Wild about Wild? A Thru-Hiker’s Book Review and More.

If the shoe fits?

“I am a solo female long-distance hiker, but I’m not Cheryl Strayed! Wild is not a book about me! It’s not even a book about backpacking!” was what I wanted to scream from the mountaintops every time someone on the PCT asked me if I’d read Wild.

  • Title: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
  • Author: Cheryl Strayed
  • Publication Date: March 20, 2012
  • Print list price: $15.95
  • Weight: 5.6 oz, 315 pages
  • Kindle edition: $3.99

“Have you read Wild?”  It was always asked with the best of intentions. It was an attempt to start a conversation with the wild creature known as a thru-hiker (someone that had spent months on the trail, away from the world of small talk). Surely, as a solo female hiker on the PCT, I must have thoughts and opinions about Wild, right? There were just two problems: 1) I’d been asked that question hundreds of times before, and 2) I wanted to have a meaningful conversation about it, it’s impact on the trail, it’s impact on me, or it’s impact on the person asking,  but there were a lot of assumptions that we needed to sort out before we could get started…

Biography/Memoir Rating (9/10):

  • Wild is a book about grief, loss, addiction, and self-discovery. Wild is a memoir about Cheryl Strayed.
  • As I read Wild, I was amazed by the brutal honesty with which Cheryl Strayed described the low points in her life: her grieving process, her depression, her addiction, her marriage, and her incredibly flawed coping mechanisms. I both admired that brutal honesty and found it alienating. I didn’t want to be dragged through the ugly parts of her life, forced to watch helplessly as she self-destructed. That brutal honesty, however, is what made Cheryl Strayed’s character incredibly human, and made her story incredibly powerful. As the story transitioned from self-destruction to recovery, I found myself beginning to really care about her character. I winced at her blisters, her grief, and her inexperience. I shook my head and cringed at her bad decisions and incompetence. I understood her fearlessness and her solitude. I smiled at her bravery, her stubbornness, and her friendships. By the time the book ended, I was glad that I’d read it. Wild felt like a very honest story about one woman’s battle with grief and growing up, and I both enjoyed and respected it for what it was.
  • Recommendations:
    • Do: read this book if you like memoirs and stories about personal growth and recovery.
    • Don’t: read this book if consistently poor decision making bothers you.
    • Don’t: assume that your backpacking friends will automatically love this memoir.

Adventure/Travel Book Rating (5/10):

  • Wild is not a book about backpackers/backpacking. Wild is not a book about the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
  • When I first read Wild, I was under the mistaken impression that I was picking up a book about backpacking and the PCT… As I began reading the book I was immediately disappointed. Despite the hiking boot on the cover, and the mention of the PCT in the title, Wild was shaping up to be drama, and not the adventure I’d hoped for! It wasn’t until Chapter 4 that the stage had (painstakingly) been set, and the hike was on… the story was still about Cheryl Strayed’s character development, but now she had a foil – the PCT… It was her interactions with that foil that made the book engaging and interesting to me.
  • Recommendations:
    • Do: skip the first three chapters of the book if you are having trouble getting into the back story. She explains enough within the context of the hike that you probably won’t feel like you are missing anything later.
    • Don’t: expect Wild to be about backpacking and/or the PCT.

Backpacking/Wilderness/PCT Guidebook Rating (1/10):

  • Wild is not a book about how one should conduct oneself in the backcountry. Cheryl Strayed’s character in Wild is not the image of the responsible outdoorswoman and backpacker that we, as a backpacking community, would like to represent us in popular culture.
  • As I read Wild it seemed like it could be the guide for “what not to do” in the backcountry. For example, the famous scene where Cheryl throws her boot off a cliff… Is it good storytelling? Yes. Is it appropriate backcountry behavior? No. It’s a gross violation of Leave No Trace ethics… No matter how upset and/or frustrated you are with your gear, if you carry it into the Wilderness, you need to carry it back out with you. It irritated me that in the book Cheryl Strayed didn’t just own her bad decisions, she seemed to take pride in them!
  • Recommendations:
    • Do: Check out Yogi’s Guide if you’re looking for a guidebook for the PCT.
    • Do: Check out the PCTAs wilderness tips if you’re looking for some general hiking/backpacking advice.
    • Don’t throw any of your stuff off of a cliff!
    • Don’t wander aimlessly down random jeep roads in the desert! Cheryl Strayed was incredibly lucky that her forays down random jeep roads ended as well as they did… dehydration and getting lost in the desert are huge and potentially fatal issues!

