for me… of course there’s a little hesitant part of you… especially when the car is a 3 door… they saw my fear of them, and before I got in the car they explained to me that they were actually travelling south to a party, they rang their girlfriends just to verify to me that they were legit and then while on the phone, they told their GF’s that they’re going to be a bit late because they’re taking a detour… the lads decided to take a 100km detour basically to drop me off in my home village.. that was – wow!- for me. They were really nice and not predatory at all! … and
        3. i once took a hiking trip alone in the eastern part of Estonia where Russian culture is quite alive. after sleeping in a tent in some pine forest for 3 days (because I was exhausted from having worked and going to school non stop for the past 3 months) I was trying to get back home.. of course i didn’t have a map so I just walked without knowing where the hell I was going but it felt like such freedom, you know?… I probably doubled up the mileage for my legs by walking in circles for a while but a van full of Russian men picked me up eventually.. we couldn’t understand each other but when I said the name of the town I was heading for they kindly dropped me into the closest bus stop so I could take a bus back home instead of hitching! 😀 best day of my life!

        • Jackie B November 24, 2016 at 12:49 pm

          I am soooo thankful you had more positive than negative experiences while hitching! I really respect that you wanted to attend school and succeed enough to hitch back and forth. That’s really impressive! I am not that brave. I love your stories– these are really memorable. Perhaps you could write a travelogue some day based on your own experiences? I know I would read it. These stories in particular are so uplifting. There is goodness in humanity!

          • LizScanlon November 24, 2016 at 2:39 pm

            thanks! yeah, I guess I really do have a ton of hitching stories I could compile into a travelogue…there’s an idea!
            you’re right, there truly is good in humans… it’s a pity that one act of evil has as much weight than a 100 good experiences… funny how that works.

  • Rebecca November 21, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    I really loved this book.I enjoyed her struggle and the journey she took on her own initiative to dig her way out. I am more intrigued by the fact you also hiked the PCT! WOW!
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
    Follow me on Bloglovin’

    • Jackie B November 21, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Rebecca!
      Sadly, no, I did not hike the PCT myself. But one of my girl friends did. I am definitely not that brave or into the outdoors. She said it was an AMAZING experience and completely, 100% recommended it to everyone. But, I don’t think it’s for me. I’ll do my travel via books. 🙂

  • Books, Vertigo and Tea November 21, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    I absolutely loved this book! It truly resonated with me. When I wrote my review, I really struggled. You however, have done a fantastic job here. I think you have truly captured a lot of Cheryl and the story in your review <3

    • Jackie B November 21, 2016 at 5:18 pm

      Aw, thanks Danielle! That’s a huge compliment coming from you– I think you do a great job with your reviews! Can you post a link to your review? (I found it on your blog, but I definitely want others to compare and contrast!)

  • hmills96 November 22, 2016 at 6:48 am

    Why are travelogues so fun to read? I love them, and I always convince myself that some day, I too, will set off on some grand adventure…even though that will mean actually closing the book and moving from my couch. Someday. Maybe tomorrow, even. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I loved this book!

    • Jackie B November 24, 2016 at 10:07 am

      Thanks for stopping by!
      I guess I don’t really dream of a grand adventure myself, but I love the idea of it. I am all about staying on my couch and reading instead. 😉 If you want to leave me a pile of books and go on your adventure, I’ll debrief you when you return. 🙂

  • Laila@BigReadingLife November 22, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    I loved this book, and I finally saw the movie a couple of months ago and thought it was a terrific adaptation. Totally made me bawl! Cheryl Strayed is just really cool, but in her younger days she did a LOT of uncool things. It’s kind of amazing how much a person can change.

    • Jackie B November 24, 2016 at 11:00 am

      It really is amazing how much people can change. I am trying to keep that in mind as more and more news covers hate crimes on some level. I have faith we can change as a society.
      I am glad that you enjoyed the film! I will have to check it out, then. I love a good adaptation.

  • Grab the Lapels November 27, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    I tried the audio book and hated the narrator’s voice. Strayed is supposed to be 23, but the voice sounded elderly me, so I bought a copy of the book and read it. While there are fantastic parts the book that didn’t make it to the movie, I liked the movie better. I reviewed both if you’re interested! Grab the Lapels has a search box with which you can look the reviews up.

    • Jackie B November 28, 2016 at 10:46 am

      I thought I was going to struggle and give up when I first started listening to the audiobook as well. Bernadette Dunne is NOT a great choice for this narrator, but by the time I finished the book I understood it. I didn’t realize that Cheryl wrote this story decades after her trip. I think that Dunn’s more sagely tone is appropriate understanding this self-reflection. Yet, I agree that a more emotionally vibrant narrator would have improved the story.
      I should totally see the movie if you liked it better! Thanks for pointing that out. 🙂

      • Grab the Lapels November 28, 2016 at 6:13 pm

        I could imagine Reese Witherspoon doing the audio book, even. I thought about how Strayed is older when she wrote the book, but I couldn’t get into how the story feels so present, but the voice sounds far into the future. Definitely get the movie!

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom November 27, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    Obviously I heard about this one after the film adaptation came out. I tried Eat, Pray, Love, but could not get through it. I actually grew up going backpacking with my family. My father was a backpacking instructor here in Ohio, and every year (as part of the class) he would take the class (and us) on a backpacking trip in Montana or Wyoming. I cannot imagine doing this journey solo. I was terrified at the solitude of it all and I was with a large group of people!

    Was this narrated by the author herself?

  • Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel November 29, 2016 at 11:52 pm

    Great review. Glad you enjoyed the read. I have read very few travelogues. I have seen the movie by Reese Witherspoon. I think I took the easy way out

Participate in the discussion!

%d bloggers like this: