I just finished reading the book Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, and I was so moved by the many life lessons within the pages. If I were to write it all in one blog, it would be way too long. So I’m breaking them down and sharing them a little at a time.
To get you on board, Wild is a memoir of Cheryl, who suddenly lost her mother to lung cancer when she was 22. Following her death, Cheryl was desperately trying to keep her family together, just as her mother did, but soon realized that she could not. Slowly, her brother and sister became distant, and her stepfather, whom she learned to love as a daddy, also disappeared from her life. Cheryl spend the next few years going from state to state, sleeping with men, getting involved with drugs, and ultimately ruined what should have been a perfect marriage between her and her husband. When she finally got divorced, Cheryl had lost everyone she had loved and accepted as family, including herself. With nothing more to lose, she made an impulsive decision to hike over 1100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail for 3 months, and spending every last dollar she had on the journey.
This book was so much more powerful than I thought it would be. You really get to go through her healing process alongside her, one step at a time. You get to see how nature forced her to her knees, made her bleed, drained her dry, but ultimately strengthened her.
What I found interesting and funny was that when she first decided to take on this adventure, she pictured herself reflecting on her mistakes and fully, relentlessly grieving her mother. She imagined pondering beneath the stars at night, occasionally crying her heart out, and having deep contemplation about life while overlooking the beautiful lakes and mountains.
But none of that happened.
When reality hit, all she could think about were the painful blisters on her feet, how her backpack had rubbed her shoulders raw and how she was hungry and tired and thirsty. She kept her mind on potential rattlesnakes, bears and foxes. She was thinking of tasty meals that she couldn’t have, and how unappetizing her dried foods tasted. She longed for a shower and bed.
She had no time to think about her life. When night time hit, she longed only to hide in her tent, out of the open and sleep her exhaustion away. But she realized that since she began her hike, she hadn’t shed a single tear in weeks.
The healing had begun even without her awareness of it. That simply forcing your mind to think about overcoming the physical challenges of the present, pushing your body beyond its capacity and soaking your clothes with sweat, was enough to make her feel purposeful and alive again.
When she started out, she had a huge backpack that weighed more than half her weight. It was so heavy that she couldn’t lift it up. It took her entire body strength to get it on her back and she had to hunched forward as to not fall backwards. At that moment, she could have easily dropped the idea and quit. But she knew she had to somehow pick it up. That for this journey to work, she needed to carry the weight that she couldn’t bear.
She later nicknamed her backpack “Monster” and she realized right there that with all the weight of her life on her shoulders, she was still able to carry on. She was surviving.
Week after week, her toenails started falling off, her body was bruised and rough all over, she got more and more filthy. The hike has broken her down completely, but in the midst, has also built her back up. She was firmer, stronger and healthier in every way. When the weight of your life becomes unbearably heavy, you become stronger by bearing it anyway.
Read Part 2: Why It’s Okay to be Lost