Book Cover: Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest trail

Who is tougher than me? ... No one.

Ready for an honest personal account that is beautifully raw, that cuts to the bone of what it means to be a broken woman on the mend? Wild is the story of a young woman, Cheryl, trying to recover from her wrecked life by going on an epic hike for almost 3 months, with nothing but nature and inexperience at her then soft feet. The book touches on many universal elements such as fear, loneliness, strength and rebirth that will have the reader reflecting on their own life.

The first aspect of Cheryl’s journey that amazed me was that she stared fear in the face repeatedly; she saw snakes, lost her boots, ran out of water, and got lost. Cheryl’s determination to continue and not quit was a definitive characteristic I identified with, as she acknowledged her fears and desire to give up, struggled and eventually turned them into a driving force on her journey.

…I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power.

During Cheryl’s solo expedition she found herself lonely most of the time, however she pushed through that social need to rather travel inwards. Cheryl went beyond her loneliness, and realized solitude was necessary to get into the deep cracks of herself. Cheryl’s being forced by the intensity of her situation to survive did not allow for her to ‘think’ much about her issues along the way. Cheryl’s awareness that she was a human in nature gave her consciousness of her true presence.

I was here. I felt it in a way I hadn’t in ages: the me inside of me.

The story is mostly linear following Cheryl on her hiking trail, with intermittent jumps back to her past. This narrative style gave me a sense that life is a collection of memories, not just a beginning, middle and end. Cheryl’s dealing with the death of her mother is a big part of her reflections on the trail and reminds us of how parents are a significant part of our emotional foundations, how we cherish them and at other times we draw distance. Our parents lived with their imperfections like many others before us. We can choose to accept our flaws or change them, but whatever we choose it is our ‘Monster’ backpack we have to carry on our own trail. Cheryl’s authentic voice releases us from the mistakes of the past that hold us back; she mentions that they are part of who we are, like the creases in our face that give us character.

I only felt that in spite of all the things I’d done wrong, in getting myself here, I’d done right.

Cheryl’s rough tell-it-like-it-is tone is hilarious and heart wrenching at times, blended with capturing the serenity and hostility of the nature around her.

Cheryl emphasizes the importance of being in nature and when she transcends the pain of her feet and aching body, she sees the metaphors that nature has to offer around her. My favourite sign of nature Cheryl comes across is towards the end of her journey where she hikes past Crater Lake, which touches on her theme of the renewal of the self; a reminder that things are always in a state of change.

This was once a mountain that stood nearly 12000 feet tall and then its heart was removed. This was once a wasteland of lava and pumice and ash. This was once an empty bowl that took one hundred years to fill… They simply weren’t there anymore. There was only stillness and the silence of that water: what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after healing began.

I wonder how many people after reading this book wanted to go on a hike for some soul searching. I found myself reflecting more, listening more when I go on my walks in the forest. Nothing like a gush of real life through living in nature to give you a wake up call. But more than that Cheryl tells you that it is okay to go through the struggle. It is okay to go through your life upside down without knowing the outcome. There is wildness in being open for what’s to come.

Aliya Tamarin Duncan Poole completed her undergraduate at AFDA Film School and then went on to UCT to receive an Honours postgraduate degree in Scriptwriting. Aliya previously worked in the film industry, currently teaches at a high school and edits films in her spare time. She is a freelance book reviewer and also a co-organiser of the Cape Town Book Club of Life-changing books. 

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