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  • Writer's pictureAlanna Grayce

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Learning how to do the book episodes has been a process. I wanted to do this from the beginning, but had no idea what format to use. As these progress (as with all of our episodes and posts), you will see an evolution, and hopefully improvement. Wild by Cheryl Strayed was our first "Book Club" subject.

For this, I found some incredible discussion questions from the Princeton Book Review’s website, some of which I'm using to facilitate this discussion. I’m going to go through some of these questions and talk through my opinions.

So, to begin, why did Cheryl choose to hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

I think that Cheryl needed a way to find independence through a physical and mental challenge. She had always had people to turn to for guidance or for support, it seems, and she had realized that in some ways that had crippled her emotional growth. Not enough people learn how to survive on their own- it's something you should know how to do, but ideally never have to do, you know?

But also, I think in some ways Cheryl is a romantic- and the idea of the trail and the freedom and the many incredible things she would see- and the pride of accomplishment that would come with it- was very appealing to her. Which I totally get, because I have certainly had those moments in life. I flew to Japan alone to meet up with my cousin in Tokyo: that was an incredible experience, and did so much for my confidence and independence. Same same but different.

Fear is a major theme throughout Cheryl’s narrative: how is that directly related to her story?

Cheryl seems to have lived through many different traumatic experiences, with of course the most traumatic being the loss of her mother. This sends her into a spiral- I can't imagine, honestly. The fear and anxiety and feelings of loss that come with that, and then her subsequent actions, those are all things that she doesn’t know how to deal with. Going on the trail and having to face physical fears head on seems to be a way of teaching herself how to focus on the task at hand and face it, even when you’re scared, because it’s necessary to your moving on. Physically and emotionally, you know?

Cheryl is honest about her mistakes, but she doesn’t seem ashamed. Why?

Much the same way that I have always tried to be honest with myself and others about mistakes that I’ve made, even when I’ve been embarrassed to admit I made a bad decision or whatever- those were decisions that she made and you have to embrace that to learn and grow from them. Plus, if you love any part of yourself you have to at least be at peace with your past actions- because those are the things that made you exactly who you are now.

How does Cheryl’s gender play into things in this PCT world that’s outside of the constructs of “normal society”?

I think it’s interesting- on the trail, it seemed it was more heavily hiked by men than women. So because Cheryl is a woman, she becomes REVERED on the trail for her bravery and her strength… especially once people meet her physically. They get excited when they see her name on the trail yeah, but once they meet her and see the condition of her feet, the weight of her pack, and realize that this is basically her first hike they are so impressed with her physical strength, but also her emotional strength to power through the pain and to learn as she goes.

Does the hike help her get over Paul? Also, why is that a question we’re even focusing on?

I wanted to answer this question, and end the questions on this one, for two reasons. First, yes. I firmly believe the hike helped her get over her ex-husband Paul, because Paul was her crutch. She loved him and he loved her but he was always there to pick her up, and even though we love that about him, that’s not what Cheryl needed because she needed to grow and become stronger on her own.

That’s what the hike taught her, ya know? To rely on herself, to ask for help when necessary and to know her limits and when to push past them. But it made her challenge herself physically and emotionally in ways that she may not have otherwise. Plus, I think the hike was the catalyst for significant amounts of self growth and change that wouldn’t have been possible if Paul was still there to do things for her, to pick her up when she fell. She had to learn to do that on her own.

Second, I want to say that Paul was an important part of Cheryl's life, absolutely. As such, I respect the role he played in her personal journey. I want to make sure people don’t think the whole thing was about him, though, and that she had to go on this hike to get over him- because that was most certainly not the case. She went on the hike to grow, and getting over Paul and coming to peace with their new relationship to one another was just one of many triumphs Cheryl experienced. BUT it was not the whole shebang.

My three favorite excerpts are on these pages, btw:

pg. 186

pg. 281

pg. 311

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