Wild – The redemptive power of hiking

From the Wild website


The movie, Wild, finally made it to Asheville, after it was reviewed, discussed and dissected everywhere. I actually met a woman who had never heard of the book or movie, so here goes:

Cheryl Strayed had a messy life. Her mother dies young. Her marriage breaks up and she’s finding comfort in alcohol, drugs and quickie sex. She sees a book on the Pacific Crest Trail and decides to walk a 1,000 miles. The story goes back and forth between her challenges on the trail and her messy life.

Strayed wrote a book of her 1995 hike, which became a best seller. Now, Reese Witherspoon plays her and will certainly be nominated for an academy award. Witherspoon is 38 years old and looks much younger, especially without make-up. She looks great.

Cheryl starts out overloaded carrying an external frame pack. At the time, she was about 27 years old. Like many millenials, and I’m going to stereotype here, she just bought stuff and got on the trail. She never did a practice hike and waited until her first night on the trail to put up her tent. She realized that she had the wrong fuel when she tried to cook her first dinner. But that was her. The movie was close to the book, though they couldn’t and didn’t use every incident.

She has a lot of flashbacks of her abusive father, her loving mother, her marriage gone wrong. This is what made the book a best-seller. Her backstory and all her troubles sets the book apart from the thousands of books about women hiking a long-distance trail. If you’re a woman, you can’t get on a long-distance adventure just because you like to hike. Audiences expect to hear about your past troubles and feel connected to you.

This is not a hiking story but a story about a woman who strayed and got back on the path by getting on the trail and putting one foot in front of the other. She didn’t appreciate the scenery or the people she met. Much of the time, she didn’t know where she was. By the end of the journey, she was set straight. Hiking had changed her and Cheryl was able to let go of her self-destructive ways.

Where is the Pacific Crest Trail in all of this? From their website, it’s not clear whether Pacific Crest Trail Association is a Friends group or if they manage the trail, like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  The organization was thanked in the credits, at the very end. When I asked on their Facebook page if Cheryl Strayed had made a donation to PCTA, they deleted the comment.

You don’t need to be a hiker or a 27-year old woman to enjoy the movie. But the real question that PCTA is struggling with is:

**Will the movie bring out hordes of hikers?

**Will the movie want to make you hike the trail?


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