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Wild: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Gaby Hoffmann, Laura Dern
based on the memoir 'Wild' by Cheryl Strayed

Reese Witherspoon
Born: March 22, 1976
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Cheryl Strayed
Born: September 17, 1968
Birthplace: Spangler, Pennsylvania, USA
Laura Dern
Born: February 10, 1967
Santa Monica, California, USA
Barbara Anne "Bobbi" Lambrecht
Born: August 18, 1945
Death: March 18, 1991, Saint Louis, Missouri, USA (lung cancer)
Thomas Sadoski
Born: July 1, 1976
Bethany, Connecticut, USA
Marco Littig
Born: July 22, 1966
Birthplace: Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA

Marco's name was changed to "Paul" in the movie and book.
Photo taken in 2013.
I tried really hard to not only tell the truth in terms of the facts, fact-checking what I could, but also really searching my soul. What is the true story of this experience for me? And I took that really seriously. There's nothing in the book that I decided to make up because it sounded better to do this versus that. -Cheryl Strayed, George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight Interview, October 2012

Questioning the Story:

How far did Cheryl Strayed hike?

In June 1995, the real Cheryl Strayed hiked 1,100 miles of the 2,663 mile long Pacific Crest Trail. The Wild movie true story reveals that Cheryl began her journey in Mojave, California and finished her 94-day trek at the Bridge of the Gods on the Oregon-Washington border. She had originally planned to complete her journey in Ashland, Oregon, which was just inside the Oregon border, but decided to continue to Washington.

Left: Reese Witherspoon on the Wild movie set in 2013. Right: The real Cheryl Strayed is pictured ten days into her hike with her backpack that was nicknamed "Monster".

How closely does the movie stick to the Wild true story?

Screenwriter Nick Hornby stuck fairly close to Cheryl Strayed's memoir. A noticeable difference is that Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) makes less stops on her journey and doesn't encounter as many people as she does in the book. The movie also cuts out a few other important people, namely Cheryl's older sister Karen and her stepfather Glenn (his name was changed to Eddie in the book). Some of the events have also been reordered time-wise or combined. Cutting and condensing events was somewhat inevitable due to the movie's two-hour running time.

For example, in the movie, Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) has three significant encounters with people hiking the trail. She meets the friendly hiker Greg, a female hiker, and a trio of young men whom she refers to as the "Three Young Bucks." In the book, she also encounters a community of people hiking the trail, and she walks with some of them for brief distances.

Does Cheryl only have one brother, Leif?

Cheryl does have a brother named Leif, but she also has an older sister, Karen, who is absent from the movie. Cheryl states in her memoir that following her mother's death, she and her siblings grew distant from one another. "Leif and Karen and I were inextricably bound as siblings, but we spoke and saw one another rarely, our lives profoundly different."

From left to right: Cheryl Strayed, brother Leif, mom Bobbi, and sister Karen (not in the movie).

Is Cheryl's ex-husband's name really Paul?

No. Cheryl Strayed changed the names of a number of people in her book in order to protect their identities. This includes her ex-husband "Paul". "I have changed the names of most but not all of the individuals in this book," Cheryl states at the beginning of her memoir, "and in some cases I also modified identifying details in order to preserve anonymity." Cheryl's ex-husband's real name is Marco Littig (born Mark D Littig), which can easily be discovered through public marriage records and interviews he has done about his ex-wife and the Wild movie. Cheryl married Marco on August 20, 1988 when she was 19 and he was 22.

How old was Cheryl Strayed when she began her life-changing hike?

Cheryl Strayed was 26-years-old when she embarked on her 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Has the book and movie inspired others to hike the trail?

Yes. The phenomenon actually has a name: "The Wild Effect." Prior to the book being published in the spring of 2012, roughly 300 people per year would obtain permits to try the full hike. After the book and movie came out, 1,600 to 3,000 people took out permits, 10 times the number who attempted the hike before the book. The Wild Effect has even seeped into popular culture. Lauren Graham's character Lorelai attempts to "do Wild" in Netflix's 2016 Gilmore Girls revival series, titled Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Of course, most people who find themselves deeply moved by Cheryl Strayed's bestselling memoir Wild don't actually go out and attempt her 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Cheryl Strayed's bestselling memoir has led to "The Wild Effect."

