The “It’s Not What You Might Think” Blog—Part I

By Sabrina Völz

WildAfter hearing that the travelogue Wild by Cheryl Strayed was made into a movie, I thought about picking up a copy of the book and investigating why so many people are wild about Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found. The memoir sketches Strayed’s struggle to overcome the loss of her mother to cancer, a failed marriage, and the ensuing depression that plunged Strayed into using heroin recreationally—if that’s possible—and having sex with strangers. However, the majority of her book describes her 1,110 mile trek on the Pacific Crest Trail and her journey to inner peace. It all sounded cheesy, so I was reluctant but eventually did buy the book after seeing a story on the Nightly News about the many Americans following in Strayed’s footsteps.

Although I teach life writing and am always looking for new teaching material, I approached the book as a just-for-fun read. After a few pages, I came across Strayed’s description of herself that plunged me into a struggle with something much deeper. Well, take a look. Is it just me? Or is there something about the following passage bothering you as well?

“I was living alone in a studio apartment in Minneapolis, separated from my husband, and working as a waitress, as low and mixed-up as I’d ever been in my life. Each day I felt as if I were looking up from the bottom of a deep well. But from that well, I set about becoming a solo wilderness trekker. And why not? I’d been so many things already. A loving wife and an adulteress. A beloved daughter who now spent holidays alone. An ambitious overachiever and aspiring writer who hopped from one meaningless job to the next while dabbling dangerously with drugs and sleeping with too many men. I was the granddaughter of a Pennsylvania coal miner, the daughter of a steelworker turned salesman. After my parents split up, I lived with my mother, brother, and sister in apartment complexes populated by single mothers and their kids. As a teen, I lived back-to-the land style in the Minnesota northwoods in a house that did not have an indoor toilet, electricity, or running water. In spite of this, I’d become a high school cheerleader and homecoming queen, and then I went off to college and became a left-wing feminist campus radical” [1].

Now think about that for a while. Tune in for part 2 next week.

[1] Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found. London: Atlantic Books, 2012. 4–5.