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Under the Covers: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Welcome to Under the Covers, an on-going series of book reviews to enrich the way we think, move, eat and connect.

In my Under the Covers book series, I will rate each book based on its “Life Wisdom” value (from 1 to 5 wise owls). I will review books that inspire, motivate and teach life lessons. Some of our greatest wisdom comes from those whose journeys may be quite different from our own.

When we escape into their world, we can learn from their trials, tactics, and courage. Through their wisdom, we add to our own.

I’ve always been a sucker for survival stories. Climbing Mt. Everest, capsized boats in shark infested waters, plane crashes in remote lands, or military special forces survival training– I get hooked and don’t come up for air until I’ve turned the last page.

The intrigue stems from some eerie place inside my head, a place I expose only when I’m feeling really bold. (Like when I signed up to do an Ironman). Through this genre, I can experience the thrill of adventure without the personal risk. I tantalize myself with questions like, “What if I was in that situation? What would I do?” I can be the judge from a faraway vantage point. Taunting and daunting at the same time!

Photo from Click photo to see interview.

Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, prompted Oprah Winfrey to rejuvenate her book club. I’m so glad she did or I might have missed this gem. A gem deserving of my 5 wise owl rating for life wisdom contribution.

The book centers around the author’s decision to hike the Pacific Coast Trail alone. In her 20’s, with no experience, and a backpack so heavy she nicknamed it “Monster,” Cheryl set off on a journey to heal herself. Her writing is so engaging that I felt as if my lips cracked, my feet swelled, my shoulders ached, and my fears were realized.

Cheryl Strayed is not an athletic champion or veteran mountaineer. She is us. This could have been the most boring story ever. Who really cares about some clueless woman walking a trail because she messed up her life? You will. Trust me. Read it.

Here are a few life lessons I extracted from Wild:

Every single one of us possesses the strength to attempt something he isn’t sure he can accomplish.

This is the exact same lesson I learned from reading Scott Jurek’s book, Eat & Run. Except for Cheryl Strayed, she had no past history proving she was capable of physically handling this journey.

Armed only with advice from employees at an REI sporting goods store and a trail guide book, she overstocked her pack that was so heavy she couldn’t lift it off the ground. Symbolic of her heavy burden of grief, sadness and confusion.

Sometimes desperate times require desperate resolutions.

Cheryl lost her mother to cancer, divorced a man she still claimed to love, had affairs, starting using drugs, and couldn’t make a living as a writer. A quest that began as a way out of her life was a journey back in.

Sometimes creating a different pain makes our existing pain more tolerable. For Cheryl, real pain replaced emotional pain. A painful step forward replaced the pain of regret.

Cheryl Strayed and her overloaded backpack, “Monster”

We can overcome adversity if we let it play out.

From rattlesnakes to wild animals, Cheryl was faced with hair raising scenarios. One time a male hiker behaved in a threatening manner that would have caused most of us to run.

The irony was that Cheryl didn’t run away or imply that she ever seriously considered abandoning the trek. Unlike her pre-PC Trail life, she didn’t look for escape at every turn. She faced all of her fears head on and moved on.

Her focus was only on the next step.

No matter what you do or where you are, gratitude is the most powerful virtue.

I have been dying to drink a Snapple lemonade since I finished this book! (She deserves a huge endorsement deal from Snapple!). Cheryl would use what little cash she had to buy snacks or a meal, anything that wasn’t dehydrated food or a protein bar.

She always craved a Snapple lemonade. Her description of thirst for something cold and tart was so vivid that I swear the golden juice was dribbling out the side of my mouth down my neck.

Her gratitude for little things, like a clean pair of socks, grew with each aching step to an overwhelming appreciation of life.

You never know when the tide will turn.

One small choice can make a difference. Wild evolved into a journey that began with a glimpse at a guidebook on the Pacific Coast Trail at a convenience store. Her decision to buy that guidebook on a whim changed her life.

Now a hugely successful author of two books, endorsed by the almighty Oprah Winfrey, Cheryl Strayed could never have imagined the life she lives now.

This book churns possibility, spits bits of reality, and recycles your dreams.

I kept tapping on the “What if….” door in my mind when I finished this book. Unlike Scott Jurek, Chrissie Wellington or Bear Grylls, these boots were worn by someone like me. Ordinary.

The nagging wouldn’t subside. A dangerous sign. Do I need a dose of nature to remind me there is more beauty than ugliness in the world? Do I need to challenge my mind and body to such extremes to prove something to myself?

I guess Wild opened that door of possibility. As I close out another decade of my life, I’ve decided to run the Grand Canyon in May 2013. Rim to rim to rim. Along with my husband and partner in life, we’ll renew our 28 year marriage by helping each other survive over this brilliant terrain. This will be our first adventure together with no real safety net.

My burning question of “What If” will become a vow of “We will.” 

If this book can inspire me to run the Grand Canyon, what can it inspire you to do?

(Hmmmm, why didn’t I just go buy a Snapple lemonade?!)

Purchase hardcover or Kindle version of Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. All books by Cheryl Strayed on Amazon.

"You can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one."


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  1. Linda Glass #

    Wow!! Sounds like a book I would love. Now I know why we are related! No, maybe not. Grand Canyon? Not me, but I’m up to 15 “pushups” thanks to you and your blog!!!

    September 1, 2012
  2. Liz #

    This book does sound great! I will have to check it out for my next non-school read!

    September 18, 2012
    • fitskitz

      The worst part about college is that you have no time to read what you WANT! Study hard:)

      September 19, 2012

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