Wild Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Books (Symbol)

Although Cheryl needs to carry as little as possible during her hike, she still decides to take books with her so that she can read at night in her tent. The books symbolize her connection to the person she was before she began her hike. Even though she wants to be alone and experience a completely different kind of life, Cheryl still wants to hang on to the parts of herself that have previously defined her. Books symbolize the balance she achieves between reinvention and nurturing the identity she had before starting her hike.

Backpack (Symbol)

The backpack, which Cheryl drags during her hike, is heavy and uncomfortable. She even gives her backpack its own name: Monster. This backpack symbolizes not only a physical load, but also an emotional one, which helps teach Cheryl to be stronger and not give up. Although she initially clings to the belief that she needs everything in her pack, Cheryl finally accepts that she can give some things away and live without them. Together, the pack symbolizes her ability to do more than she thought she was capable of, to make necessary changes, and to be powerful even when she is weighed down.

Boots (Symbol)

Cheryl initially feels confident in her boots, but they end up being the wrong size and causing her a lot of pain. Cheryl becomes very frustrated with them, but she also does not think there is anything she can change about this situation. Her boots symbolize her stubbornness and tendency to be somewhat self-destructive: she does not even think about getting new boots until someone suggests it to her. Further symbolism is created when Cheryl gets new boots only to find that they still hurt her feet. The failure of her new boots to solve her problem shows that she cannot anticipate or control everything, but she can still control her own actions and choices.

Condom (Symbol)

For most of her hike, Cheryl carries a roll of condoms with her, and she stubbornly hangs onto one all the way through the trail. The condoms symbolize Cheryl's hopefulness and naivety. She is very unlikely to meet a lover during her time on the trail, and she quickly becomes so preoccupied with surviving that the thought of sex strays very far from her mind. The condoms symbolize that even during her hike, she doesn't fully understand what she is signing up for, and she still has some idealizations of what her journey might be like.

Horses (Motif)

Horses are a persistent motif in the memoir. Cheryl's mother loved horses, and part of the process of losing her is enacted when Cheryl and her brother Leif shoot and kill their mother's horse. Cheryl thinks about the failure of her relationship with her father in terms of not having been taught how to ride into battle, and when her marriage with Paul ends, the two of them get matching horse tattoos. Horses symbolize freedom and power to Cheryl; they are also animals who can endure hard journeys in a way similar to how she progresses on her hike.