I recently finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I gather that it’s a pretty popular title, especially after appearing in Oprah’s Book Club, but I picked out the title from my local library because it was available and because it was about hiking. I was at the beginning of a summer where I anticipated a lot of hiking while visiting a number of the United States’ National Parks, even though I wasn’t going all the way out west, to the Pacific Crest Trail. It just felt like it would be a fun, easy read. To my surprise, however, this memoir actually packs in a lot of deep soul-searching and processing of family dysfunction and grief. So, it wasn’t exactly the book that I thought I was getting myself into. Still, I’m glad I got the chance to give it a read.

What’s interesting to me is that the author of this book chose to hike the Pacific Crest Trail for many of the same reasons that I chose to read the book. She saw a book about it on a shelf, thought it would be a fun experience, and grabbed onto the trek as a sort of escape. In the case of Cheryl Strayed, her mother had died just a couple of years previously, she had gone through a divorce, and she was slipping in and out of addiction to heroin. She latched onto an 1,100-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest as an alternative adventure — and maybe also (subconsciously) as a pilgrimage.

She tells the story in a way that involves plenty of the trail-side adventures and misadventures that I had come to expect, like learning to deal with the staggering weight of her backpack and evading bears and snakes and such. But she also weaves in a lot of her own personal processing about the loss of her mother and her marriage. It’s really kind of beautiful — and relatable — how she weaves it all together in the story of a geographical journey and an emotional journey.

I appreciated the story as a way to help process my own struggles with caring for my aging parents and all the other day-to-day pressures of marriage, parenthood, and the pastorate. And I felt inspired by the story to start looking more meaningfully into the possibility of doing a long-distance trek of my own at some point: maybe the Pacific Crest Trail… maybe the Appalachian Trail… maybe the Camino de Santiago… or, most likely, the Buckeye Trail. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to do this on my next sabbatical; perhaps it will be something that I pursue when I reach retirement. But either way, I found this book to be stimulating and enjoyable.

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