Book Review: Journeys into the wilderness

I had diverged, digressed, wandered, and become wild. Cheryl Strayed

Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Tracks by Robyn Davidson on the face of it are two quite similar books. The story of a woman leaving her old life behind to travel alone in the wilderness. However, both are also quite different which is what makes them such good reads.

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found tells the story of Cheryl Strayed hiking 1,100 miles alone along the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California, Oregon and into Washington state.

Tracks is the story of Robyn Davidson’s journey across 1,700 miles of Australian desert with four camels and a dog.

Probably not the most rational thing to do, but I think you have to be a little bit crazy to actually go out on your own and do this. Both had similar reasons for their journeys. Cheryl was quite forthright about her reasoning.

That in truth my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail hadn’t begun when I made the snap decision to do it. It had begun before I even imagined it, precisely four years, seven months and three days before when I’d stood in a little room at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and learned that my mother was going to die. Cheryl Strayed

For Robyn you need to read more deeply to get a sense of why she was compelled to do this.

What I wanted to do, which was to be alone, to test, to push, to unclog my brain of all its extraneous debris, not to be protected, to be stripped of all social crutches, not to be hampered by any outside interference whatsoever, well meant or not. Robyn Davidson

Interestingly Robyn’s mother had also died and, while she didn’t elaborate on her death, you got the sense that her mother’s passing had impacted her and her family as much as it had Cheryl’s.

The trip reinstated a faith in myself and what I was doing. I felt calm and positive and strong, and now, instead of the trip appearing out of character, instead of worrying about whether or not it was a pointless thing to do, I could see more clearly the reasons and the needs behind it. Robyn Davidson

Unsurprisingly there were quite a few similarities in both stories. Both women were escaping society to find themselves, they encountered danger along the way, had periods of madness and times when they were perfectly happy in their aloneness. And both realized they couldn’t escape society forever.

I was beginning to understand that being alone got awfully boring sometimes, and that I needed people, wanted them. Robyn Davidson

There were also differences. Much of this was due to the location of the journey, Australia and the US, and the women’s physical distance from civilization. And the timing. Cheryl’s journey took place in the 1990’s, Robyn’s in the 1970’s. While only 20 years apart much had changed in society. Technology and the perception of women in the community both made a difference to their stories.

As an Australian, I found Robyn’s interest in and connection with indigenous Australians fascinating.

I was caught between two versions of the truth. I liked station people and know that they did not consider themselves racist. When they look at the sordid camps around town, they see only violence and dirt and the incomprehensible lack of protestant work ethic. While they usually have a patronizing respect for the older Aboriginal people, they are unable to see beyond the immediate and beyond their own values, to understand why the demise occurred and what their part in it is, either traditionally or at present. Robyn Davidson

There was very little in Wild about native Americans.

Robyn was much more prepared for her journey having spent a significant amount of time in Alice Springs, mainly learning about camels and how to handle them. Given the isolation of where she was going and how she was traveling this was unsurprisingly essential to her survival.

Cheryl had just her backpack. Robyn had four camels, and the support of National Geographic and a photographer visiting her a number of times on the way.

My hands moved to it on instinct, seeming to bypass my brain. Monster was my world, my inanimate extra limb. Through its weight and size still confounded me, I’d come come to accept that it was my burden to bear. Cheryl Strayed


I enjoyed reading both books, in fact I have read them twice in the past 12 months and watched the movie version of Wild (and would like to see Tracks too).

At times while reading, I was frustrated by their decisions and wanted to tell them to be more logical and less impulsive. However, on reflection this is probably the reason why I would never seriously contemplate doing this myself. (Although, secretly I’d love to give it a go!)

Thank you, I thought over and over again. Thank you. Not just for the long walk, but for everything I could feel finally gathered up inside of me; for everything the trail had taught me and everything I couldn’t yet know, though I felt is somehow already contained within me. Cheryl Strayed

The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the decision. Robyn Davidson

Photo credits: Robyn Davidson – Rick Smolan, Cheryl Strayed –

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found, Cheryl Strayed, Atlantic Books, 2012,  E-book ISBN: 9780857897770

Tracks, Robyn Davidson, London, Bloomsbury, 2012, eISBN: 9781408834879


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