It has been a long time since I read a book I enjoyed as much as “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed. For the last year or so, I’ve been on a non-fiction kick, reading about economics, exploring the science of food and diving into the senses of a dog. But even before that, I really don’t recall the last time I connected to a novel as much as I did “Wild”—maybe in high school when I read Megan McCafferty’s series following my sweet Jessica Darling through her teenage trials and triumphs.
Not only is “Wild” well written, but I found many points of connection with Cheryl (the novel’s author and main character). That’s not to say we’ve shared all the same experiences:
- She struggled with drug addiction
- She lost her mother at the young age of 23
- She divorced her sweetheart and best friend
- She hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, solo no less
But, then there are the similarities:
- We’re both writers
- We both grew up without a fathers
- We were both raised by a magnificent mother
- We’ve both accomplished things we’d never thought ourselves possible of
But beyond the obvious, easy-to-point-out aspects of our lives that make us similar, there’s just something about Cheryl that makes me feel a connection to her. Maybe that’s what makes her such a talented writer, being able to invoke such an overwhelming emotional connection as I absorb the pages of her writing.
There’s no doubt that Cheryl’s and my life are far from parallel. Our struggles that led us to similar places differ greatly: Physical versus emotional. However, I think we’ve both fought with the other’s struggle. But I’ve found that pain, no matter how inflicted, tends to evoke similar responses in people. There’s the fight or flight response, both on impact and after the pain has struck, once it’s time to actually deal with it.
So, let me get to the point of all this. The reason why I’m bothering to draw all of these comparisons. For the last two-and-a-half years, I’ve been embarking on physical feats I never thought possible of myself. And along the way, I’ve had many people ask me why. A lot of friends and family have given me quizzical looks when I explained to them what my next obstacle to overcome would be. And I’ve come to the realization that most don’t understand. Well, there’s one section in “Wild” that, for me, perfectly explained what I’d been wanting to say:
This—the hardest thing I’d ever done.
I stopped in my tracks when that thought came into my mind, that hiking the PCT was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Immediately, I amended the thought. Watching my mother die and having to live without her, that was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Leaving Paul and destroying our marriage and life as I knew it for the simple and inexplicable reason that I felt I had to—that had been hard as well. But hiking the PCT was hard in a different way. In a way that made the other hardest things the tiniest bit less hard. It was strange but true. And perhaps I’d known it in some way from the very beginning. Perhaps the impulse to purchase the PCT guidebook months before had been a primal grab for a cure, for the thread of my life that had been severed.
I could feel it unspooling behind me—the old thread I’d lost, the new one I was spinning—while I hiked that morning, the snowy peaks of the High Sierras coming into occasional view.