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By Diane Spicer
Backpacking and hiking movies are a great source of inspiration.
And they can be a font of knowledge before you set off into the wild unknown, showing you at a glance what conditions will be like.
To be honest, I don't have a lot of time to watch movies. So I carefully screen them before investing my precious time.
After all, I'd rather be hiking.
But when the weather is uncooperative or you're just in the mood for some hiking related entertainment, a backpacking movie or hiking video might be just the ticket (pardon the poor pun).
Weird timing, that’s all I can say.
The day I sat down to watch this hiking movie and “met” a guy named Scott Williamson who held the speed record for a PCT thru hike (65 days, 9 hours, 58 minutes with an average of 40.6 miles of hiking per day) is the day that record was reported as shattered in my local newspaper (Seattle Times).
The big news? Josh Garret self-reported an average of (brace yourself) 45 miles a day for 60 days.
Just in case you missed it, let me repeat myself.
Forty five miles.
For 2 months straight.
But there’s even more weirdness to discuss here.
“Speed” in front of the word “hiker” is too discordant for my brain to wrap itself around.
So please continue reading in light of my admitted bias. I am not, and have no desire to be, a hurried thru hiker on an American long trail.
Which brings me to the question I often ponder about the PCT, and which was directly addressed by this hiking movie: Why do human beings thru hike?
Name one other species known to cover huge distances over several weeks or months.
OK, I can name more than one: whales, birds, butterflies, caribou…
And you can probably expand the list.
So are the thru hikers highlighted in this movie compelled by an innate instinct to head north?
Are they migrating?
“Tell It On the Mountain: Tales from the Pacific Crest Trail” doesn’t offer this as a possibility to answer the question “Why hike 2600+ miles next summer?”
But it does give other credible answers:
And while those answers do make sense to me, I still don’t get it.
While watching this hiking movie unfolding before my eyes, there were 2 competing voices in my head.
Voice #1 said things like:
What’s not to love about hiking movies like this?
Meanwhile, Voice #2 piped up:
And on and on and on until I gave in and appeased Voice #2 by reminding it that I’m not a thru hiker so stop worrying already!
No surprise when Voice #2 resonated deeply with the words of the oldest hiker (paraphrased):
“Savor each unique day. What’s the rush?”
So you can imagine my disbelief when one of the featured hikers (Scott, the ex-record holder mentioned above) revealed himself to be a “yoyo” hiker.
Yup, just like it sounds.
After reaching the Canadian border, he rested for less than an hour (I wonder if he even took off his boots to wiggle his toes) and then headed back down the PCT.
He was determined to reach the Mexican border before weather or complete physical collapse stopped him.
Let's do the math here. 2663 miles X 2 without a break = are you kidding??
At that point, I thought to myself “C’mon, buddy. You’ve wrapped yourself in a thought bubble. You’re not experiencing the achingly beautiful wilds you’re rushing through, you’re playing time games.”
As for watching him charge through a forest fire?
OK, time to balance things out.
I appreciate hiking movies in general, but this one in particular for providing the opportunity to follow several hikers as they tackled lofty passes, physical pain and other mental and physical unforeseen challenges.
For the 122 minutes I was watching “Tell It”, I was a thru hiker. The high spirits everyone started off with were contagious.
The movie depicts northbound (NOBO) thruhikers:
The Sierras are calling to me now, after seeing their mind-blowing gorgeousness!
I also loved seeing familiar territory captured in all its wild beauty and quirky weather.
This movie drove home for me the “one trail, infinite hikes” principle that I love about hiking.
While every pair of boots in this movie traveled over the same dirt/mud/snow/water/rock, every mind-body-spirit hiked a unique PCT hike.
You don't often see this principle highlighted in hiking movies.
Giving the thruhikers their own video cameras and asking them to record their emotions and concerns was brilliant!
But even in light of all those wonderful things I can say about this movie, I still don’t get it! Why do people thruhike?
Specifically, why hike through sections of the PCT with little payoff and large discomfort?
For me, that would be the high mountain passes.
For others, it might be the stark beauty of the desert, or the rolling foothills. [In fairness, one section hiker was highlighted in the movie.]
And I can’t comprehend the monumental effort it took for some of the hikers to rearrange their lives for 5 months of uninterrupted hiking freedom.
Was it worth it? Yes, to them it truly was worth the sacrifice.
For me, the rewards of completing a long trail hike do not outweigh the rewards of the hike itself.
I know that bragging rights, a deep sense of satisfaction, and a check mark on your bucket list might tip the balance toward the PCT for you.
And if that describes you, I’m cheering you on. Go for it!
So would I recommend that you invest 2 hours in this hiking movie before you set off?
And if you’ve got a hankering to test your mettle, push yourself mentally, and see how tough your feet are, take notes on “Tell It” prior to setting out on your own PCT adventure.
Just don’t forget that a lot of the fiddly bits of hiking the PCT were alluded to but essentially left out of the movie.
This movie was able to call out some trail skills that are a pre-requisite for safe long trail hiking.
In my mind, no one should head off into PCT-land unless they can:
a) find an obscure route across rock or snow,
b) deal calmly with foot issues such as blisters and infected toes, sketchy stream crossing, huge temperature fluctuations, poor footing on steep slopes, and
c) face the relentlessness of carrying a pack and wearing dirty socks in wet boots while making blood donations to swarms of mosquitoes for days on end.
If you can claim all these as hiking skills you possess, I look forward to reading about your PCT adventures soon. Be sure to post a report here.
Now go grab this movie!Tell It On The Mountain
Thanks to Shaun
Carrigan for the opportunity to view his work. He did a fantastic job of
portraying the motivations and rewards of long trail hiking. It’s clear that he
loves hiking, and I hope he has more hiking movies in the works!
And if you can’t clear your schedule to hike the entire PCT, pull out a map and plan some section hiking or trail maintenance next summer. You might bump into me ;)
There are other movies that depict the realities of the hiking trail for your consideration.
Let's group them into a few categories, to make it easier to select the ones you'd like to watch.
If you're wondering how life would be for weeks on end walking a long trail with your buddy, here's a way to find some answers:
I'll be sure to give you credit for your useful tips on the best hiking movies. Send them here.
Thanks in advance!
And pass the popcorn...