The Book That Made Me Buy New Shoes: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild

You Might Like This Book If You…

  • feel there are truths to be found by spending time in the wilderness
  • enjoy memoirs of women/young people coming into their own
  • have ever fantasized about a solo trip
  • want to know the things that can go wrong on your fantasy solo trip, but also what can make the hardships of that journey worth it
  • needed someone to tell you that your shoes are too small, and that foot health matters

The Story

Four years after her mother died from cancer, Cheryl Strayed found herself divorced and addicted to heroin. At one of her low points, she spotted The Pacific Crest Trail Volume 1: California while waiting in line. And so she decided to take on an 1100-mile hike from Southern California to The Bridge of the Gods at the Oregon-Washington border.

She learns early on that she was not properly prepared for the hike: her pack is too heavy, her boots are too small, she doesn’t have all the right equipment or know how to use all the gear that she has correctly. But she keeps moving forward because there were only two options when she faced hardship on the trail: “I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go.” Strayed learns to survive through connecting with others that she meets on the trail, and by pushing herself to her very limits.

My Review

Thanks to this book, I have new shoes. I hadn’t realized that my feet had grown wider after my pregnancy. I had just gotten so used to my feet hurting all the time–between my pregnancy, the concrete floors at work, and the stone tile at home–that I hadn’t questioned it. I figured that this was what it meant to be in my 30s, that my body starts hurting and falling apart and I can’t do anything about it.

Then Strayed started complaining about her feet on the trail. Her pain mirrored mine. So when she realized she needed new shoes, so did I.

If that’s not a reason to read more, I don’t know what is. I’ve never had a book improve my health in this way, but this has. But I don’t think that’s what Strayed was going for.

Strayed’s tale is a humble but empowering one. She learns early on that she doesn’t know what she’s doing, and her growth is so gradual that even she is unaware of it until she starts talking to others about her epic journey. By the end, both she and the reader are left feeling a sense of intense accomplishment.

I know many women who have told me that this book ranks among their most beloved literary works. Now I see why. The determination with which Strayed faces every obstacle is one that can easily be taken off the hiking trail and applied to everyday life.

As women, we are taught from birth to always be cautious, not to trust anyone or anything, even not to trust or believe in our own bodies. So for a woman to tell a story of going out into the wilderness on her own at the age of 26, tackling an 1100-mile hike that challenged experienced male hikers, learning the secrets of hiking from strangers that soon became her trail family, and doing it all while relying on herself, her body, and her preparedness–that is empowering.

I listened to the end of this book while hacking through a garden project in the Texas sun, knowing I was exhausting myself, but pretending I was Cheryl Strayed, Resident Badass. I got through my task with joy. At the end of her journey, I had a beer while she had an ice cream. It felt like we did it together.

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