Conversation Starter with the Thru-Hiker You Just Met (0/10):

  • One of the most common questions thru-hikers on the AT and on the PCT get asked is: “Have you read Wild?” This is especially true if you are a solo woman backpacking in the woods. Even though it is a well-intentioned attempt to start a conversation, it often ends up feeling awkward and complicated. After the first dozen or so Wild conversations I had, I gave up any illusion that the conversation I was entering into was going to be about the book… I was probably going to hear a vilification of Cheryl Strayed, an idolization of Cheryl Strayed, or imagined horrors about the throngs of inexperienced people (especially women) Wild was going to inspire to invade the Wilderness.
  • The biggest problem I have with Wild conversations is that they are usually laden with preformed assumptions and biases about backpacking, about the hiking community, about women, and about me.
  • Recommendations:
    • Do: read Wild if you are a thru-hiker. Lots of people are going to ask you about it, and if you’re going to express an opinion about the book, you should read it first.
    • Don’t: ask the thru-hiker that you’ve just met on the trail if they’ve read Wild. Try asking them what they love about the trail instead.
    • Don’t assume that Wild is what inspired my thru-hikes.

My PCT boots

Ask a Solo Female Thru-Hiker!

  • When people say that Wild is inspirational, what do they mean?
    • They mean that Cheryl Strayed’s story is inspirational, or that her character is inspirational.
  • What goes through your head when somebody says, “Wild was so inspirational, is it what inspired your hike?”
    • Why would they assume the Wild inspired me to hike the trail? Even though Cheryl Strayed’s story is inspirational, her hiking/backpacking skills come closer to terrifying me than inspiring me.
  • Why does it bother you when they assume that Wild is what inspired you to hike?
    1. It bothers me because Wild isn’t what inspired me to hike.
    2. It bothers me because I am an experienced backpacker (I’ve been hiking and backpacking for 30 years). When people assume that Wild is what inspired me to hike, they’re assuming that I am relatively inexperienced since the book didn’t come out until 2012.
    3. It bothers me because I am a woman. Even though both men and women on the trail end up having Wild conversations, men typically don’t get asked if they’re just like Cheryl Strayed, and men typically don’t get asked if Wild is what inspired them to hike. Why? Because backpacking is culturally accepted as something that men do, whereas women backpacking and hiking (especially) solo is contrary to traditional gender roles… Both my mom and my dad were my backpacking role models, not Cheryl Strayed.
  • Do people actually say, “You must be just like Cheryl Strayed!”
    • Yes, I’ve had it happen more than once. My immediate thought is, “Not all of the women on the trail are inexperienced, incompetent, heroin addicts, looking for sex and searching for salvation! I’m not any of those things! Why would someone think that I am just like Cheryl Strayed?” But I calm myself down and answer my own question. They think that I’m just like Cheryl Strayed because I’m a woman, I’m a backpacker, and I’m alone. Both Cheryl Strayed and I are much, much more than that… It sells both of us short…
  • Why is Wild controversial in the backpacking community?
    • The backpacking community is concerned that Wild will inspire droves of inexperienced people to explore the backcountry in irresponsible ways. We were all inexperienced once (and should always leave room for learning), and goofing up is part of learning, but we want to encourage people to learn to share our love of the Wilderness and the trail as responsibly as possible… Cheryl Strayed’s character in Wild doesn’t always provide the best role model for that.
  • Are there other things that you dislike about Wild conversations?
    • Yes! I love the freedom and independence that backpacking (and doing it solo) affords me… freedom from societies rules about what I should be, what I can do, and how I should act. For many people, reading and discussing Wild allows them to experience some of that freedom. Unfortunately for me, conversations about Wild on the trail are often harsh reminders that I’m not as far away from societies biases as I think I am. Even though Wild consciously contradicts some of those biases (e.g. the idea that women shouldn’t travel alone), it accidentally reinforces others (e.g. women are incompetent and women that have sex are sluts).
  • What is your favorite thing about the Wild conversations that you’ve had?
    • I love it when people tell me stories about Wild and how it inspired and/or empowered them. Watching people grow to the love the outdoors and the sport that I love is an amazing experience. I think that it is great that Cheryl Strayed and Wild are inspiring people to get out and hike. It is one of the most amazing feelings in the world to discover that I have inspired someone to get out and hike and I appreciate anything that encourages people to share my passion for the Wilderness and the trail.
  • Did anything in the book really resonate with you as a long-distance hiker?
    • A lot of people ask me what I think about as I hike, assuming that I am thinking about the world’s problems (or at least my own), but in reality a large percentage of the time I’m hiking I have fragments of songs stuck in my head. Cheryl Strayed describes that really well when she says, “I found my mind playing and replaying scraps of songs and jingles in an eternal, nonsensical loop, as if there were a mix-tape radio station in my head.” Fragments of songs would get stuck in my head and just play over and over again as I hiked… Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose from Janis Joplin, and slight variations on The Ramones, I can’t control my fingers I can’t control my toes. Oh no no no no no were some of the most frequent offenders. Sometimes I would just re-write the lyrics to songs as I hiked, like Eye of the Tiger by Survivor, which became my hiking ballad, Heart of the Mountains or Queen’s Bicycle, which become Calories.
  • Did anything in Wild really resonant with you as a solo hiker?
    • Yes, when Cheryl Strayed wrote about one of her conversations, “You’re not alone, are you?” … “And what on earth does your mother have to say about that?”… “Aren’t you scared all by yourself?”… I found myself nodding vigorously. I’ve had even more conversations about being alone on the trail than I’ve had about Wild. I’ll have to share my thoughts and stories about that in a future post, but I will say this: I didn’t set out to do my thru-hikes alone, I set out to follow my dreams… learning to be comfortable doing that alone has been one of the greatest gifts the trails have given me.

