The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail hike is a tough route which runs approximately 2,200 miles through 14 states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. With the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, it forms part of the so called “Triple Crown” for hikers who complete all three trails.
Balancing on Blue by Keith Foskett
This book about Keith’s northbound Appalachian trail hike is full of minute detail about the changing terrain, plants, geology and weather systems as the trail progresses. Keith generally manages to maintain a good balance between the various elements of this genre of books, discussing preparations, gear, physical and mental struggles, meditations, and trail towns and landscapes, managing to make it all seem effortless. What makes his books especially enjoyable is the social and character detail he provides about the unique community of hikers who undertake long distance routes around the world. This book is no exception, and as a fellow hiker I read it in less than a day and a half.
The Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2,650 miles from the Mexican border northwards through California, Oregan and finally Washington, as far as the Canadian border. You can find out more about the PCT by consulting the Pacific Crest Trail Association website. Because of my interest in this trail, I happily devour any accounts of hiking it, so here are some different accounts of hiking some or all of this epic trail.
“Wild” the movie with Reese Witherspoon. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
I read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed (reviewed below) some time ago, and have been looking forward to this film adaptation of her journey along part of the Pacific Crest Trail. This gritty, unglamorized adaptation is a blisters and all portrayal of her life up to and during the hike. It is spliced with flashbacks of the events which led to her attempt to radically transform her life and to become the daughter her dead mother would have wanted her to be. To achieve this she abandons her ex-husband, her waitress job, her promiscuity and her experimentation with drugs, in favour of a completely new lifestyle.
Her failed early attempts on the trail will be recognisable to many hikers. However she gradually manages to get the better of more experienced hikers, and to deal with some of the dubious male characters she meets along the way. The central relationship between Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed and Laura Dern as her mother is well performed by both actors, and Strayed’s grief for her mother is movingly portrayed.
Unfortunately we don’t see much of the actual PCT, but it has been pointed out by the production company that filming in the wilderness such a long way from civilisation, would have been too tricky. Compared with the films I have seen shot on the PCT, there is little of the magical scenery.
Like Cheryl Strayed, I have long held an ambition to hike this trail, but sitting in a packed cinema, I couldn’t help selfishly hoping that not all of the people present end up on the PCT.
Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed
This book on which the film (above) is based received an upsurge of popularity following a plug from Oprah Winfrey. Cheryl Strayed found herself hiking part of the Pacific Crest trail following a difficult separation, the death of her mother and a flirtation with drugs. Her account of the early errors she made with her boots, backpack and kit, and the physical struggle she faced while she became trail-fit, are disarmingly honest. In this book, the trail becomes a metaphor for her personal development. Purists have criticised the book on the grounds that the author doesn’t complete the whole trail, and is a complete novice, so if this is you then you may not like this book.
Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail by Chris Townsend
Chris Townsend also completed the trail solo in the earlier days of the PCT, when it would have been very challenging. Only about 100 people hiked the trail that year, and Chris was one of a small group of people to finish it, making him a real trailblazer. He was confronted by many challenges, including unusually high snow levels as he crossed the High Sierras in California. Unlike Cheryl Strayed, he always intended to complete the entire trail, and had prepared for his hike by making sensible kit decisions which kept him safe during some very challenging sections. These sections made gripping reading at times and give a real sense of life on the edge. This account of the journey is much less about the author, and more about the extraordinary landscapes and wildlife he encounters. I relished the physical descriptions of the landscapes and I enjoyed this book very much.
The Last Englishman: A 2,650 mile hiking adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail by Keith Foskett
This account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is a well written book by Keith Foskett which shows how much busier the trail is now. Taking a more leisurely approach to hiking the trail means that the book is rich with descriptions of the social etiquette and camaraderie of the hike, the trail angels, the trail towns, and fellow hikers, all of which are fascinating. The pressures of winter approaching mean that Keith is forced to jump forward to complete the last segment of the trail before the snow makes it impassable. He then returns to complete the section he omitted by hiking southbound. The wealth of incidental detail, the steely determination of the author to finish, and the description of the obstacles he faced, made this a really good read.
“Into the Wild” the movie directed by Sean Penn.
Based on a book by Jon Krakauer, this film tells the sad, true story of Christopher McCandless, and his attempt to leave civilisation behind to explore the American backcountry. After graduating, he destroyed all his credit cards, donated his savings to Oxfam, and set out across America intending to support himself with casual work. Inspired by the ideals of writers such as Thoreaux, McCandless works and backpacks his way across America. During this time he is portrayed as quite happy, in spite of some rough encounters along the way.
After a settled period of work, he feels compelled to continue on his travels to Alaska. There he sets up camp on a remote abandoned bus in Denali National Park, where he lives for four months hunting and foraging, until his body is found by hunters on the bus. This moving film attempts to recreate this journey from his leaving home until his death. It is a story of survival, and in some ways a parable about the dangers of the wild, which will resonate with many people with experience of wild areas.
I paid the normal price for the above films and books.