Cheryl Strayedâ€™s memoir, "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail," chronicles her ambitious 1,100-mile hike at 26-years old. She embarked on the trip at a time when her life had come unraveled: her young marriage had broken up, her beloved mother had died and sheâ€™d begun an affair with a man whoâ€™d introduced her to heroin. The book is out this month from Knopf and it was recently announced that actress Reese Witherspoon has bought the rights and plans to star in the film.
Nell Casey: You set out on the trail without any experience as a long-distance hiker and with a seriously overweight backpack you nicknamed â€śMonster.â€ť Why do you think your instinct was to make this difficult trek?
Cheryl Strayed: I knew that being alone was part of what I needed to do. I also knew that the wilderness was where I felt the most gathered and in touch with the better aspects of myself. When you get out in nature, there is a quieting aspect and one gets a sense of what is important.
Also, frankly, if I had had money, I would have gone to Europe and traveled on the Eurorail like all my college friends did. Which would have been absolutely no good for me at all. I just wouldâ€™ve gone over there and done all kinds of crazy stuff.
I reached out for myself. In a lot of ways, I had it forced on me. I was alone, acutely alone. For better or worse, I was the only person I knew who did not have parents. (Strayedâ€™s father left the family when she was six-years old.) Nobody was going to keep me and I had to find a way to keep myself. I needed to go really far out to do that.
Nell Casey: How much time lapsed between the hike and writing the book?
Cheryl Strayed: I finished the trail on September 15, 1995. I was always a fiction writer but everyone would say "you really should write about your hiking experience." I thought weâ€™ve all had traumatic, beautiful and funny experiences but they donâ€™t all make the most interesting memoirs. But then in 2008 I started to write about the hike, thinking it might be a long essay -- 50 pages later I was no where near finished and I realized it truly was a book. Iâ€™m so glad that I waited to tell the story. I couldnâ€™t have written with the same perception if Iâ€™d written it a year after the hike.
Nell Casey: Did the experience allow you to put to rest the grief you were feeling?
Cheryl Strayed: We usually want to believe that redemption means that itâ€™s like a fairy tale story and that everything is OK and that whatever problems that person had are lifted and that person is now released...the truth is the PCT did get me into a different place but that place had more to do with allowing myself to feel transformed by the acceptance of the various things that pained me. Itâ€™s still hard for me that my mom is dead but I donâ€™t rage against it anymore. Iâ€™m also now open to a great unfolding of how she is still in my life -- how I bring her into my mothering and my writing and also my own sense of personal power. Wild is a very particular story, but itâ€™s also a story about growing up and a lot of people will be able to relate to that. Your twenties are about finding your place in the world -- and being on the PCT forced me to be nothing but authentic.