Skip to content

Wild: Chapters 1-2

Welcome to the comments and discussion of the Young Adult Cancer Book Club!  We are reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed.  Read our participants’ reactions and follow along with us each week as we read through the book!  (Caution! Spoilers below!)

Week 1: Chapters 1-2, pages 1-37

By Jessica B.

In Chapters 1 and 2 of Wild, we find out what motivated Cheryl Strayed to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. About 4 and a half years before Cheryl started off on her journey, she found out that her mother was dying of lung cancer. Throughout the first chapter, we find out about the day her mother was diagnosed, and how things transpired during the few weeks afterward, but we also learn about Cheryl’s history growing up with her 2 siblings while her family struggled. Admittedly, I had trouble reading these chapters both because of the grueling description of her mother’s decline, but also because the events were very chronologically scrambled.

While Cheryl was growing up, her family lived in a very rustic (like no indoor plumbing, rustic) house that took many years to be fully finished. I suppose this prepared her for her future trek through the wilderness. When it was time for Cheryl to go to college, her mother decided to go, too, and they eventually had the same major, just at different schools. This shows how close Cheryl was with her mother, but I think this closeness also served to create more of a burden on Cheryl when her mother got sick. After her mother’s diagnosis, her siblings were mostly MIA to the point that her younger brother had virtually disappeared and had to be tracked down using a network of contacts. In the end, Cheryl only had a few weeks with her mother after the cancer diagnosis before her mother passed away. I can understand why this would be a heart-wrenching situation to go through, but at the same time, it bothered me that Cheryl’s family, including her husband and stepfather, weren’t making sure that Cheryl wasn’t shouldering so much of her mother’s care. I think she probably would have been able to process everything better if she hadn’t felt like she was alone in having to deal with everything.

In Chapter 2, Cheryl talks about her preparation, or complete lack thereof, for hiking the PCT. She talks about how in the years after her mother’s death, her marriage crumbled, and her relationship with her stepfather and siblings basically disintegrated. She traveled to various locations around the country with her husband while they both seemed to be wandering completely aimlessly through life before Cheryl eventually made the impetuous decision to travel to Mojave, CA and just hike the trail. She had never gone backpacking before and she didn’t seem to have a concrete plan. She just decided to do it. She didn’t even have her backpack packed before she arrived. Being only the beginning of the story, I know there is a lot yet to come, and knowing that this is a memoir about hiking the trail, I know she’ll eventually make it. However, reading about how ill-prepared she is for this trip alone through the wilderness, I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of problems along the way. Also, with the confusing chronology of the book, there is still a gap of about a year unaccounted for between the end of Chapter 2 and the beginning of her hike, so I would hope that somewhere in there, we get an explanation of why someone would take on such a grueling trip with so little preparation.

By Marienna D.

These two chapters of the book are riveting and made it impossible for me to stop reading. I liked how the book started off in the middle of the story, then went back in time to provide some context as to why Cheryl is taking this journey. As both a cancer survivor and someone who cared for a parent with cancer, these chapters hit really close to home. I didn’t understand how it felt to watch someone else have cancer until my parent was diagnosed, and Cheryl captures those feelings amazingly. The experience of a person who has or had cancer and the experience of someone watching a loved one suffer from cancer are very different, but I feel that both are important and that something can be learned from both. As soon as I finished reading those two chapters, I was frustrated with Cheryl. I can’t imagine letting my family fall apart if my parent had died, and I can’t imagine myself ruining my romantic relationships or friendships either. It’s a lot easier to judge her than imagine how I would struggle to keep going in life if my parent had not survived. I’m very curious to see what Cheryl’s next steps will be as she takes a physical journey, but also as she unpacks what has happened to her in the last four years.

By Alique T.

From the first page of this story I began to resonate with Cheryl’s feelings. No, I have not hiked the PCT, but I know the feeling of coming “to know that anything could happen and that everything would.” I know since my diagnosis last year that this statement feels true as can be, whether you are hiking the PCT or fighting cancer in a hospital room dreaming to get out. The feeling of pitching yourself over the edge of a mountain, being loose in the world but bound to it. The feeling of grief, sorrow, confusion, fear, and hope. Searching for places in the world that could turn you into the person you know you could be, the person you had been once before. Facing the over 2,663-mile-long PCT head on feels similar to staring at the months or years of treatment you have to face head on. The simplicity of believing all the things you had been before prepared you for the journey you are about to embark on only to realize that nothing truly could. Each day hopefully preparing you for the next, just to realize that sometimes they wouldn’t. For me throwing your boots over the edge because you were done with them and their pain, even though you still loved them, reminded me of my hair. The feeling I had watching my hair fall out into clumps in my hands, on my pillow, my clothes, for days until I gave up and threw myself over the edge no longer able to hold on to who I was and just shaved it off. Wishing as you look from where you have come to what lies ahead that you have a choice only to realize that you do not.

You must move forward.

We knew from the start that Cheryl’s mom has passed away, and I remember thinking “oh please don’t let it be cancer” but of course it was. The thought of “people like my mother don’t get cancer” just like people like me don’t get cancer. The feeling of choking on the information you already know before you knew. The inability to cry, only to breathe. Listening to a song in a waiting room that you loved only to realize “to think about listening to the same song now. I would’ve never known.” Reflecting on your memories of childhood where things were simpler, before your life is changed by this news. Realizing how grateful you are for all these experiences you always took for granted. Suffering because you want things to be different than they are.

Our situations are different, Cheryl lost her mother, she lost her family, husband, and friends. But we both hold grief in our souls. The want for change. The want for an adventure that may be able to save you from the depths of your mind. The grief for who you were before. It is what’s making me realize that now that I am in remission, even maintenance chemo should not stop me from seeking adventure. All of us have ways of coping, but I believe that nature has been some of the best medicine and I think this is what we will learn as we dive deeper into this story. We can be transported to the PCT with her on her journey through her incredibly vivid descriptions of the landscape and life on the trail.

Cheryl has lots of work ahead of her, just as we all do. Together, through our stories maybe we can make it through together.

We’ll talk about a few chapters each week until the book is done. Join in the comments every week!  Also, there will probably be spoilers so read along with us!

Once we finish the book, we’ll have an online book club discussion on Zoom to talk about general feelings from the book and anything else you’d like to discuss on Monday, May 23rd.

Excited about the next book club?  Have any suggestions for future reads?  Let us know by emailing!