Fully booked: Sophie Lee reviews

Above from left: Cheryl Strayed's best-seller Wild; Malin + Goetz Herbal Bug Spray; the actress Sophie Lee; and the setting for the book's trek, the Pacific Crest Trail, a corridor that runs through the US states of California, Oregon and Washington


in her latest instalment, Actress Sophie Lee reviews Wild, THE MOVING account OF CHERYL STRAYED'S arduous solo hike – encountering rattlesnakes, blisters, bears – and a path to self discovery

  2. This electrifying memoir charts the redemptive journey undertaken by a young American woman on an 1,100 mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. According to my theatrical agent it has been adapted into a screenplay by Reese Witherspoon’s production company and is being cast right now (for any young actors out there looking to play anyone other than the hero role Reese has earmarked for herself, think lonesome male hikers or random grizzled ute drivers).
  4. Following the loss of her "monolithic" and "insurmountable" mother, Cheryl Strayed’s life begins to spectacularly unravel. Serial infidelities, a broken marriage and drug abuse lead to despair and a mute plea for salvation. That prayer’s answer comes in the form of a travel guide, which Cheryl idly picks up in a shopping queuing. Upon reading it, something blooms inside her, and undertaking a solo hike becomes an outlandish solution to the hot mess that her life has become.
  6. In an early, deliciously written chapter that describes her preparation for day one of the gargantuan hike, the novice describes her battle with a carefully chosen top-of-the-range pack, brimming with all the many essentials she will require over the coming months – everything from Swiss army knives to snakebite kits, binoculars, a stove, Band-Aids and dried food, plus several novels and a collection of poetry that must be secreted within. In a motel room at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, which extends from Northern California all the way to Oregon, she contemplates the bulging pack that will soon come to be known as the Monster. It sits before her, crammed to the gills, as solid and immovable as a "Volkswagen Beetle"; impossible to lift, yet lift it she must, then walk hundreds of miles with it attached her back.
  8. Her journey begins in the unforgiving Mojave Desert where generous water supplies must be added to the already impossible pack. The beginning of her hike resembles hell. She is impaled by a cactus and feels like a “building with legs” under all the weight. Early in the afternoon of the first day, she pitches her tent and, too exhausted to make camp, collapses inside it wondering what on earth she has undertaken.
  10. Blisters, missing toenails, calloused skin, general dirtiness, the daily wrestle with her pack and the eventual shedding of essential items (chapters of books once read are ripped and fed to the camp fire) are recalled in equal measure with the more revelatory moments of pure joy: the overwhelming silence of her journey and a deep appreciation of the beauty around her, even when the Pacific Crest Trail is pummeling her feet in their too-small boots.
  12. At times Cheryl sees no one but misses no one and longs for nothing but food and water and to “put her pack down”.  It is the dazzling simplicity to which her life has been reduced that allows her to heal and grow. I particularly enjoyed reading about her love of the books she carries which briefly allow her an escape in the fading light of the day. Her potent descriptions of this life-altering journey are peppered with memories of her earlier life: her poverty, her broken home and the wrenching loss of her mother from cancer.
  14. Wild is a fantastic read, with depth and heart and soul. The author writes with immense skill and I confess to both laughing and crying even while re-reading this book. If you love a transformative journey, a mankind-versus-the-elements type affair, with a generous measure of girl power thrown in, then this book may be just the thing for what ails you. Read it before Reese puts her stamp all over the film version.