I don’t know how I missed reading Wild when it came out five years ago. I certainly remember it coming out, and was aware of its popularity, particularly once it became a Reese Witherspoon vehicle. I saw the movie and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until moving to the PNW that I felt the inclination to pick it up.
This is my first Cannonball review of the year and, it being October now, I’ve given up on the possibility of reaching a full Cannonball. But I have a good reason, I promise! At the end of last year, I happened to see a job posting for a position at a Wildlife Rehabilitation center in Seattle. It was soon after my husband and I had tried to rescue an injured duck, and I’d been feeling like I was a bit stuck in my previous job, so I decided to apply and just…see what happened.
Well, what happened surprised the hell out of me, but after several interviews and many, many conversations, my husband and I decided to relocate from Ohio to Washington. Up until that point, we’d both lived in Ohio our entire lives. I’d only been to the West Coast once, in third grade, when we went to visit some family in Anaheim. I’m not someone who does something like this, not really. I’m not the person who leaves. I stay put. I don’t take chances. Until now. I was as surprised as all of my friends and family. But we did it. As of May, we officially relocated to Washington.
Unfortunately, we had to do it in stages, which is why, on a cold, dreary February day in Ohio, I had a tiny panic attack because the next day I was starting my cross country trip from Ohio to Washington all by myself. Up until that point, I’d felt relatively calm about it. But it hit me, all at once. I was about to drive over 2000 miles, by myself, through a portion of the country I’d never been to. And once I got to Seattle, I was staying in an Airbnb for a month, which meant living with someone I’d never met for an extended period of time. I didn’t know anyone at my new job yet. Hell, I didn’t even really know anyone in Seattle. And this thought of going off into so many unknowns set me off. My husband found me on the couch, quietly crying and slightly hyperventilating as I frantically tried to plan my long drive.
Obviously, I made it. Everything was fine, other than some small hiccups like having to drive through the mountains of Montana in the snow while suffering from what I can only assume was altitude sickness brought on by the altitude (duh), extreme stress, cold medicine, and way too much coffee. Also I got locked out of my hotel room one night because the door locking mechanism malfunctioned and it was the day of all of the above so when the concierge said that I might not be able to get back into my room, I burst into tears BECAUSE ALL MY STUFF WAS IN THERE AND I WAS SO SO TIRED.
Cheryl Strayed’s journey was obviously longer and much more difficult, it being completely on foot and all, but it turns out I read it at exactly the right time in my life. Close enough to my own journey that I could recognize the similarities, but far enough removed to have some clarity on the trip and the process of settling in a brand new place.
Cheryl’s journey, for lack of a better word, is crazypants. Or that’s how it would appear to most people. Cheryl didn’t know it at the time, but she became a thru hiker, slowly but surely, when she decided to hike a great deal of the Pacific Crest Trail. She did so on a whim, after seeing a book about it during a difficult period of her life.
While she did prepare for the trip, she had never done anything like it before, and so was unprepared for many aspects of the journey. I found myself getting incredibly frustrated with her during these moments, being an extreme planner at heart, and yet this was a time before you could Google everything. Do you remember that? It was terrible. If I wanted to hike the PCT now, for instance, I could look up any number of resources easily. I’d know exactly what to bring. What to eat. What to expect. I’d be able to check the weather and the state of the snowpack along the way. I could check in with friends and family, provided I had cell service (and, you know, a charged phone). I could Amazon Prime myself supplies, should I desperately need it and make a stop at a town.
Though she wasn’t completely isolated, as she was able to make friends along the way (something I didn’t attempt on my own trip) and use the phone at her stops and even get new boots mailed to her from REI, she had to rely completely on herself to reach the end of her journey. Of course, this book being what it is (and you all know what it is, don’t pretend you didn’t watch the Gilmore Girls revival), she learned a lot about herself along the way. Which is really what you want out of a life-changing journey, right?