Cheryl Strayed had a rather horrific childhood with an abusive father, who hit her when she was barely a toddler, a mother who kept going back to him but who finally found the strength to leave him for good but who then really struggled to keep the barge afloat. So it isn’t surprising to learn that the bigger version of this abused child has issues.
Grown up Cheryl is deeply flawed. She is serial cheating on her husband, she has never managed to keep a job long enough to go back to university to finish her degree and on top of everything else she is addicted to heroin. But Cheryl isn’t delusional and she wants her life to change for the better. One day she randomly buys a book about the Pacific Crest trail and in the following months this vague idea becomes a real goal. She will hike the PCT all the way to Oregon and when she finally reaches the “Bridge of the Gods” in Oregon, she will move to Portland where she wants to start over has a free, independent strong woman and pursue her dream of becoming a writer.
My Take on the book:
She starts the 2700km long journey with no training whatsoever but her childhood memories of camping and sleeping under the stars. But the reality of hiking 20 miles per day carrying a full bag of equipment is very different. As a complete beginner she over-packed and her backpack is so heavy that she can barely lift it and therefore she nicknames it Monster. Little by little her body gets stronger and she eventually manages to walk between 15 and 17 miles per day. Her walk is her redemption. I personally felt her pain as she lost her nails because the shoes she bought were way too tight. I understand how being in so much pain has an appeal and how she slowly reconnects with her younger, carefree and happy self.
Through the desert of the Sierra Nevada, the forests of California and the snow-capped mountains of Oregon she walks, trying to cover as much ground as possible to survive on 20$ a week and starts reflecting on her past mistakes. I believed that she started enjoying the beauty of the PCT and it is one of the reason she pushed through.
Yes she survived thanks to the kindness of others. All the hikers she met gave her advice. They repacked her bag, left everything she didn’t need in one of the refuge. They taught her how to get rid of the books she no longer need and use the pages as combustible. Eventually she gets stronger and the book goes from being full of self-pity to being a beautiful description of getting over grief, anger and all in all walk the long path of self-forgiveness.
Yes the description of the PCT isn’t accurate, the book isn’t filled with landscapes descriptions but it is still a great book. The author’s style is simple, she is brutally honest and describes things as they are, including her sexual attraction to inappropriate men. To her as time passed, walking the PCT got less hard but it was never easy. She is brave woman and her story is undeniably a very inspirational one. I truly loved her take on the PCT she didn’t make it a typical travel book.