This is an amazing book about a woman’s journey to heal herself. Cheryl Strayed’s world collapses when she loses her beloved mother to cancer. Her marriage to a man she loves breaks up. And without her mother to hold them together, her family drifts apart. When her divorce comes through, she chooses the surname Strayed because that’s exactly how she feels.
One day at a gas station, she buys a book on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. This impulsive act is the start of a momentous journey. It takes a few years for her to finally decide to do it—alone. She is not an experienced hiker but what she has in buckets is the sheer determination to see it through. Her rucksack is so heavy that she is barely able to lift it off the ground, which earns it the name Monster. She loses six toenails to the trail, as well as her hiking boots, one of which goes over the edge of a ravine. Not to be deterred, she duct tapes flip flops to her feet and walks to the next town.
With Monster her only constant companion, Strayed hikes over a thousand miles from the Mojave desert to the border between Oregan and Washington State through snow, deserts and forests. She is unflinchingly honest, both about her weakness and the pain—both emotional and physical—that she goes through. She writes so vividly that you feel like you’re on the hike with her. You feel her pain (I found myself checking my toenails!), and delight with her in luxuries like a shower, a bottle of soda and a proper hot meal.
Strayed describes the people she meets on the trail with a lot of warmth. Her fellow hikers, whom she keeps running into on the trail, become good friends. She is amazed by the kindness of complete strangers, including people she sometimes hitches rides with. By the time she reaches the end of her journey and collapses on bench with a well-deserved ice-cream, she is exhausted, her feet are wrecked, but she is stronger both physically and emotionally, having worked through her anguish and faced off her demons.