Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the evening with Cheryl Strayed – along with about 450 others.
Strayed, author of New York Times Bestselling memoir, Wild, was the recipient of the prestigious Art of Fact Award from my alma mater, The College at Brockport, State University of New York, in recognition of her excellence in literary nonfiction.
I read Wild last year when it was all I seemed to keep hearing about. Strayed tells the story of her solo 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail with no training or hiking experience. Her impulsive decision to hike the trail came after her own failed marriage and the sudden death of her mother which left her family shattered.
It becomes remarkably clear how ill-prepared she is for her hike before she even gets to the trail, when she finds herself unable to even lift her backpack. As I was reading, I found myself wondering what she was thinking, hiking alone? As she hikes through mountain, desert and snow, I was shaking my head in disbelief that she kept going. In her filthy Bob Marley t-shirt, despite the blisters and the loss of several of her toe nails she kept hiking with her destination in mind. I continued reading, knowing I could never have endured the challenges of the Pacific Crest Trail, and certainly I could not have done it alone.
My favorite parts of Wild are the sections in which she talks of her mother. I was devastated, sobbing as I read the passage where she describes losing her mom. It was some of the most heart-wrenching writing I have ever read.
What I realized, listening to Strayed speak about her book, was that she never had one, life-changing “Aha moment” on her hike. I think, as a reader, I expected this single moment of realization that is so often found in these sorts of stories. She explained that it was a journey, both inside and outside, of coming to terms with her life. I had my own Aha moment in hearing her describe her journey this way.
Strayed is often asked why she waited so long to write about her hike and she said she had to learn to be the writer who could write this book. On her website she writes, “It took me years of apprenticing myself to the craft before I could write a book.” She also says time gave her the perspective she needed in order to write about the experience. As a writer, it’s encouraging to realize that our experiences, while they may be initially difficult to write about, can make great material down the road.
Have you read Wild? What did you think?
If you haven’t yet read Wild I highly recommend it.
For more about Cheryl Strayed and her books, visit her website www.CherylStrayed.com