Wild by Cheryl Strayed is a great memoir of her solo trek of the Pacific Coast Trail from California to the Washington border. She goes to escape many things in her life but comes to realise that she was also escaping to her authentic self. Her naivete about how to actually prepare for the hike mirrors her own lack of self-awareness...she thinks she knows what she's doing but discovers all too quickly she's clueless--typical of the learning conundrum, you can't know what you don't know until you know it--but that ignorance is exactly what allowed her to venture forth to start with, and also to NEED to tackle the PCT.
While all her travails on the trail were interesting and her voice is both raw and refined but entirely engaging, what struck me most was her relationship with water. It's obvious importance for hydration aside, her arrivals in trail stops with bathing facilities were moments of enlightenment.. The purification theme, washing off her past and emerging almost reborn to tackle the next leg of the hike and its challenges is something I think many swimmers can relate to. The meditative quality of moving through (or soaking in) water is much like the flow that she reached in the hike, but without all the blisters.
"In the bathroom, I shut the door behind me, turned on the tub's faucent, and got in. The hot water was like magin, the thunder of it filling the room until I shut it off and there was a silence that seemed more silne than it had before. I lay back against the perfectly angled porcelain and stared at the wall until I heard a knock on the door.
"'Yes?' I said, but there was no reply, only the sound of footsteps retreating down the hallway. 'Someone's in here,' I called, thought that was obvious. Someone was in here. It was me. I was here. I felt in a way I hadn't in ages: the me inside of me, occupying my spot in the fathomless Milky Way.
"I lay back and closed my eyes and let my head sink into the water until it covered my face. I got the feeling I used to get as a child when I'd done this very thing: as if the known world of the bathroom had disappeared and become, through the simple act of sumbersion, a froeign and mysterious place. Its ordinary sounds and sensations not normally heard or registered emerged.
"I had only just begun. I was three weeks into my hike, but everything in me felt altered. I lay in the water as long as I could without breathing, alone in a strange new land, while the actual world all around me hummed on." (Strayed, p.134-5)
Those who have travelled through Northern California and Oregon will recognise some of the landscapes and stops along her journey, but what's most interesting is recognising Strayed's growth through an essentially human experience.
Despite some swearing and frank (though not graphic) descriptions of sex, I would recommend this book for grades 10 and up as the themes would relate particularly well to students emerging (and planning for) adulthood (whatever they may think that means) and would provide many openings for rich discussion.