One of my favorite quotes from Wild is, “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told…” Not only did Cheryl Strayed tell herself a different story, she shared that story with the rest of the world. The fact that Wild is giving people, especially women, the courage to tell themselves new stories and to live new dreams is inspiring. Some of the backlash against Wild in the backpacking community is from fear – fear that in the aftermath of the movie the trails will be flooded with “Girls gone Wild!”, fear that new hikers/backpackers will hurt themselves, hurt the trail, and hurt the Wilderness… I think we need to stop telling ourselves those stories and start telling ourselves a different story… a story about millions of new people inspired to learn more about the wilderness, a story about people getting outside and walking, a story about renewed interest in the preservation of the PCT and other long distance trails… A story about trails where both men and women, novices and experts, old and young, can come together and explore their dreams!

Check out the Wild book review my friend Invictus (AT 2013) wrote!

Update: For different solo female thru-hikers take on Wild check out this article on Jezebel.com

41 thoughts on “Wild about Wild? A Thru-Hiker’s Book Review and More.

  1. Wow. This has been an amazing read. I’m so glad you took the time to write so much, and to share it with us. It’s been hours and days of blissful power-reading for me. You truly are an inspiration. Good luck on the road ahead, and may the wind be forever at your back. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad you made it “all the way!” Your blog has been delightful. We met you at Odell Lake (Shelter Cove) in the Willamette Pass in Oregon the first week in August. So sorry we mentioned “WILD” …. Loved the book but didn’t realize how aggravating it was to you.
    Happy trails!
    Les & Barb Boudreaux
    Corvallis, OR


    • Thank you for following me! I enjoyed meeting you and talking to you at Shelter Cove (what a beautiful spot). I don’t mind talking about the book, and I wasn’t offended when you mentioned it… it just tends to be more complicated for me to talk about than people think. I don’t want to discourage people from talking about it or dampen people’s excitement about it… I just want to recognize that people have a wide range of strong feelings about the book, and to encourage respectful dialogs about it!


