I just heard on public radio the other day that Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling book, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” has been made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. The book already had been a New York Times bestseller, but that’s some serious star power to have Reese Witherspoon in the starring role. All this for a tale about a 22-year old woman, who arguably who by her own admission coming off a drug addiction, and on a bit of a whim decides to hike the PCT — no easy feat. I recently had a discussion with my friend, Heather, about the enormous popularity and attraction of the book.
For myself, I loved the book, but a lot of my interest was because I am a backpacker, who also wemt solo backpacking, the longest being the John Muir Trail of around 220 miles. I am also married to someone who at the same age as Strayed, embarked on a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail. So to me, the book held very obvious connections to me in a literal sense. But I’m guessing that most of the thousands of people who bought and read her book have never backpacked a day in their life. What attracted them to the story and kept them reading? I’ve heard the majority of book readers are women, and perhaps it appeals to any woman who has done something on a whim, out of grief or desperation, trying to reclaim their sense of self — something all of us can relate to. Many of us have embarked on seemingly foolish endeavors with little preparation or forethought, found ourselves challenged in ways we couldn’t foresee, but overcome the odds to achieve an incredible sense of empowerment. Some criticize Strayed for being so incredibly naive, having no backpacking experience, carrying way too much stuff, testing her physcial and mental will at every step. But I’ve done similar things in my own life, again and again — had friends and family say I was crazy, only to come out the other side feeling stronger for it. Moving to our present home in Nederland was a good example of this. I thought it would be great to live in the mountains, so we bought our house without even having jobs, and a way to pay the bills. Despite that, I think of it as one of the best decisions my husband and I ever made. I think it takes great courage to step way outside your comfort zone, to do something unknown, to test yourself in ways you never thought possible. Strayed detailed her journey with great emotion and candor, and I think that emotional rawness struck a chord with so many readers. Will this translate to the big screen? That remains to be seen, but I admit I am curious to see whether Reese Witherspoon can capture the heart and soul that so captivated me while reading the book.