When reflecting on her 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed writes “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. 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. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” While her story is driven from a place of loss and confusion, Strayed’s experience in the wilderness is a narrative that’s applicable to anyone struggling to find their true selves amidst stress and the monotony of everyday life. For college students in the middle of a demanding winter semester, her words are a source of comfort and a testament to the hope that can be found even during our most challenging trials and tribulations.
In her account of her journey through the mountains and deserts along the West Coast, Strayed offers wisdom she formulated while spending months alone in the wild, and stresses how spending time on her own pushed her to know herself in ways she couldn’t when living in a world that stresses constant communication and interaction with other people. “Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was,” she writes. Her experiences of finding peace in solitude is encouraging for students who are struggling to find solace during this season of life when balancing social lives, academics, and time to rest is most challenging.
Aside from her wise words, Strayed’s story of hiking hundreds of miles on her own is remarkable. Her journey is an important reminder to seek adventure even when we think we’re not capable enough to take on great endeavors. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is both physically and mentally demanding, and Strayed was very unprepared for the challenges that laid ahead. Her lack of hiking experience and the fact that she essentially knew nothing about the trail or even the wilderness in general meant she would encounter some inevitable roadblocks along the way. Despite her inadequacies, Strayed stepped into the journey with a desire to learn more about herself. She allowed that desire to fuel her when the trail became challenging, or when she lost her only pair of boots over a cliff and was forced to walk hundreds of miles with rubber slides duct-taped to her feet.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is the perfect read for any student struggling to find motivation to keep pushing through late-night study sessions and long, daunting essays. In her stories of long treks across the West Coast, Strayed offers some sources of hope in her exhaustion and doubt, and we can take this hope into our day-to-day lives to get through hard and tiresome seasons.