  3. Right on Patches!!!!! It is NOT a book about hiking!!! so much it is about a spiritual transformation. And I LOVE you wrote this: “and if you’re going to express an opinion about the book, you should read it first.” Thank you for writing this.


    • I agree. Thanks for your calm, level headed assessment for the masses! I got the reference a lot as a PCT thru of 2011 in the following years. I did finally read the book and was amazed that I didn’t hate it at all. It just doesn’t have much to do with the PCT, also her time on trail is very dated now. Thanks Patches, good review. Honest and thorough!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Patches, Thank you for sharing your refreshing take on the whole “Wild” phenomenon. I did not get the sense that it was “irritating” for you to be asked about Wild, but I do believe that many are misguided regarding what this book is truly about. While I found the book very compelling and powerful, not once did I ever think it was about the PCT or about backpacking, those were simply the venue and method she chose for her journey of discovery and recovery.

    I’m sure this will, in fact, inspire some to tackle a challenge like through-hiking the PCT recklessly and unprepared, but it will also lead to discovery of what became my passion about 8 years ago, which is backpacking. There is nothing so inspiring as being alone in nature.

    I have yet to do a long-distance trip, and for many years have had a desire to hike the PCT, but until that opportunity arises, I will continue to hit the trails at every chance, and revel in the beauty and solitude of what God has created.

    Hike on!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This post is perfect, Patches! I agree with everything you said. Personally, I loved Wild. But I went into it knowing it wasn’t much about the trail, so I didn’t have that pre-conceived notion that the cover and description lead you to believe. Great write up :)

    Also, this is Twinkle, I met you in the Desert I believe. I was hiking with Carrot at the time that I met you and we all chugged up a mountain together, leap frogging the whole way! Hope you’ve been well.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As a woman who thru-hiked the PCT several years before Wild was published, I used to get all sorts of offensive gender-based questions: Why was I hiking alone? Wasn’t it dangerous? Did I carry a gun? One man in a trail town (not a hiker) told me he assumed all female through-hikers must be lesbians because those were the “manly” women. A lot of women said to me “I could never do that.” Those questions and comments persisted long after I successfully finished my hike. My one hope is that Wild can help dispel the notion that women (any women, ALL women) don’t belong out on the trail, or are less capable of surviving alone in the wilderness. Yes she did some stupid things, but Bill Bryson also recounts throwing gear off a cliff in A Walk in the Woods and no one extrapolates that to mean that all male hikers are foolish. I think what’s probably inspiring about Wild is the fact that a woman who seemed so incapable of making any of the right decisions, was driven and blinded by emotional pain, could still successfully achieve her goal of doing such a challenging trip. I hope that’s the teaching moment for people who bring up Wild with thru-hikers: that much of what we “know” about women who undertake such a journey are myths and stereotypes and anyone who feels so inspired by Cheryl’s story should strap on a pair of boots (or, these days, trail runners) and try it for themselves. Chances are, they’ll meet loads of women (and men) who are inspiring for all sorts of other reasons, and find inspiration within themselves as well.

    Also, the risk of doing something really foolish on the trail out of ignorance seems lower these days. There are so many more resources available now to PCT hikers than there were back then. From the internet, from the growing trail community, to advances in technology that have made it harder to get lost and have produced better gear. That’s probably taken some of the mystery and excitement out of preparing for a thru-hike, but it also makes the experience much safer than it would have been back in 1996.

    Liked by 1 person

    • T… Even in 2014 I experienced all of the same questions and comments you did 18 years earlier. It really opened my mind to how much people are still stuck those certain mindsets that I personally thought were gone. :/


      • Sad to hear it. I guess I was hoping Wild might help rewrite that ‘women hiker’ narrative a bit. Maybe that will need more time. And perhaps people who say such things aren’t the kind who will read this book anyway. (Also, when I mentioned 1996 I was referring to when Cheryl Strayed hiked; I hiked in 2009. But I think she actually hiked it in 95?)


