“The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California. Moments before, I’d removed my hiking boots and the left one had fallen into those trees, first catapulting into the air when my enormous backpack toppled onto it, then skittering across the gravelly trail and flying over the edge.
In this blog post Brian Johnson, author of the Cicerone guide to the PCT, considers the UK release of the film 'Wild' based on Cheryl Strayed's account of hiking 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail:
“The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California. Moments before, I’d removed my hiking boots and the left one had fallen into those trees, first catapulting into the air when my enormous backpack toppled onto it, then skittering across the gravelly trail and flying over the edge. It bounced off of a rocky outcropping several feet beneath me before disappearing into the forest canopy below, impossible to retrieve. I let out a stunned gasp, though I’d been in the wilderness thirty-eight days and by then I’d come to know that anything could happen and would.”
This is the opening paragraph of the book ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed. At twenty-six, Cheryl thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death from cancer and her marriage crumbling she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to walk 1100miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and to do it alone. She had no experience of long-distance hiking but the journey held a promise, a promise of piecing together a life that lay shattered at her feet.
The Pacific Crest Trail is the longest completed purpose-built footpath in the world and it runs 2663 miles from the Mexican border to the Canadian border through the deserts, wilderness and mountains of California, Oregon and Washington.
The sub-title of Cheryl’s book: “A Journey from Lost to Found” sums up the experience of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It will be an experience of a life-time and as happened with Cheryl, it will change your life. I can’t do better than to quote from ‘Pennine Way Companion’ by Alfred Wainwright: “You wanted to test yourself. You didn’t do it to earn memories, but memories you will have, and in abundance, for the rest of your life. You will find you have enriched yourself. You will be more ready to tackle other big ventures and more able to bring them to a successful conclusion. You have learned not to give up. You are a better man because you have walked the Pennine Way”.
‘Wild’ is much more a book on how hiking can change your life, for the better, than it is a hiking manual. If the Cicerone Press guide to the Pacific Crest Trail had been published when Cheryl hiked her hike, she could have been much better prepared and could have avoided many of the problems and much of the discomfort she suffered on the hike. She would certainly have been carrying a much lighter pack but she wouldn’t have had such an enthralling tale to tell.
‘Wild’ became a best seller in the USA and UK and was even serialised as the Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’. It has now been made into a film, starring Reese Witherspoon,
Since I am writing this blog before the release of this film in the UK, I haven’t been able to see it yet, but it got a rapturous reception when it was released in the USA in December 2014 and it already being talked up for Oscar nominations with Reese Witherspoon being lined up for the ‘Best Actress’ award.
On the rigors of shooting, Witherspoon stated “By far, this is the hardest movie I've ever made in my life. I didn't hike a thousand miles, of course, but it was a different kind of physical rigor. I'd run up a hill with a 45-pound backpack on, and they’d say, 'Wait, that backpack doesn't look heavy enough. Put this 65-pound backpack on and run up the hill nine or ten times." We literally didn't stop shooting in those remote locations—we wouldn't break for lunch, we'd just eat snacks. No bathroom breaks. It was crazy, but it was so wonderful. It was complete immersion, and I've never felt closer to a crew. We literally pulled each other up the mountains and carried each others' equipment.”
I through-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail three times in preparing the Cicerone Press guide and it is an experience that I would recommend to anyone. You don’t need to be a superman or superwoman to complete the trek; any normally healthy person should be able to do it. What you will need is mental toughness, but you will be amazed how, just like Cheryl Strayed, you gain mental toughness as you hike.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed, published in the UK by Atlantic Books ISBN 978 0 85789 776 3
Wild, the film starring Reese Witherspoon was released in the UK 16th January 2015.
Hiking the PCT from Mexico to Canada
Guidebook to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), an epic 2650 mile hike from California's Mexican border to Canada's British Columbia. One of the world's best hikes, the route passes through California, Oregon and Washington State, taking in the Mojave desert, High Sierras, Cascades and countless more wild mountains.