Tuesday, April 14, 2015


The day I began reading this book, my friend died from cancer. Over the course of four years she had battled (and beat) two forms of cancer, but it seemed luck was not on her side and she kept getting sick. The evening before she had made a post detailing that she wasn't feeling well and was headed to the hospital. A mere sixteen hours later, she was gone.

This hadn't been my first rodeo with cancer. I had pre-cancerous cells four years beforehand which were successfully removed; my aunt had two forms of cancer, the second killing her; and my grandfather had cancer that overtook his body which led to his death a mere two years beforehand. I was familiar with cancer in ways that I never asked to be and with opening this book, my friend's death still so fresh that I was still in a state of shock, I could relate even more to Cheryl and the loss of her mother than I am sure I could have if I read the book at another time -- with the pain of what cancer does to a person less fresh in my mind.

I expected that this book would be life changing. That I would often be left stunned and unable to move on as I processed the information. It... wasn't so much that. But it was enjoyable, it was something that I read and felt passion for with each page turn. It made me think a lot about myself, about what I've experienced and what I am willing to try in my life, and about the scope of bravery in my internal dictionary.

To me, Cheryl is brave, but we'll dive into that in a minute. The sum up of the novel is this: Cheryl's beloved mother is diagnosed with cancer and quickly dies. Cheryl is at a complete loss and struggles to deal with her grief by choosing less than healthy ways to cope with it. Sleeping with different men, doing drugs, divorcing her husband all follow in a quick line following her mother's death. Then she gets it in her mind to find herself again. This is entirely fabulous and I feel a real moment that many people face when they are falling down a metaphorical rabbit hole. Your life isn't perfect, you complain about it, hate it, fight it, but at some point you get to a position where you go "I am going to change myself/this situation/what's happening" and you go forward. I feel that's where Cheryl is when she begins her hike up the Pacific Crest Trail.

We are offered different memories of Cheryl's life and her relationship with her mother at the start of the book but more and more, as she continues her hike, we focus on the hike itself, as well as the mental development of Cheryl.

Emotionally, I get what it's like to mourn someone important to you. It's damn hard and people certainly mourn in different ways. Hell, every death is different and you may mourn each death differently from the last you've experienced. It's a tricky thing, life and death, but I felt I could understand Cheryl because I could relate to her sense of loss. While her life choices are not my own, I could relate to the anger, confusion, and feeling of wandering that she went through.

But the similarities stopped there. This woman is brave. Any woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail (or any other) by themselves is brave. I can't even imagine doing it. Give me a walk in the woods, let me hike up to the overview of the valley near my parents' home, but to go on something that is so removed from civilization all by yourself? And to do it as a woman? I can't imagine it. This is not to say that women are incapable of doing such great travels by themselves, but we unfortunately live in a culture where it's ingrained in our minds, as women, to proceed with caution while alone as there are threats to the world.

It's interesting in that while we are prepared to blast pepper spray or blow into a rape whistle if we are advanced upon in a threatening way, that the worry of a woman alone also equals pleasantries from strangers. Cheryl meets a number of strangers on the hike but only a few would be categorized as rude or dangerous. Often enough, she was given a lot of courtesy and respect which is awesome.

But I still can't get my mind around doing all of this by yourself. I have been lucky to see bits of the wilderness that eastern California when I visited Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite Park (then Yosemite Park's valley, too) as I walked on well made paths. But even then, the air was thin and there wasn't any sound from machinery which made me oddly uncomfortable and feel somewhat alone despite that I was around so many other people. To do that alone, I would honestly be a little scared.

The book was eye opening in that I tried to consider myself in these situations and I realized I wanted to see more of America, more of our land, but that I don't think I'm quite long-hike material. At least not on my own. But I may still occasionally think "I'm like Cheryl" when I take my short five mile hikes near my house in the state park. It's something to aspire to at the very least.

I'd suggest this for anyone who is interested in the great outdoors, travel, and personal growth because you'll be completely satisfied. We get a peek at what it is to mourn but also what it is to travel and grow as a person. I loved this book, I'm happy I received it, and I'm happy I read it when I did. In many ways, the book helped me cope with my friend's death and I'm sure I'll refer to it in the future when other obstacles creep into my life... or maybe just when I consider taking a long hike.

Last Week's Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
Next Week's Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

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