    • I’ve been asked all of those same questions… On the AT last year I had more than one person ask me if I was a “dyke”…. I am happy to report that I didn’t have anyone ask me anything like that on the PCT this year.


  7. Interesting post, Patches, and thank you for your insights. I am mostly not a solo hiker and not through hiker, although I’ve been hiking and backpacking for quite a few decades. Slowing down now, alas, but still hitting the trail whenever I can. I have friends who have done/are doing the PCT in segments and hope to do it all but not all at once. I have hiked a number of segments, especially in the southern area (Mexican border to Mojave) and throughout the Sierras.

    I confess to not reading the book, as I tend to have an antipathy to that book of the month rah rah thing that goes on. I guess I’ll get around to it at some point, but I was also sort of turned off by the notion of Ms. Strayed approaching the PCT in – let me put on my self-righteous judgmental hat – what appeared to me to be a very irresponsible way. OTOH, I do and did acknowledge her accomplishment.

    The film is now being embraced by a number of hiking clubs to go see it as a group. I’ve been advising people that it’s not really that much about hiking as Ms. Strayed’s personal story and how she wrestles with her demons. Again, one cannot denigrate what she accomplished, especially hikers who know what it’s like.

    Guess I’m just skeptical, but I’ll probably go see the film. Although my hiking and backpacking, especially these days, is nothing akin to what Ms. Strayed did, I also get people eagerly asking me about “Wild,” and how I must’ve found it great or inspirational or something. Well no, not so much, especially since I’ve been hiking and backpacking – sometimes alone but not for more than a few days at a time – since the early 1970s. Guess I always had enough healthy respect for the wilderness that I would’ve never taken on the PCT in the way that Ms. Strayed did.

    But Ms. Strayed DID that, and I did not. So there’s that.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes! Thank you! I am a backpacker and have hiked many years before even hearing about this darn book. And I don’t think I want to see the movie either. And I agree so whole-heartedly with the “DON’T: Assume my thru-hikes were inspired by that book”. Because it wasn’t!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Patches, you seem like a pompous snob in your review, an elitist and self-appointed female president of the wilderness. I would never want to hike with you.


  10. Annual grand canyon backpacker here. I did not like the book at all because the author seemed to revel and rejoice in her unpreparedness, and show off the fact that she finished despite her self-inflicted suffering that she failed to mitigate throughout her journey. I find that attitude extremely offensive when there are hikers and backpackers who die every year, some from a terrible mistake or from sheer accident. For her to revel and wallow in her mistakes does a GREAT disservice to those who died, attempting something great, doing what they loved, and their stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I live about fifteen miles from the Sierra City section of the trail. On page 144 Cheryl Strayed states “…I’d covered forty-three miles of the PCT in the four days since I left Sierra City, though I’d probably hiked more than that…”. The actual mileage to Packer Lake Summit, which is where she was when she made this statement, is ten. This is not a typo or mistake; it’s a deliberate, bald-faced, major changing of the facts. This is not the green tunnel of Oregon, but a very distinctive, 3000-foot elevation gain on an open, blistering south- and west-facing slope, arcing around the majestic Sierra Buttes. Very hard to not know where you are. Given her physical condition, the weight of her pack, the heat and elevation gain, and some snow (though nowhere near as much as she characterized on that slope — this is the low Sierra, not the High Sierra. The skiers she saw were doing the north facing bowl.), it’s not hard to imagine her doing 2 1/2 miles a day. Think about it, it was the insane ratio of food usage per mile that made her bail at this juncture.

    But the point is she lied, big-time, to enhance the story. There are other “mistakes” I noticed in this area and more throughout the book that anybody with common sense would recognize. Will get back to those later if I have time. I’m pretty sure the book was written as a novel based on loose historical facts, but got changed to a memoir by the publisher because true stories sell better. Way better in this case.

