"The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the thing that was so profound to me that summer--and yet also, like most things, so very simple--was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay. As I clung to the chaparral that day..., I considered my options. There were only two and they were essentially the same. I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go...And so I walked on."
I started reading Wild (2012) by Cheryl Strayed exactly when I most needed it. I'd been in the fire academy for about two months. I was completely exhausted and burned out. My mind was buzzing from stress, and I hadn't read anything that was not fire related since before the academy started. But then there came one blessed three-day weekend where I didn't have quite as much fire reading as usual. So I took advantage of my unusual free time and spent most of the day in bed reading Wild.
The escape of reading after so much stress felt wonderful. But my temporary vacation was even better because Wild was an intense, well-written account of young Cheryl Strayed's life. Strayed was twenty-six, recently divorced, lost after her mother's death, and falling into drugs when she decided to hike the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail from Southern California to Oregon. Woefully unprepared and overpacked--she had never really backpacked before--Strayed details this memorable and moving journey.
Even though I could not personally relate to everything in Strayed's life, she tells such an honest account of her actions and feelings, that I felt for her through all of her struggles. Fortunately I was reading this book alone because I could not keep it together when Strayed wrote about her mother, her family breaking apart, or her mother's horse. It was heartbreaking.
I could also relate, and take strength from, how Strayed persevered through her lack of knowledge and preparation to overcome the trail and learn from it in the end. Even as I read, my hips were still aching and bruised from the straps on my SCBA (air pack). It was almost refreshing to read about someone who had it worse--and whose hips were in worse condition than mine. In addition, both Strayed and I were struggling in environments with which we had very little experience and that were dominated by men. It was incredibly refreshing to read about another woman pushing her boundaries and succeeding. Not only did this book give me a much needed mental rest from the fire academy, but it also gave me inspiration to keep going even when it sucked.