"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" —Mary Oliver.
I listened to this with my husband as an audiobook during a drive last weekend. We are both “outdoorsy people,” and we love to backpack and hike when we get the chance, so I thought this would be a good pick to listen to together. I was right. We absolutely loved it.
The first part of the book is rough. It was hard to listen to at some points but I understood that she was explaining her reasons for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) seemingly out of the blue and with no prior experience. Strayed (which is the name she picked out of a dictionary after her divorce, and I thought it was very clever and poetic) literally had her life fall apart. Her childhood ended the day her mother took herself and her three children out of an abusive environment and became a single mother. When Strayed was in her early twenties, she lost her mother to cancer, and it began going downhill from there. She divorced her husband, lost all purpose and direction in her life, fell into a bad relationship with a man who introduced her to meth, and just generally hit rock bottom.
Then, she began the hike. I loved her description of herself trying to begin the trek with a huge, oversized, overweight pack that she called a “Volkswagen” and barely managed to get off the floor. I loved all her mishaps afterwards— too-small boots, falling asleep beside a pond and awakening to find herself covered in frogs, care packages she had mailed to herself that either didn’t arrive or didn’t contain what she had expected, battles with snow and ice, duct-taping her sandals to her feet…. And yet, she kept going.
I have heard people complain about this book and the “stupidity” Strayed demonstrated by her various accidents and misjudgments. But isn’t that the point of the book? She made it very clear that she had only had a vague idea of how to hike the PCT and was ill-equipped and less-than-experienced. If the book had been about how she packed everything perfectly, only brought what she needed, and had no misadventures of her own doing, that would have been a very boring book.
Instead, this was a beautifully-written, at times painful, book about a woman who was lost inside her own life and had no control left, but managed to find herself and a sense of purpose on a hike through California and Oregon. It was a book about the overwhelming kindness of strangers and the sense of community shared by the hikers as they struggled together to their goals. It was a book about the universal striving towards finding meaning and purpose in the one life we are given.
I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.