Making Peace with “WILD” (PCT-2015)

Aaron is writing an article for the Sacramento News & Review having to do with the PCT and the book, “Wild”. He interviewed Liz Bergeron, who is the Executive Director of the PCTA, and consequentially was invited to an event at the REI in Berkeley where Cheryl Strayed would be speaking briefly about her book. Aaron was issued a +1 and he invited me. I went because first he begged me, and then got clever and offered to buy me Starbucks coffee every day for the next two weeks if I went. Hell yeah, I said. I’m there.

I know. I'm the worst. But I NEEEEEEEEED it. More! More! More!

I know. I’m the worst. But I NEEEEEEEEED it. More! More! More!

My opinions about “Wild” have gone through some evolution in the last year. I still haven’t read it, and I probably won’t. But the book IS in my house, since Aaron read it. And he has been given access to a pre-screening of the movie, with a +1, so if he plays his cards right (and I’m sure he will) I will most likely be seeing the movie, despite my original assertions years ago that I would do neither.

re-wild-header-reg

“Wild” was at the height of its success the same year I was preparing to hike the PCT. I just happened to stumble upon it at a local bookstore. There was a giant “Oprah Approved” sticker on it. I went home and Googled. I immediately hated it, the book, the people who liked it, all these interlopers on a goal that I had been trying to breathe life into for the last five years. The PCT was mine, and the masses were coming to take it away, dilute the experience of the trail and the achievement, when I hadn’t even had the chance to do it yet.

This negative reaction exacerbated when I finally told my in-laws that I would be doing the trail the next year. Aaron’s Aunt Annie went out and bought “Wild” right away, and therefore became the expert to the rest of the family. “Do you know you have to walk through the desert?” She said, over Thanksgiving dinner preparations. “Wild didn’t have the right shoes. She lost toe nails.” “She did?” said my mother in-law, “Amy, did you know that? Do you have the right shoes?” No matter how much I tried to relay to them how much I had researched the trail, using valid resources, including trail journals and guidebooks, not to mention my experience hiking a few hundred miles myself the last few years, they would ignore me and come back to one single refrain: “Amy, you really need to read this book.”

My mother in law, dishing out the stuffing, along with heaping spoonfuls of unfounded hiking advice

My mother in law, dishing out the stuffing, along with heaping spoonfuls of unfounded hiking advice.

Sigh. It annoyed the hell out of me, and confirmed some of my fears about what a massively mainstream book like “Wild” would do to the entire experience. Also, anytime my Mother in Law would see the book, she would point, and say, “Look! Amy, it’s you!” God, I did NOT want that comparison, no matter how naïve and nonsensical it was.

Four months later, my disk would rupture and I would have to cancel my PCT plans. I would fall into a dark depression for over a year, only to come to the same conclusion I have come to over and over, since I first found out about the PCT, almost a decade ago: I would have to hike this damn trail. Someway. Somehow. No matter what.

You-Can-Do-It

Meanwhile, while I was trying to get my back better, it came out that Reese Witherspoon was going to make and star in a “Wild” movie, and people in the thru hiking community were all agog over it. They were already pissed about the book, and news of a movie pushed them over the edge. I belong(ed) to several PCT Facebook groups and it was through reading other peoples’ strange biases about “Wild” that forced me to look at, and reconsider my own.

One of the more popular nitpicks about “Wild” revolved around the idea that now throngs of people were going to hike the trail, and their presence was going to alter the uniqueness of the experience. I had the same initial thoughts, so could (and still can) understand feelings about not wanting the trail to change, even not wanting to have to share it with the rest of the world. But these ideas started to strike me as a little elitist. People were making negative conjectures on the type of person that would now be drawn to the trail, as if anyone who related to Cheryl Strayed, and now wanted to “find themselves” on the PCT were the wrong kind of person.

Soon enough, those posts became less about the type of person that was going to come and usurp the community, but the type of woman. Joke after joke ensued about all the poor, pathetic, lost women that were gonna come and try to hike, and fail miserably. One guy perpetually complained about all the middle-aged women that were going to be “finding themselves” on the trail, and when it was pointed out to him that the protagonist in “Wild” was 26, his tone changed to how many hot and lost ladies he was gonna save.

