Film, book in­crease traf­fic on Pa­cific Crest Trail

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL - By Beth J. Harpaz

MORE hik­ers are ex­pected on the Pa­cific Crest Trail this year thanks to the movie Wild, ac­cord­ing to the Pa­cific Crest Trail As­so­ci­a­tion, which pre­serves and pro­motes the trail.

The book Wild, which has been a best­seller for nearly two years, led to a small in­crease in in­quiries about the trail, “but the movie seems to have had a much big­ger ef­fect,” said Jack Haskel, trail in­for­ma­tion spe­cial­ist for the Pa­cific Crest Trail As­so­ci­a­tion. “This past De­cem­ber, com­pared to last year, our web­site traf­fic went up 300 per cent.”

Re­quests have also in­creased for per­mits for long-dis­tance hikes on the trail.

The PCT starts near Campo, Cal­i­for­nia, out­side San Diego at the Mex­i­can bor­der, and stretches 4,264 kilo­me­tres through Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton. It ends in Wash­ing­ton’s re­mote Pasayten Wilder­ness at the Cana­dian bor­der.

Since the 1950s, only 3,346 peo­ple have re­ported hik­ing the en­tire length of the trail, but that num­ber has been ris­ing each year — even be­fore the book and movie brought more at­ten­tion to the trail.

When Haskel through-hiked the PCT in 2006, 300 peo­ple set off to walk the en­tire route, and about 120 com­pleted it. In 2014, more than 1,000 hik­ers at­tempted a through-hike, and about half made it.

Ch­eryl Strayed, au­thor of Wild, hiked 1,770 kilo­me­tres of the trail as she re­cov­ered from drug abuse, di­vorce and her mother’s death. Reese Wither­spoon re­ceived an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for best ac­tress for her por­trayal of Strayed. Laura Dern was nom­i­nated for best sup­port­ing ac­tress as Strayed’s loving, free-spirit mother.

“Wild is the largest me­dia event ever for the PCT and mil­lions are hear­ing about it now and are be­ing in­spired,” Haskel said.

Both the book and film of­fer a re­al­is­tic look at the chal­lenges and re­wards of the trek. Strayed ran out of drink­ing wa­ter, slogged through snow and rain, and blood­ied her feet in hik­ing boots a size too small. She had a few fright­en­ing en­coun­ters with peo­ple she met along the way, but also ex­pe­ri­enced kin­ship and kind­ness. Ul­ti­mately the trail’s seren­ity and nat­u­ral beauty helped heal her dam­aged soul.

There are no com­pre­hen­sive statis­tics on fe­male PCT hik­ers, but anec­do­tal ob­ser­va­tions sug­gest more women are hit­ting the trail, too, from fewer than 10 per cent of hik­ers in past years to 30 per cent now, Haskel said.

“There are def­i­nitely more women out hik­ing,” Haskel said. “I hear from women who are in­spired by Wild. And who knows what this sea­son will bring.”

Hik­ers hop­ing to do the whole trail typ­i­cally start in April or May and end in Septem­ber, walk­ing more than 32 kilo­me­tres a day for five months, with a day off now and then to re­cu­per­ate and re-sup­ply. Tim­ing is crit­i­cal: Start too early in the spring and you face flooded creeks and snow in the Sierra Ne­vada moun­tains. End too late in the sea­son and you’ll hit snow in the North­ern Cas­cade moun­tains.

In ad­di­tion to en­durance and care­ful plan­ning, long-dis­tance hik­ers also need to think about money. A through hike can eas­ily cost $6,000, in­clud­ing the flight to San Diego, food for five months and gear like maps, back­pack, sleep­ing bag and tent. “Peo­ple who head out with $3,000 of­ten find they’re run­ning out of money,” Haskel said. Through-hik­ers also typ­i­cally wear out four or five pairs of trail-run­ning shoes, which are the pre­ferred foot­gear th­ese days, rather than the boots that caused Strayed agony when she hiked the PCT in 1995.

But you don’t have to hike long dis­tances to en­joy the PCT. You can go for a few hours, a day or an overnight. The PCTA web­site rec­om­mends many popular, ac­ces­si­ble op­tions, in­clud­ing Mount Baden Pow­ell near Los An­ge­les; Mount Rainier and Goat Rocks near Seat­tle; and the Cas­cade Locks and Bridge of the Gods near Port­land, Ore­gon, where a scene in the movie was shot.

The PCTA has also launched a cam­paign, with Strayed’s support, us­ing the hash­tag re­spon­si­bly­wild to pro­mote safety and “leave no trace” prac­tices. Those in­clude pro­tect­ing wa­ter qual­ity, bury­ing hu­man waste, pack­ing out trash and build­ing safe camp­fires.

“There are a whole lot of peo­ple that are go­ing to be in­spired to hit the PCT be­cause of Wild and we re­ally care about mak­ing sure that peo­ple are trav­el­ling safely,” Haskel said.

And stay tuned for Hol­ly­wood’s next hik­ing movie when A Walk in the Woods comes out later this year star­ring Robert Red­ford and Nick Nolte. If Wild touched your heart, this one may tickle your funny bone: It’s based on Bill Bryson’s en­ter­tain­ing book about two mid­dle-aged, out-of-shape bud­dies at­tempt­ing to walk the 3,522-kilo­me­tre Ap­palachian Trail from Ge­or­gia to Maine.

AP PHOTO / ANNE MARIE FOX

Reese Wither­spoon in a scene from the film, Wild. The movie has in­creased in­ter­est in the Pa­cific Crest Trail.

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