Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found describes the author’s three months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. At first glance, the book may seem a monotonous and straightforward description of the walk, but upon closer examination, it appears to illustrate the mental transformation of Strayed. The author makes the decision to take a long walk during a difficult period of his life, depression. Towards the end of her journey, Strayed is completely rejuvenated, which marks her personal growth. These aspects are characterized by an acceptance of the past, a change in the perception of her body, as well as her relationship with landscapes and animals.
Accepting the Past
The reaching of the author’s geographical goal coincides with her goal of transforming her mental state. Reflections that were possible along the way described in narration made it possible to change not only Strayed’s attitude but her personality in general. The long walk is the perfect activity for heightened introspection, so while traveling the Pacific Crest Trail, the author was able to reflect on her past and regrets. However, throughout the story, Strayed encounters obstacles that impede the process, especially at the beginning. Thus, personal development takes place mainly at the end of the book, whereas at the beginning of the Strayed, she must first acquire physical strength. Moreover, the author had to adapt to the loneliness and slowness of the walking.
In the process of hiking, Strayed has many flashbacks, which are triggered by natural landscapes as she explores her past and experiences in life. This aspect is therapy for her emotional state since she can consider her life in the duration and totality of the past, present, and future. The episode which best illustrates this assumption is the author’s acceptance of the death of his mother. While walking, she manages to remember the events associated with this in the past and moan about it in the present, which also shapes her future. It is noteworthy that Strayed herself notices the mental changes which have occurred to her during the hiking.
Most of these references appear two months after the start of her three-month journey. Having passed the border between California and Oregon, the author remarks, “I’d been in California two months, but it seemed like I’d aged years since I’d stood on Tehachapi Pass alone with my pack and imagined reaching this spot” (Strayed 239). This boundary is, for her, a symbol of progress, in which she is aware of her mental and physical changes. Moreover, this example also illustrates the changing perception of the author’s time, when two months seem like years to her.
The changes which Strayed is observing are so drastic for her that she is surprised that they could have occurred in such a short time. Further, the author notes: “California had altered my vision, but Oregon shifted it again, drew it closer in” (Strayed 263). This aspect is associated with a change in the landscape since in California; she was surrounded by deserts, the forests of Oregon seem to her a “green tunnel” (Strayed 263). Thus, Strayed’s mental state is directly related to the environment, and she can only accept her past in Oregon. The deserts of California can be associated with her past life, which was death and sadness. Most of her flashbacks occur in California, while Oregon, with its living vegetation, marks the abandonment of the old and the adoption of the new for Stayed. Thus, the main mental change that has occurred while traveling the Pacific Crest Trail is the acceptance of the past, which ensures the personal growth of the author.
Changes in Perception of Her Body
Changes in mental state and personal growth for Strayed were not possible without changes in physical condition. A long-distance hike is a challenging activity for the author mainly because of her feet, which represent an obstacle for her. Constant traumas which the author encounters while walking bring her pain, which does not allow her to focus on self-reflection fully. Thus, at the beginning of the journey, the body is the main obstacle for the Strayed and slows the process. It is untrained and unprepared for such an activity, which shows how much effort the author has to put in to achieve her goal. This unpreparedness translates into a variety of things, including the inability to use a compass, a backpack that is too heavy, not enough money, or a spare shoe that is too small. However, the author notes that she could not have prepared better since: “I was a big fat idiot, and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing” (Strayed 58). Thus, Strayed is aware of his physical imperfection and strives to change it by taking long walking.
Physiological changes reflect her mental transformation when she is able to overcome her own depression. The author notes that “Basking in the attention of the people who gathered around me, I didn’t just feel like a backpacking expert. I felt like a hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen” (Strayed 202). This example shows how proud she became after overcoming physical and mental challenges. During the journey, the author’s body quickly transformed, acquiring strength and endurance, which also reflects Strayed’s perception of time. She could not expect that just three months would be able to rid her of her dislike for her physical condition and the obstacles associated with it.
Landscape and Animals
Just as the landscapes reflect the internal changes taking place with the author on the trail, so the animals with which she meets illustrate her transformation. “I lay quiet but awake for a while,… listening to the songs of birds I couldn’t name. I only knew that the sound of them had become familiar to me” (Strayed 140). This example illustrates how Strayed has adapted to its new state. She does not live in the past, but reflects on the present, and observes the world around her. Nature and animals have become familiar to her; she does not focus on regrets and memories of the past.
Encountering wild animals also helps the author to become aware of herself and overcome fear. Such events help her find the inner strength to overcome difficulties, which also marks her willingness to accept the new and abandon the old. Strayed also sometimes greets various animals such as cows and lizards, which shows her positive attitude towards the world around her. Animals delight her with their appearance, and she sincerely expresses her enthusiasm. Such episodes illustrate that her mental state is being transformed into a more positive perception, within which she is open to the world and its beauty.
Hiking became a challenging activity for Strayed as she was not physically ready for it. However, the long-distance walk and the reaching of her goal completely transformed her as a person, allowing her to accept the past. As the author approaches the end of the journey, she changes her attitude towards himself and the world around her from negative and depressive to positive. The experienced events allowed Strayed to find the strength to believe in herself and meet the future without clinging to the past.
Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found. London: Atlantic Books, 2013.