I was 93rd in line to borrow this book from the library. 93rd! As many of you know, this was chosen for Oprah’s current book club book. Which made me think, really? This book is really about hiking?
And it was about hiking. The tales that Strayed tells of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail are enchanting– and the people she meets are endearing. She hikes through snow, she encounters rattlesnakes, bears, she loses her hiking boots and hikes for miles in sandals held together by duct tape. She encounters many individuals both on the trail and off that are delightful to meet in these pages. (And she gives mad props to the people at REI– which of course I love!)
But a large part of the book is devoted to her memoirs. She sets out on the trail because she is at a lowest of low points. She lost her mother to cancer, got divorced, started using heroine, had an abortion. I have to admit, 40 pages into the book, covering her backstory, I had to put it down. Perhaps it was because I had just finished Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (which was hilarious! totally recommend!), and I was not prepared for this serious heavy stuff. And I was sad for her. There seems to be little redeeming in these events, and Strayed makes no effort to gloss over them. One particular paragraph that felt a little too honest involved Strayed describing her desire to have sex with her mom’s male nurse who wouldn’t give her more morphine to somehow get him more emotionally involved in their situation. Like I said, she is brutally honest.
But while I shuddered at what her honesty wrote about her past, I loved what it did to her story on the trail. She does not simply hike and find her problems solved. She deals with doubt, wonder, impatience, and slow, imperceptible triumph in a way that is riveting. She tells both the momentous and tedious moments on trail; how her callouses harden over time, how she is sick of eating the same granola for three months, how she would hike for miles only thinking about the jumbled up mix tape of songs rolling through her mind. We travel with her as she finally hits her stride as a hiker, as she learns what she needs and what she doesn’t. As she learns how to not be afraid. Slowly, moment by rare moment, almost unknowingly, she faces the demons that followed her out onto the trail. She doesn’t tell the story, write the book, until fifteen years later. It is only then, it seems, that the transformative power of her adventure becomes evident.
It makes me want to do a thru-hike, that is for sure. I saw a Pacific Crest Trail handbook at the book store yesterday and admired it, which is how Strayed’s story starts. But for now, I am happy to have encountered this book and story. And of course, I returned it to the library as quickly as possible; I am sure there are another 93 people waiting in line.