    Felt manipulated from page one and didn’t like it. Stuck with it because, you know, the PCT.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Don’t worry about being through the ugly parts of Cheryl Strayed’s life, Patches. The story is mostly fiction, as John has pointed out. Ms. Strayed cynically tacked on salacious events to give her memoir the credibility of suffering, and then embellished a good deal more (no description of withdrawal symptoms after months of daily heroin use, but every blister is cataloged on the trail). The book is also poorly written (single sentences that take up an entire page, missing punctuation, conflicting analogies in the same sentence).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Nice to meet you this morning at Alewife Greenway and Reservation. http://mrines.com/Birds/Arlington is the entry to the arlington briding list. It’s formal name is Menotomy Bird Club and Marj is the leader. She does great briding hikes locally including Horn Pond in Woburn.
    I would love it if you would post your photo of the two Rough Winged Swallows! I am enjoying your blog and will be “following” you.
    Lorene Melvin AKA Destroyer of Knotweed

    Liked by 1 person

  14. John,
    I was trying to follow her route on my Nat Geo Topo map and was confused much of the time in the area you are referring to in particular. I would call this book Sal Paradise on the PCT. I haven’t read this much hedonistic self indulgence since On The Road by Jack Kerouac.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a good review that thoughtfully sums up what I’ve been seeing on the boards. I haven’t read the book. I tried to but couldn’t get into it, and now I don’t really care to read it. I’ve found your other posts helpful too. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Wild | Wish. Hope. Life.

  17. What a wonderfully fair review. I disliked the book, mostly because of the low-quality writing, but you hit several nails on the head.

    As a man, I often get questioned about the safety of hiking alone. I’m sure the timbre of the question is quite different for women, but it’s a pretty frustrating question for me, too. As you say, sometimes we all need to learn to follow our dreams alone; otherwise we might not follow them at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Patchesthru,

    Not everyone has the same reason for hoisting on a pack and hitting any long distance trail. Sounds like you had expectations about Wild being on backpacking the PCT, and as you got into the read it became evident that your hiking-book expectations were not being met. I don’t understand why you take so much issue with the human story that unfolded along with the backpacking, step-by-step. There seems to be critical spillover in the comments, others questioning the veracity of Strayed’s story. The critics here come across to me as dismissive and judgmental, “oh how unprepared she was, can you believe that, who does she think she is, she’s just not good enough.”

    Say what you will but she had the courage to stand up against the odds of no experience, shoulder up and hit the trail with a life full of vulnerability in her face every day. How many of us dare walk into that arena? And guys avoid that arena like the plague. She’s just another human being like you or me or anyone else trying deal with life, make sense of it, grapple with grief and loss. No, she wasn’t some experienced backpacking maven, hip and smart and perfect all around.

    Like I say everyone hitting the trail has their reasons, and no two are the same. In my long adult life I’ve shouldered up and walked on into the great unknown more often with life’s burdens on my shoulder, mind and heart. I’ve often said that being able to do the solo backpacking and the inner work has been my saving grace. Out there I never felt or heard harsh words of critical judgment. Out there, I always felt safe and whole.

    it’s okay who she is and who you are, and the two are not one in the same. But, do you have to take her to task for her somehow not delivering on your expectations?

    Obviously I have empathy for Strayed’s experience on the PCT and her account of it, inside/out. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea. She sure has my respect, I’ve walked some miles and days in her boots.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger,

      I actually have a lot of respect for her and her accomplishments… The bravery it takes to air your dirty laundry in such a public way is something that is incomprehensible to most of us and that I can’t help but respect and appreciate, and no matter how you look at it she hiked a real lot of miles in challenging conditions. (I was also surprised to discover that I liked the movie a lot more than I liked the book even though it still wasn’t my cup of tea I found that many parts of it really resonated with me and my experience as a hiker).

      As you can tell, I didn’t love the book, and I didn’t always love the immediate cultural implications that were very real for me…

      I did love meeting people that were inspired by the book to explore a world that I dearly love, whether they were doing it in big ways or small.

      I too find the solitude of the trail to be an ongoing source of peace, love, and joy… I’ve completed multiple thru-hikes and I would jump at the chance to do more.
      Everybody turns to the trail for their own reasons, and amongst thru-hikers (that are on the trail) I feel that there is a general respect and acceptance for others that is independent of the paths that led them to the trail… The important thing is that we are there, and I feel that that is what unites us as a community… I find that that respect and inclusivity (at least in my world) extends to all hikers, no matter what length the journey… We are united by our love of the wilderness.

