While waiting in a check-out line to purchase a snow shovel, an emotionally broken Cheryl Strayed noticed a guide about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on a rack. She later returned to the store, purchased the book, and began planning her 1,100-mile hike. This hike resulted in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, a memoir published in 2012 that became a New York Times bestseller, was adapted to a movie starring Reese Witherspoon in 2014, and inspired an outdoor phenomenon — “the Wild effect,” which refers to the explosion of hikers on the PCT prompted by the book. The film’s screenwriter Nick Hornby called the book “piercingly honest, deeply painful, but funny and self-deprecating, too.” He also shared with the Los Angeles Times that the book left him weeping.
Strayed began to hike the trail in June 1995, starting in the desert of Mojave, California. After three months, she ended up in Portland, Oregon and has lived there since — except for three years in Syracuse. She graduated from Syracuse University’s three-year MFA fiction-writing program in 2002. George Saunders mentored her during her time in the program. Since graduating, Strayed has developed a reputation for exquisitely detailed, emotionally raw writing grounded in a reality that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Strayed’s other works include Torch, a novel loosely based on the final months of her mother’s life, and the advice column compilation book Tiny Beautiful Things, based on her time as the “Dear Sugar” advice columnist for The Rumpus.
Here is a passage from Wild:
“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
— Madison Flavin