The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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Wild by Cheryl Strayed

In my family I am known as the careful one. I plan everything and over analyze most decisions.  Consequently, the blurbs on the dust jacket of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild got my attention.  What woman hikes 1100 miles of the  Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) by herself?  Drawn by the author’s impulsiveness, this was a book I wanted to read.

Now, a few months later, my careful nature shows up as I decide whether or not to review this book.  Strayed is impulsive and she’s very brave, but what does a pastor say about a book where the lead character describes bluntly her use of heroin, curses her mother’s memory, and exposes her sex life?  And when I say “curses her memory,” let’s just say has she been in A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s mother would have washed her mouth out with soap.  Plain enough?

I’ve made the decision to review the book here, but here are two things I’d say to you in the beginning.  First, now you know about the subjects mentioned above.  If you decide to read the book, I provided notice.  This is a review, not a recommendation.  Additionally, Strayed does not describe her frailties and problems in such a way that anyone would emulate her values or life.  In fact, these unsettling circumstances drive Strayed to her hike.  Extreme pressures call for extreme catharsis.  She goes on an 1100 mile hike because there is nowhere else to go and she goes by herself because she has no one to go with her. Readers may wish they had her nerve, but few will wish they had her life leading up to her hike.

With those observations out of the way, let me say that Stayed was brave, yet foolish.  Under-prepared, over-equipped, and informed only by a guide book, she sets out to conquer the PCT. Before she sets foot on the trail, she realizes her backpack is too heavy, but she can’t identify the essential items needed for the journey.   Unsure what to leave out, she takes everything.  Blistered, sore, and weary from the beginning, she takes step after agonizing step past obstacles that include a rattlesnake, a bull, a bear, a sexual predator, and her closest companions: solitude and hunger.  The physical demands of the hike result in her looking like, what Strayed describes as, a combination of Farrah Fawcett on her best day and Gunga Din on his worst.  The trail was demanding every day.

I think it was Nietzsche who said, “If we knew the whole truth at once, it would kill us.”  Would Strayed have started her hike had she known from the beginning how difficult it would be?  I can’t say.  But she did keep going when most would have turned back.  You have to give this woman credit:  she refused to give into fear, loneliness, weather, wilderness, or a lost boot.

For the reader with an unfinished degree, an incomplete home project, or unused exercise equipment cluttering up the house, Strayed’s completion of her goal is an inspiration. She did it. As unprepared and foolish as she was – Strayed hiked the portion of the trail that was her goal.  She makes “I didn’t sleep well last night” look like a laughable excuse for any task put off until tomorrow.     Reading this book makes me want to undertake a challenge – to start and finish something big.  In the end, that’s why I reviewed this book.


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Joel, I just re read Wild review. Now I understand why you wanted to bike from New York to Montreal. Big goal. You just wanted to see if you could do it. Ken

Ken Nance

October 14, 2013

There is something in each of us (even old guys) who want to push and do more.

We’re planning another cycling trip now.


October 22, 2013