      I know that there are people who hold opinions that are very different than mine, and that respect isn’t always our cultural default… Unless comments are incredibly offensive (or spam) I have a tendency to approve them, even if I don’t agree with them…

      Thank you for commenting!



      • Patches,

        I appreciate your taking time to respond. Perhaps the unvarnished truth of the human condition that many folks live in and struggle with, makes for a harder read in a book on backpacking . Strayed’s story would make anyone pause and reflect on their own life and experience. We are mirrors for one another, that is how we learn about others and our own human condition, on or off trail. Indeed the solitude found in wilderness experiences has been liberating and sacred for me.

        A good friend of mine who did youth adventure programs with me said, “people hear about what we do out there in the wild and ask “why do that, isn’t it pretty rough?” His reply, “we go out there on the trail to smooth things out, it’s rough enough back in town.”

        Liked by 1 person

  19. I’m going to chime in as this woman needs to be called out.

    I was a thru hiker on the PCT. My trail name was “Runningwolf” and is on the 2600 miler list on the pcta.org in 2012. And signed on the trail registers. Right to Canada. I also attempted in 2010, made 2007 miles and had to quit–injury. Not a big deal but I ran out of time before the snow in Washington. I didn’t even begin to start my written work of the account until I did complete the trail. From A to B. I started over from mile zero the second time.

    Strayed is despised by thru hikers. Many of us question whether she was even on the trail. There are many things that she claims that are far fetched for anyone who has actually done it.

    Lost a shoe and then defiantly tossed the other? The path would have torn her feet up. And we would all like to know where it occurred? Not in the area she was talking about for sure. 99.9% of the ridges don’t have that steep of a slope where you could not have scurried down and gotten it. And she didn’t realize her shoe was loose to begin with? The paths aren’t that narrow–what force with walking would have tossed it that far? The areas she is speaking of simply don’t have that steep a slope for that to have occurred.

    She almost died of thirst did she? Where? There are a few (like 2-3) where you go 20 miles- 30 miles between water–if there weren’t trail angels leaving caches. Can’t speak for 20 years ago but they have been there for years when I went through. I missed a cache on a 29 mile stretch just past Old Station on Hat Rim. Walked right by it in a zone. I was very uncomfortable for about four hours. I didn’t “almost die of thirst.” Even at 104 degrees.

    Parts were “impassable.” Due to snow I assume. And they aren’t–they are just slow and hard. We went through them and she didn’t. In 2010 the snow was record in the Sierras. That record was broken a year later in 2011. People made it through the Sierras. I did. Others did.

    1100 miles from the Mojave to Washington. That would have been about 1500-1600 actually. So she skipped a lot. She did not do the Bataan death march. She section hiked–taking an entire summer to do 1100 miles. Got to rest a lot and hitch hike or bus between sections. Nothing wrong with that. But don’t try to over dramatize it Cheryl. You didn’t do an arduous journey. You took a vacation with hikes in-between. Even those of us who completed the entire trail didn’t have nearly the drama you claim to have had.

    She didn’t walk the distance daily like we did. She didn’t even complete half the trail. Her tales just don’t add up. But it was “girl power” for Oprah …

    Do some research on the trail itself. Hell, get a terrain map and look for the cliffs that are supposedly there where she couldn’t regain her shoe. Then you decide whether she placed in an event of great hardship or is guilty of hiker stolen valor.


    • Runningwolf — congrats on your accomplishment. You deserve to be proud of having completed a true thru hike.

