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"Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" is a 2012 memoir/travelogue by Cheryl Strayed, describing her 1995 journey along (most of) the Pacific Crest Trail, from Southern California to The Bridge of the Gods in Washington. The book was adapted into a 2014 movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern.

Along with being a travelogue that talks about her wilderness adventures with backpacks, boots and bears, the book also talks about the stormy events in her life that led her to hike the trail: she has just gotten divorced, her mother died of cancer at the young age of 45, and she has developed a heroin habit, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The book alternates between describing aspects of the journey, both the beauty and trouble of the remote and rugged trail, and the life events that led her to hike the trail. With a few exceptions (running out of water, encountering a bear, a day hiker who appears ready to sexually assault her), most of her days on the trail are peaceful, and most of the people she meets are very friendly. Her growth in mental and physical fortitude while she hikes are mostly a matter of incremental events, while her life in flashbacks is heart-rending. It is this personal story that makes it more than an outdoor adventure book--- but without the outdoor adventure part, the book would be another memoir of being young, middle-class (more or less) and fragile.

The main thing I thought of while reading this book is how this bildungsroman about encountering nature differs from others in its genre, and how it differs from the real lives of young people I have witnessed. At the time this book takes place, the summer of 1995, I had just turned 16, and wanted to walk to Wyoming. (I did not do so). In my teen years, discovering the world, in the geographical sense, was an important part of my identity formation. What was difficult for me to understand reading this book was the extent to which Strayed managed to function before her trip, without having confronted these things. Even while she was involved in compulsive sexual behavior and drug abuse, she manages to function more-or-less perfectly in society. Her ability to function in society is never an issue--- even in the book, she talks about coming down from the trail, muddy and battered, and contemplates walking into a restaurant and getting a job, seeming to consider it an effortless proposition. Although the book plays around with her being short of money or too unkempt to deal with people, the basic idea is that she is removing herself from society by choice, but she can reintegrate herself at any time. (I was also more than a little bit puzzled by the economics of her lifestyle: she manages to maintain a heroin habit, cross-country travel, and saving up for hike, all while working as a waitress, apparently). And that was one of the points of confusion for me: because during my teens and twenties, I felt comfortable in the "wild", I felt comfortable with myself my inner emotions--- but integrating myself with society was the challenge (and still is). And while perhaps I missed the main point, what I took away from this book is how much that process of self-definition differs from what I thought was the standard order.

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