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'Wild' author wows overflow crowd

CORVALLIS — Nearly 2,000 people thronged an Oregon college auditorium for an appearance by the author of "Wild," hours after a movie based on the best-selling memoir about a thousand-mile hike earned two Oscar nominations.

Cheryl Strayed wrote the book about her walk along the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 and described it Thursday night to an overflow audience at Oregon State University.  The movie included scenes shot on the downtown Ashland Plaza and in local businesses in 2013. The movie has also been credited with increasing interest in — and hikers on — the trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada and runs through the Cascade Mountains east of the Rogue Valley.

It was the largest crowd at the university's LaSells Stewart Center for such an event, college official Shelly Signs said. Hundreds watched on monitors in the lobby and another auditorium, the Corvallis Gazette-Times reported.

Oscar nominations were announced earlier in the day: Reese Witherspoon was named for her performance as Strayed, and Laura Dern for hers as Strayed's mother.

"How could this even be possible? It makes me want to cry," Strayed said. "It's astounding to me that one day people playing me and my mom would be nominated for an Oscar."

The book describes how Strayed reacted to her mother's death from lung cancer, and how she walked her way out of a dark time that included adultery and heroin use.

"When she died, I didn't know how to live," Strayed said. "In my sorrow I lost my way. I got married; I did a lot of things married people shouldn't do. ... Well, I did a lot of things single people shouldn't do, except in moderation."

Looking for a way out of her mental state, she hiked the California and Oregon segments of the trail that runs along the mountainous spine of the West Coast from Mexico to Canada.

The university audience cheered and clapped for Strayed's stories and asked questions about mother-daughter relations, her approach to writing and her work as an advice columnist.

Strayed began writing "Wild" in 2008.

As the book was being prepared for publication, in 2012, Strayed sent a copy to Witherspoon, who bought the rights before it hit the shelves.

Six weeks after release, the film has taken in $30 million.

Strayed had a small part, as a pickup truck driver who drops off Witherspoon at the starting point of her hike.

And she had a line: "Good luck."

Cheryl Strayed, author of the best-selling hiking memoir 'Wild,' gives a presentation Thursday to a packed house at LaSells Stewart Center on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis. AP PHOTO.