      What worries me is how angry about Cheryl and “Wild,” you seem to be. “Strayed is despised by thru hikers. Many of us question whether she was even on the trail.” You seem to have put a lot of energy into trying to debunk her story and being frustrated. You imply that she is “guilty of hiker stolen valor.” Has her memoir somehow detracted from your accomplishment? (If so, you need to have more confidence in it, and have it less based on a reference to others!) Having read Wild, I don’t recall C.S. having ever claimed to have hiked the whole thing, or trying to hide the truth about her mileage, etc. If anything, she seems brutally honest about the realization, once on the trail, that she was underprepared. She seems to have have worked hard to get better and stronger, but nonetheless was realistic about what was doable. (Let’s be honest, it would have been incredibly dangerous with someone of her skill level to have gone through the Sierras. She made the right call by skipping — something many PCTers did this year (2017), on another high snow year.) It doesn’t seem as though she’s trying to hide the skipping/hitchhiking she did. With regards to your comments about a “death march,” (I can’t recall Strayed ever using this terminology but taking a generous interpretation here): the PCT is hard for a lot people. Many hikers, even those with low mileage or who chose to do long sections rather than the complete trail, talk about how tough it is. Many accrue blisters and injuries early on. Many push themselves well out of their comfort zones. Despite that, we choose to do it–or sections of it–because the rewards outweigh the benefit. Strayed seems to be one such person; she kept going (admittedly, with modifications), even when things got tough (as they inevitably do for everyone). If anything, it seems clear that her biggest challenges and accomplishments were in overcoming the demons from her personal/pre-hike life.

      Let go of your anger. Life’s too short to spend time despising someone you haven’t met, who hasn’t otherwise harmed you or affected your life. I see a lot of hikers these days getting nit-picky about the way the term “thru-hiker” is applied. If you hitchhike once/fail to do a “continuous walk, etc” you’re no longer a thru-hiker. While I can understand a desire for precise terminology, I think these minute distinctions miss the essence of the thru-hiker/section-hiker spirit. Thru-hikers/long-section-hikers (if you don’t want to apply that term liberally) are all people who have chosen to leave mainstream society and simplify their lives to hike for months at a time. There’s something wonderful and exciting and pure about that. Yes, some of us will be better than others. Some of us will be more perfect. But ultimately — as people who love and appreciate the simple pleasures and magic of a backpacking life — we are more similar than we are different. Someone who leaves their life for 90-100 days to hike a trail is much more similar to a true thru hiker than the vast majority of people in this country, who choose to sit behind desks and never experience a long distance hike at all. While it’s fine to say that CS didn’t complete the full PCT (and even to say that she was not a true, strict “thru-hiker”), you can still recognize that some of the joy and growth she had on the trail is the same that lies in all of us.

      Hike happy,



      • You missed the point completely. I’m not angry at all. Annoyed but not really angry. I’m not downsizing a section hiker to a thru hiker. I’m stating that she is lying about her expedition. I question whether she was even on the trek as she makes absurd statements about the weight she carried. I’m flat out calling her a liar about losing her shoe and throwing the other away. She did not do that on that terrain–I can promise you that. So she lies. She is lying to make her trip seem grandiose. Much like the book Three Cups of Tea. She should be called out. Don Shipley calls out fake Navy SEALS on his youtube all the time. As Shipley was a real SEAL. He’s not angry–he’s calling liars out. So am I. Interestingly when I commented years ago on her facebook page before she really took off I asked where exactly was the ridge where she was at so steep she couldn’t climb down to get her shoe that supposedly flew off. She deleted the comment. Of course she did. If I was going around claiming to be part of SEAL TEAM SIX and then ran into one of the team members I would shut up too.
        This has nothing to do with comparing her hike to mine. This has to do with calling out someone who made a LOT of money and is now an icon for the PCT who has a great deal of her story construed from fabrication. There are many thru hikers saying the same thing. We don’t care that she skipped sections. We care that she is lying about the extremity of her trip if there was a trip at all in order to sell books. There is a place for that. It is called the fiction section.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. Pingback: 6 Shiny Things for Winter Adventurers – Patches Thru

  21. Thank you Patchesthru, I am reading this in 2019. I am going to introduce you to my 2 daughters. Both have been talking about walking the AT. I have been on the trail since 2005 . Your “Wild” comments were right on to me.It was about addiction and recovery to me. When my girls were talking about hiking and the movie my response was don’t do what she did. Be prepared.By the way I go by Patches also

    Liked by 1 person

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