Were Cheryl and her mother both students at the time of her mother's diagnosis?

Yes. Cheryl and her mother Bobbi were both seniors in college when her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her mother had gone back to school when Cheryl was a freshman at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. The school offered free classes to the parents of students.

How long did Cheryl's mother survive after her diagnosis?

Cheryl's mother, Bobbi Lambrecht, died seven weeks to the day following her lung cancer diagnosis. She was 45-years-old.

Was Cheryl's mother Bobbi single at the time of her death?

No. This is perhaps the biggest change from the Wild true story. In real life, Cheryl's mother Bobbi was remarried to a man named Glenn at the time of her passing. Glenn, whose name Cheryl changed to Eddie in her memoir, had been a father figure to Cheryl and her siblings when they were growing up (Cheryl's biological father, Ronald Nyland, had been abusive to her mother and Cheryl lost contact with him after they divorced). Following her mother's death, Cheryl and Glenn did not remain close, partially because Glenn remarried. However, in real life, she put Glenn's contact information on the motel registration form before starting her trek in Mojave, not her ex-husband Marco's ("Paul" in the movie). -Wild Memoir

Why did Cheryl Strayed and her first husband Marco divorce?

Following her mother's diagnosis, Cheryl admits that her husband Marco ("Paul" in the movie and book) did everything he could to make her feel less alone. However, it wasn't enough. "Once my mother started dying, something inside of me was dead to 'Paul,' no matter what he did or said," Cheryl confesses. After the diagnosis, she had put all of her effort into caring for her mother. "I just was really too young to be married and certainly too young to nurture that kind of commitment and bond given my own grief and what was happening in my life." ( She also blames her drug use and rampant infidelity for contributing to her failed marriage (

Despite her best efforts to maintain a close bond with her brother and sister, Cheryl's once tight knit family unraveled upon her mother's death.

Does Cheryl really have her mother's horse tattooed on her arm?

Yes. The real Cheryl Strayed has a tattoo of her mother's beloved horse, Lady, on her left shoulder. She and her husband Marco got matching horse tattoos when they divorced. When her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer she asked the doctors if she would still be able to ride her horse. She was informed that she only had a year to live.

The real Cheryl Strayed (left) shows off the tattoo representing her mother's horse, Lady. Reese Witherspoon (right) gets the tattoo in the movie.

Did Cheryl really miss her mother's death while searching for her brother?

Yes. The Wild movie true story confirms that Cheryl's younger brother Lief disappeared as their mother grew worse in the hospital. Cheryl spent the night before her mother died looking for Lief. She found him, but by the time the two of them visited the hospital the following morning, their mother had already been dead for an hour.

Did Cheryl Strayed really eat her mother's ashes?

Yes. "My family and I had spread my mother's ashes in this plot of land that I grew up on in northern Minnesota," says Cheryl, "and there was just this little bit left, and I could not let go of my mother in the material world. I couldn't do it, so I did what came naturally to me, and so many people have written to me to say, 'I did that too.'" -George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight Interview

Did Cheryl and her brother Leif shoot their mother's horse?

Yes. In the book, the horse grew weak after Cheryl's stepfather, Glenn (renamed Eddie in the book), neglected it following the death of Cheryl's mother, Bobbi. Cheryl asks Glenn to put the animal out of its misery, but Glenn refuses. She then insists that her brother Leif must do it. He shoots the horse and Cheryl is present for the heart-wrenching moment. The horse doesn't die from the first shot. It dies slowly and it takes multiple shots to end it's life. -Wild Memoir

The real Bobbi (top) poses on her horse. Actress Laura Dern (bottom) portrays Cheryl's mother Bobbi in the Wild movie.

Did the real Cheryl Strayed abuse drugs following her mother's death?

Yes. Cheryl used heroin during the four-year period between her mother's death and the Pacific Crest Trail hike. She used again shortly before the hike. -Wild Memoir

Did Cheryl really become pregnant while using heroin?

