10 Years Ago, Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Wild’ Changed the Outdoors Forever
Our March pick is Cheryl Strayed’s classic memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. We’ll conclude the conversation with a live Zoom Q and A on April 5.
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The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California. Moments before, I’d removed my hiking boots, and the left one had fallen into those trees, first catapulting into the air when my enormous backpack toppled onto it, then skittering across the gravelly trail and flying over the edge.
It’s been ten years to the month since the publication of Cheryl Strayed’s blockbuster memoir Wild—who doesn’t remember that opening scene?
For those who haven’t read it (or seen the 2014 movie adaption starring Reese Witherspoon), Wild is Strayed’s account of her 1995 hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). She was 26 years old, alone, fleeing the demons of divorce and heroin and the loss of her mother to cancer. When she set out on the trail, she was famously unprepared, staggering under a backpack she called Monster, which she could barely lift. But she ended up covering 1,100 miles of the 2,650-mile trail, from the Mojave Desert, in California, to the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River, at the Oregon-Washington border.
To celebrate its tenth anniversary, we’ve made Wild the March pick for the Outside Book Club. We’ll be discussing it on the book club’s Facebook group all month, and on April 5, we’ll have an exclusive Q and A with Strayed on Zoom.
When Wild came out in March 2012, Strayed was a working mother of two, snatching whatever time she could to write. She and her husband had $85,000 in credit-card debt, and while out on her book tour, she got a call from home that their rent check had bounced.
But all that would soon change. Oprah Winfrey was so blown away by the book that she restarted Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 that May, with Wild as its first pick. Reese Witherspoon’s production company optioned the story, and by July 2012, Wild was a number one New York Times bestseller. Times critic A.O. Scott called it “a classic of wilderness writing and modern feminism.”
Meanwhile, the book’s popularity could be seen on the PCT. According to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, thru-hiker traffic along the route skyrocketed in the years following its publication, a phenomenon that came to be called “the Wild Effect.” The film adaptation catapulted another wave of hikers up the trail.
Wild changed not just the literature of the outdoors but the outdoors itself. Women now had a modern role model who showed them they could embark on a major adventure alone, even if they considered themselves a complete hot mess. And it blew the doors off adventure lit, opening it up to emotional and confessional writing about the time we spend outside. Strayed’s signature empathy—evidenced in her beloved advice column and podcast, Dear Sugars—gave us permission to show up in nature exactly as we are: broken, hopeful, and raw.
In the decade since its initial publication, Wild has been translated into 25 languages and has sold more than five million copies worldwide. It’s the perfect moment to revisit this seminal work—and the Outside Book Club will delve into the numerous ways it has shaped perceptions of the outdoors, including the impact it’s had on thru-hikers and solo women adventurers, what impact the wilderness still has on Strayed herself, and what she would pack if she could do it all over again.
We hope you’ll join us on April 5, at 6 P.M. Mountain Time, to discuss the book that changed the trails forever.