When the apex of the “Wild” fervor hit via FB, I could not hide from myself that there was a thick vein of sexism shooting through the general dislike of the book. That, and the odd, smug snobbery that abounded across the board caused me to change my attitude about book. I still wasn’t going to read it, but….sheesh….people can be inspired however they want. Not many people have found the PCT by physically stumbling upon it. Most of us have found it from books, or videos, or journals, and were inspired by the people that did it before us. There is nothing wrong with that. And there is nothing wrong with the notion that the PCT is going to change you somehow. Everyone is there for some kind of catharsis, everyone wants something from it, wants to gain something from the experience. And if women, young and old, read “Wild” and find the urge to take a long hike as a result, I say hooray. I will be glad to see more women out there.

Cheers

Cheers

The PCTA embraced the book and the movie wholeheartedly, as those fans would most likely become PCT fans and donate accordingly. The current public tone among hikers has mostly changed into one of concern for novice backpackers to be prepared, and I am seeing fewer people calling Cheryl a “Ho”. The community is adjusting. I believe we will all make the best of it, because our love of the trail is stronger than our fear of change. I know I would rather be a part of making the inevitable changes as positive as possible.

Anyway. Somehow Aaron snagged a 15 minute interview with Cheryl Strayed. His mom called on our way to Berkeley. He told her about the interview. “Oh! Amy must be jealous!” she asserted. “Actually, Amy is coming with me,” Aaron replied. I’ve only told her 1500 times that I haven’t read the book.

“Oh! She is???? Did she remember to wear her hiking boots?!?”

Sigh. I don't wear hiking boots!

Sigh. I don’t wear hiking boots!

 

7 thoughts on “Making Peace with “WILD” (PCT-2015)

  1. I am amazed at how much publicity this book is getting. When I told my parents I was going to hike the PCT, my mother, who is a book worm, recommended the book. I read it promptly and I enjoyed it…….then the flood hit. I saw it all over the internet and the news. Then the movie! Gees! I can’t mention my PCT trip without getting asked “Have you read “WILD?” I fell into the spiraling chain of thoughts “Oh, now there are going to be a bunch of couch potato, incompetent, naive, lost souls on the trail. This is going to ruin my trip” and so on and so on. But as I just stop thinking about it and not reading every little thing about it. My devotion to my goal to hike the PCT starts coming out of the fog. No matter what happens, no matter how many people are on the trail, there will be enough space for everyone. I will be alone some days, other days it may be crowded. There is nothing you can do about that. Look at the bigger picture. We are going to hike the PCT! How amazing! Forget everyone else. We are doing it right, we put in all the work and thought. We will outhike the “WILD” crowd and the PCT will be ours!

  2. I had a similar experience after hiking the AT back in ’96. Everyone knew what it was like to take “A Walk in the Woods”.

  3. Great article! I’m also planning a 2015 PCT thru-hike. I read Wild when it was first becoming popular, and I enjoyed it. I feel a need to defend it, just because most of the critics haven’t actually read the book. Also, there are already too few female hikers out there, so I think that tearing apart the most famous of the female hikers could discourage other women. Regardless, I’m excited to see the movie and very jealous that you get to meet/ did meet Cheryl Strayed.

  4. Nice post! I am one of those rare backpackers who actually likes “Wild.” Sometimes, I feel the need to assert that I had been planning to hike the PCT (and did hike the AT) before someone who was also young, female, blonde, and dealing with family stuff when she hiked it told us all about her hike. However, for the most part, I’ve found that I appreciate that people I talk to about my plans know a little something about long-distance backpacking, even if that information was gleaned from a single story. That’s not to say that I don’t laugh every time I tell someone about my hike and they ask first, “Did you read that Bill Bryson book?” and second, “Have you read that book about that girl?”

    Happy trails!

  5. I saw that you had like my post on Wild, so I thought I’d check out your blog and lo and behold… a post on Wild! It seems we have a somewhat similar outlook on it haha. I think in the long run it’s good publicity, and in the short run people can get over themselves and share the trail haha

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