Yes, but in the movie she says that she doesn't know who got her pregnant. In the book, her boyfriend "Joe" (not in the movie) got her pregnant, and he was also the one who had gotten her hooked on heroin. She had an abortion. Cheryl receives several letters from "Joe" while she is on her hike. He expresses that he wants to be her boyfriend and promises to get clean. She never finds out if he actually goes to rehab. Cheryl met "Joe" when she and Marco were separated but not yet divorced.

Did Cheryl's first husband really drive across the country to rescue her from drug addiction?

Yes. Cheryl ran off to Portland, Oregon with a man she refers to as 'Joe' in the book. She was separated from her husband Marco at the time, not yet divorced. Cheryl's best friend Lisa called Marco and told him about Cheryl's daily heroin habit. She pleaded with Marco to help. "I drove 36 hours straight to Portland," says Marco, "not knowing what I was going to do, but I knew I was the only person willing to do anything." Cheryl returned to Minneapolis with Marco and into counseling. -Daily Mail Online

Did Cheryl walk out of her therapy session?

No. The real Cheryl Strayed had been seeing a therapist consistently, not just for one session like in the Wild movie. Her internal thoughts that occur during her therapy sessions in the book are turned into dialogue with her therapist in the film.

Did a woman really drop Cheryl off in Mojave at the start of her trip?

No. The Wild movie true story reveals that it was actually a man who dropped Cheryl off in Mojave. However, the reason for the change is that the woman in the movie is the real Cheryl Strayed in a fitting cameo.

The real Cheryl Strayed (left) and her onscreen counterpart, Reese Witherspoon (right), are photographed on the last day of shooting in Oregon. The cuts on Reese's forehead are makeup for the movie. Photo courtesy Cheryl Strayed.

Did Cheryl call her ex-husband before beginning her hike?

In the movie, Cheryl's last phone call before she begins her hike is to her newly ex-husband Paul (his name is Marco in real life). The real Cheryl Strayed didn't call her ex-husband Marco before she started her hike. She contemplated doing so but feared he would somehow figure out that she had used heroin again recently. -Wild Memoir

Did Cheryl really receive a copy of James Michener's The Novel in a package at Kennedy Meadows?

In the movie, Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) receives a copy of The Novel in a package at Kennedy Meadows, which triggers a flashback of her and her mother debating Michener, the book's author. In real life, she traded her book of Flannery O'Connor short stories for the Michener, giving her book to a family staying in a cabin near Packer Lake Lodge, a stop that was omitted from the movie. -Wild Memoir

Were her feet really badly damaged from her too-small boots?

Yes, like in the Wild movie, her feet suffered because her boots were too small, causing blisters and claiming six of her toenails, which she pulled or rubbed off. -Wild Memoir

Did Cheryl really order a free new pair of boots and lose her existing boots?

Yes, but it doesn't happen exactly like it does in the movie. She doesn't find out that she can get a new pair of boots until a later stop (not while at Kennedy Meadows) after the damage had already been done to her feet. In the book, Rex informs her that the outdoors store REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) has a satisfaction guarantee, and since her boots caused blisters because they were too small, REI will replace them for free. "...and now it was official: I loved REI more than I loved the people behind Snapple lemonade," writes Strayed. Like in the movie, she picks her new boots up farther along the trail (at Castle Crags) and in the meantime, she accidentally knocks one of her old boots over the edge of a mountain and tosses the other one in despair.

To avoid snow, Did Cheryl bypass a portion of the trail by herself?

No, after departing from Kennedy Meadows, she bypassed a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail with Greg, not by herself. -Wild Memoir

Did Cheryl really spend the night with a man named Jonathan after he invited her to a Jerry Garcia tribute concert?

Not exactly. They did meet in Ashland, but unlike the movie, the man she refers to as "Jonathan" in the book approached her at a club where he worked. They struck up a conversation over his Wilco t-shirt, not a Bob Marley shirt (though she did lose a Marley shirt earlier in the book). She met up with him the following night after he got off work and they fooled around in his tent, but they didn't sleep together due to the fact that neither had a condom. The next day they went to the beach, the same beach that Cheryl had once been to with her ex-husband Marco. It was then that she wrote Marco's name in the sand.

