This is another of my loose interpretations of the letter of the day. "Long Trails" is a topic, and only in part the topic of the book I'm reviewing:
Title: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Author: Cheryl Strayed
Publisher: Knopf, 2012 (paperback Vintage Books, 2013). 315 pages.
On one level, this is the story of Cheryl Strayed's thousand-mile hike on (and off) the Pacific Crest Trail. More accurately, it is the story of the way she used the PCT to get her head together and stop ruining her life. It is much less a narrative of the Trail than the other books of this sort I reviewed not long ago.
As noted, this is a book about Cheryl Strayed's journey from self-destructive lost girl to--well, we can only infer from her brief resume of her post-trail life that she pulled herself together into something. As a narrative of introspection, the book is pretty good, though the tone drifts over into the "poor me" a little too much (on the other hand: she had plenty to feel sorry for herself about, though much was her own fault).
As a narrative of a Long Trail (there are several designated Long Trails in the US, but the longest are the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail), it reminds me a bit of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods (not necessarily a good thing). You want to laugh out loud at the absurdity of some of the things Strayed does, and grit your teeth at the stupidity and naivete that goes hiking off into the wilderness with no more understanding of backpacking than I have of Hungarian.
Many of my backpacker friends hate this book. They object to how much time Strayed spends telling us about her journey to the bottom so that her need to hike the trail makes sense, and they object to her incredible ignorance about the hike itself. I say that both of those things are immaterial. The book is not about hiking at all. It's about grieving and healing and growing up. It takes a long time, and the journey is painful to watch. When Strayed goes off for a one-night stand in a town along the trail, I want to slap her face. I would have appreciated less detail at that point, too. But I get it.
This is one Trail narrative I would recommend more for those who don't hike and aren't much interested in hiking, than to those who do and are. It's an easy and compelling read, but it's not really about the PCT. And it's certainly no guide for either hiking or life.
Full Disclosure: I was given a copy of Wild by a family member, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."