After slogging through this (much like the author trudged across the PCT), I was left with mixed feelings. Did I love it? Hate it? Neither. I would say that I occasionally enjoyed it, but really found myself squinting my eyes at another extremely long rant/paragraph about a topic the author had already talked about ten times.
A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.
Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Coast Trail solo at 22 after the death of her mother, cheating on her husband, and dabbling in drugs. The premise sounded interesting to me, as I loved Eat, Pray, Love and am all for female empowerment and self discovery.
Mostly, I couldn’t help but think Cheryl was a complete idiot for going off on a three-month long solo hike with zero backpacking experience. No, everything she knew about backpacking, she learned from the folk at REI and from her guidebook—which she didn’t read until she started the trail.
She is torn apart from her mother’s recent death, and essentially throws her life into oblivion. She goes on a sex-fueled rampage and cheats on her husband, Paul, whom she married at 18. He’s a pretty awesome guy and hasn’t done anything wrong but support her, so she divorces him to go find herself. He’s pretty cool with it and continues to support her through her hike, though they never get back together.
The last guy she cheated on her husband with was a dude named Joe, who introduced her to heroin. They did a bunch of heroin, she found out she was pregnant, got an abortion, and then decided to hike the PCT.
The entire book is riddled with multiple extremely long passages about these subjects. Just when you thought she was done discussing her two-week stint with heroin, she’s back at it, rambling again. I suspect this is because nothing too crazy happened on the trail, so it felt like filler content.
Sex, drugs, and cancer aside, I loved the bits of the book that talked about her actual journey—the people she met, the places she stopped, the lust for cheeseburgers, the hardships, the fear, the enlightenment—I love every word of it. In fact, despite how terrible the whole experience seemed, it made me want to go on a long hike.
I finally started to love the book about 2/3 in, until I read this passage and decided that yes, this woman is indeed batshit crazy:
When we’d finally laid down the tombstone and spread her ashes into the dirt, I hadn’t spread them all. I’d kept a few of the largest chunks in my hand. I’d stood for a long while, not ready to release them to the earth. I didn’t release them. I never ever would.
I put her burnt bones into my mouth and swallowed them whole.
That’s literally it, and no further explanation is given. Is it literal? Metaphorical? Did she really just swallow her mother’s cremated remains? We will never know.
3/5 on Goodreads, probably wouldn’t recommend. I am interested in seeing the movie, though, to compare the two!