The real Cheryl Strayed (left) pictured in July 1995 north of Belden Town. Reese Witherspoon (right) wears a similar Bob Marley t-shirt for the movie.

Did Cheryl really end up covered in frogs?

Yes. This scene is from the book and is very real. Other Pacific Crest Trail hikers have also reported seeing thousands of frogs jump for joy around them as they emerge from ponds and begin to discover their new legs. -Official Wild Facebook Page

Was Cheryl interviewed by the Hobo Times?

Yes, and it caused her to question whether she was actually homeless since she didn't have a house to return to. In her memoir, she never states if the story was actually published and picked up by Harper's, as the reporter implies it would be. Cheryl also did receive a hobo care package that included a beer.

Did Cheryl really encounter two potentially dangerous hunters?

Yes, but it didn't happen after she visits a putrid-looking pond to get water. She encountered them later in her trek, and they did ask her if she had water. -Wild Memoir

Did Cheryl get out of having a drink with the ranger after he got her box for her?

No. Near the movie's end, Cheryl convinces a park ranger to get her box and letters for her in exchange for a drink. However, she gets out of having a drink with him after the three young men ("Three Young Bucks") show up and want their boxes too. In real life, Cheryl had already met the young men (named Rick, Richie and Josh in the book) on the trail earlier and ended up bringing them with her to the ranger's for the drink.

The real Cheryl Strayed (right) on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995. Reese Witherspoon (left) chats with the "Three Young Bucks" while drinking morning coffee in the movie.

Did Reese Witherspoon go without makeup for the role?

Yes. "Reese agreed to go without makeup on the trail," says Wild director Jean-Marc Vallée, "just so she could feel what it is to go on a hike and not focus on looking at herself. She had a real backpack on, which was about 75 pounds" (Wild Featurette). He had all of the mirrors covered in her hair and makeup trailer.

Did Cheryl's real-life daughter portray the young Cheryl in the movie?

Yes. Cheryl's real-life daughter, Bobbi, who is named after Cheryl's mother, portrays a 6-year-old Cheryl in the movie.

The real Cheryl Strayed as a child (left) is portrayed by her own daughter, Bobbi Strayed Lindstrom (middle) in the Wild movie. Pictured with Reese Witherspoon (right).

Did Cheryl really change her last name to "Strayed"?

Yes. In exploring the Wild true story, we learned that Cheryl legally changed her last name to Strayed in May 1995. "I chose it for myself," says Cheryl. "Its layered definitions spoke directly to my life and also struck a poetic chord: 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." She did not want to use the hyphenated last name Nyland-Littig that she had shared with her former husband, nor did she want the last name Nyland that she had in high school since she could not go back to being the girl she used to be.

Why did Cheryl Strayed hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

Cheryl hiked the trail as part of a transformative journey to become the woman her mother had always thought she was. As described in the questions above, Cheryl had lost her way following her mother's death. Unable to deal with her grief, she had become involved with drugs and had sex with random men. The hike was a way for her to shed her recent past and overcome her grief, so that she could start fresh on the other side.

Cheryl Strayed Interview and Related Wild Videos

As she narrates the Wild book trailer, listen to the real Cheryl Strayed talk about what inspired her to embark on her 1,100 mile hike. Then listen to a candid Cheryl Strayed interview from George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight.

 Wild Book Trailer

Watch the Wild book trailer for author Cheryl Strayed's memoir, which chronicles her 1,100 mile, 94-day life-changing hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995. Strayed set out on her journey following a divorce and the passing of her mother several years earlier. She had never been backpacking before and she quickly discovered the realities of her inexperience. Strayed narrates this book preview, which is accompanied by photos.

 Cheryl Strayed Interview on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight

Author Cheryl Strayed sits in the red chair to talk about her book Wild. She discusses the book's authenticity, being contacted by Oprah, and how Reese Witherspoon got on board before the book was even released. This is the extended Cheryl Strayed interview that went beyond the TV show's conversation.

 Wild Trailer

Watch the Wild movie trailer for the film starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed. The movie is based on Strayed's bestselling 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which chronicles her 1,100-mile hike to shed her grief and atone for years of destructive behavior, which included heroin abuse.

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