Walk on the Wild Side; Cheryl Strayed's 1,100 Mile Trek across the USA Is Now a Movie. Hannah Stephenson Reports

Article excerpt

IN the basement of Cheryl Strayed''s home in Portland, Oregon, hangs the Monster - a giant, worn and wizened old backpack she nicknamed because of its size - which acts as a poignant reminder of a journey that shaped the person she is today.

When she embarked on a gruelling 1,100-mile trek through the wilds of America, she hoped it would help fix her battered life. It did, and the remarkable story''s now a bestseller and about to be made into a movie starring Reece Witherspoon.

She was 26, and separated from her husband when she decided to take a three-month solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington state.

From the searing heat of the desert, to the ice-packed plains of the Kennedy Meadows, Strayed ploughed on with the Monster on her back, facing rattlesnakes, black bears, charging bulls, the threat of mountain lions and other dangers, in the hope the experience would piece back together her life.

Four years earlier her mother Barbara, known as Bobbi, had died from lung cancer aged 45.

Strayed''s brother and sister couldn''t cope, her stepfather soon found himself another partner.

Her mother''s death, and the resulting grief, forms the beginning of Wild, a memoir of Strayed''s journey from lost to found, her battles with the wilderness and the demons in her mind.

I cried my heart out while I was writing those chapters,she says. Over the next few years, her marriage collapsed and her life went into meltdown. She ended up in an on-off relationship with a drug user called Joe.

I had reached rock-bottom. I knew that this was not what I was meant to be doing. I was throwing my life down the drain. I was depressed and during that time I remember waking up in such despair.

"I remember thinking, if I continue to feel this way I''m not going to live.

She had no hiking experience. In the initial stages, her feet blistered, toenails fell off and her hips were rubbed raw from the straps holding up her oversized backpack.

I would sometimes have the most gruelling, exhausting, terrible day and then I would sit there eating my little pot of dehydrated food looking across the most amazing land, with nothing in sight but the many colours of the wild, and just have this sense of how fortunate I was to be there at that moment and also that I''d gotten there on my own strengths. …