Almost two years have passed since reading Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, but the powerful scenes and vivid imagery in Wild have lingered in memory. I eagerly awaited the film adaptation and wondered if 38-year-old Reese Witherspoon could capture all the nuances of a 26-year-old embarking on a journey of self-discovery, or as Cheryl eloquently put it: “Finding the woman my mother thought I was.”

I was not disappointed. In fact, I was riveted by the Oscar-worthy performances of Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, who played Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi.

A bit of back story…

After Bobbi died of cancer at age 45, Cheryl’s life took a downward turn. Her wild love for her mother turned into wild sorrow and then she went wild into her life. Hungry for affirmation, she indulged in bouts of sexual promiscuity and drug addiction. Fed up, her husband asked for a divorce. Unhappy and desperate, Cheryl picked up a guidebook about the Pacific Crest Trail and six months later started hiking from the Mojave Desert to Oregon, a distance of over one thousand miles.

Screenwriter Nick Hornby has skillfully adapted this memoir, interspersing Cheryl’s internal thoughts and a series of flashbacks with an adventure tale featuring the highs and lows of this unimaginable solo trek. From the opening scene, we can feel Cheryl’s anguish while removing a septic toenail and watching one of her boots tumble into a ravine. More unnerving episodes follow, among them dealing with extreme temperatures, running out of water, and encountering a rattlesnake.

Early in the film, thoughts of quitting occupy Cheryl’s mind. The backpack—aptly named Monster—provided the first challenge. It was well over half her weight and Cheryl could barely stand up, let alone walk. Her boots were too small and a constant source of pain. Truthfully, I don’t think I could have lasted one day, let alone three months.

Photos of the real Cheryl Strayed in the closing credits add an authentic touch to this larger-than-life film.

Oprah and Cheryl Strayed

After reading Cheryl Strayed’s powerful memoir, Wild, Oprah was so inspired that she decided to reinvent her book club. As part of Super Soul Sunday, Oprah invited the author to her house in Santa Barbara where they sat beneath the redwoods in her front yard. For almost ninety minutes, the two women discussed the novel and Cheryl’s need to spend three months traveling the 1100 mile Pacific Crest Trail by herself.

The back-story…

At age 22, Cheryl’s life took a downward turn. After her 45-year-old mother died of cancer, Cheryl’s wild love turned into wild sorrow and then she went wild into her life. Hungry for affirmation, she sought the company of other men and did heroin.

Three years later, Cheryl’s car broke down on a snowy night. She went into a camping store to buy a shovel to literally dig herself out. While waiting to pay, she glanced at a guidebook about the Pacific Crest Trail. The next day, she returned to buy the book. Six months later, she started her hike from the Mojave Desert to Oregon.

The challenges…

While Cheryl was not a stranger to the wilderness, she had no experience as a long distance hiker. Throughout the interview, Oprah commented that she would have given up at many points along the trail.

  • Cheryl’s backpack was more than half her weight and she could barely stand up on the first day of the trek.
  • Her boots were too small and a constant source of pain. She lost six toenails. At one point, Cheryl threw away the boots, wrapped her feet in duct tape and continued.
  • Cheryl ran out of water several times.
  • One evening, Cheryl spent the night under the stars. In the morning, she woke up and felt cool, wet hands on her body. She was entirely covered in black frogs.
  • While she wasn’t afraid of the animals, she experienced fear when encountering several male hunters who made suggestive comments.
  • She had only twenty cents left at the end of the hike.

The lessons…

  • God is not a grantor of wishes.
  • I needed to carry the weight I couldn’t bear.
  • The universe will take whatever it takes and not give anything back.
  • I found solace in trail magic–unexpected sweet happenings that stand out in relation to the challenges of the trail (e.g. sunsets).
  • Big things happened because I was not going to let fear hold me back.