Wild: Lessons from Cheryl Strayed’s Memoir

Wild is the 2012 memoir of the American author Cheryl Strayed. It detailed her journey of self-discovery as she took a 1,100 mile solo-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, starting in the Mojave Desert in California and finishing at the Bridge of Gods in Washington.

Since then Strayed has been portrayed in a film adaptation by Reese Witherspoon in 2014.

I read the book over a couple of days as I sat in my family home in UK. The memoir is incredibly vulnerable, truthful and poetic. Cheryl’s story is a moving one, and at times tragic.

Strayed was only 22-years-old when her non-smoking mother was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. Her mother’s rapid decline in health and subsequent death dispersed her family, and Strayed ended her marriage after engaging in affairs with multiple men. Her previous motivation and her will to look after herself slowly ebbed away, and she started using heroin with a new lover named Joe.

It was only after stumbling on a Pacific Crest Trail guidebook in a store that she decided to go on this epic and dangerous journey of self-discovery. To her credit, she bought the guidebook, slowly saved up to buy all her hiking gear, and navigated the wilderness (with the extensive help of strangers) to finally reach her destination after over three months of walking.

One of the most memorable scenes in the book is when Strayed decided that she has to put down Lady, her dead mother’s frail old horse. Her stepfather had stopped taking responsibility of the horses and had remarried and moved his new wife’s children into the house where Strayed had grown up just a few years before.

She was too broke to have a vet give an lethal injection, as she had spent all her money on equipment to hike the PCT. So after some advice, she decided that best way would be to shoot Lady in the head. After leading Lady out to the perimeter of the farm, she found the courage to pull the trigger. But Lady didn’t die right away. Lady writhed in pain and the solemn, sad eyes of the horse stared at Strayed as she was shot another two times and died slowly. It was tragic.

The biggest lesson I took from Strayed’s memoir was to make me think of the responsibilities of having a death in the family. Strayed’s brother, sister and stepfather all shirked responsibility after her mother’s death, and it was too much for Strayed to handle by herself.

Strayed lost her marriage, had an abortion, took drugs and hiked the PCT; and even though she had the will to find a way through those struggles and eventually fulfil her dream of being a writer with a loving family, I am sure that others in the same downward spiral would have perished.

Wild is as much a cautionary tale as it is an uplifting journey of self-discovery.