- Did you enjoy this book? Why or why not?
- Did you like Cheryl Strayed at the beginning of the book? Did your feelings about her change over the course of the book? If so, how?
- "The Pacific Crest Trail wasn’t a world to me then. It was an idea, vague and outlandish, full of promise and mystery. Something bloomed inside me as I traced its jagged line with my finger on a map” (p. 4). Why did the PCT capture Strayed’s imagination at that point in her life?
- Each section of the book opens with a literary quote or two. What do they tell you about what’s to come in the pages that follow? How does Strayed’s pairing of, say, Adrienne Rich and Joni Mitchell (p. 45) provide insight into her way of thinking?
- Strayed is quite forthright in her description of her own transgressions, and while she’s remorseful, she never seems ashamed. Is this a sign of strength or a character flaw?
- “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told” (p. 51). Fear is a major theme in the book. Do you think Strayed was too afraid, or not afraid enough? When were you most afraid for her?
- Strayed chose her own last name: “Nothing fit until one day when the word strayed came into my mind. Immediately, I looked it up in the dictionary and knew it was mine...: to wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without a mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress” (p. 96). Did she choose well? What did you think when you learned she had assigned this word to herself—that it was no coincidence?
- What does the reader learn from the horrific episode in which Strayed and her brother put down their mother’s horse?
- Strayed writes that the point of the PCT “had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets” (p. 207). How does this sensation help Strayed to find her way back into the world beyond the wilderness?
- On her journey, Strayed carries several totems. What does the black feather mean to her? And the POW bracelet? Why does she find its loss (p. 238) symbolic?
- Does the hike help Strayed to get over Paul? If so, how? And if not, why?
- Strayed says her mother’s death “had obliterated me.... I was trapped by her but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could fill” (p 267). How did being on the PCT on her mother’s fiftieth birthday help Strayed to heal this wound?
- What was it about Strayed that inspired the generosity of so many strangers on the PCT?
- "There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another.... But I was pretty certain as I sat there that night that if it hadn’t been for Eddie, I wouldn’t have found myself on the PCT” (p. 304). How does this realization change Strayed’s attitude towards her stepfather?
- What role do books and reading play in this often solitary journey?
- Would you recommend this book to others? Who and why?
Menu: "Back from the Wilderness" Feast
Whenever she stops in a town, Cheryl indulges in all those delicious things that she's missed so much along the trail. Feel free to choose from this list of the goodies Cheryl enjoys:
red rope licorice (pg 75)
BBQ ribs, canned corn, potato salad (pg 76)
lemonade, Butterfinger bar, Doritos (pg 103)
hot dogs, baked beans, potato chips (pg 104)
spaghetti, garlic bread, rum and coke (pg 130)
turkey sandwhich cut in triangles, blue tortilla chips, dill pickles and root beer (pg 148)
green salad and french fries (pg 171)
hot dogs, jalepeno poppers, nachos with cheese (pg 200)
cheeseburgers, fired, chips and cookies (pg 218,280)
a fresh peach (pg 232)
caesar salad, grilled chicken, crusty bread, diet coke and banana split (pg 243)
chicken casserole, salad and yellow cake with white icing (pg 292)
OR... think about what you would miss the most after a week of freeze-dried trail food, and share that with us instead!
Spaghetti and garlic bread - Karen
Corn and Potato Salad - Melissa
Turkey Sandwhiches and Dill Pickles - Erica
Caesar Salad - Emily
Green Salad and Doritos - Shelagh
Butterfinger bar dessert - Lindsey
Fresh Fruit - Emily
Dessert - Tamara
Drinks (including lemonade, a course!) - Tessa