The legendary Appalachian Trail that runs along the eastern portion of the United States is a bear of a walk, to put it mildly: Approximately 2,180 miles in length, it runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Katahdin, Maine and draws as many as 2,000 people each year who try to “thru-hike” the whole thing – but fewer than 25 percent complete it.
Travel writer Bill Bryson thought he could be one of those 2,000 in the late 1990s, and learned the hard way that he definitely was not. Fortunately, what emerged from his partially-completed journey was the 1998 book A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, which recounted his hilarious and insightful trek with pal Stephen Katz. And lucky for readers, it’s a trip that can be easily covered without ever leaving your armchair.
And on Sept. 7, Hollywood is making Appalachian trail challenge one step easier by releasing the film version of Bryson’s book, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as aging adventurers who get in a little over their head.
Of course, that’s part of the fun of any tale of amateurs trying to tackle major hikes – they usually have no idea what they’re doing, and the results can range from the funny to the tragic. So before you lace up your boots and hitch up your external-frame backpack, take a load off and consider these other long-walk films. You’ll be glad we saved you the blisters and the bug bites.
A young sister and brother are stranded in the Australian outback after their father first tries to shoot them, and then shoots himself. With no skills or tools to help themselves, they are on the brink of real danger when an Aboriginal boy on a ritual walkabout who allows them to come on his journey, but does not lead them to civilization. The white children and the Aboriginal can only communicate in rudimentary ways, which leads to tragedy.
Less a tale of survival than one about the intricacies of friendship, Gerry focuses on two young men named Gerry (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck) who take a spontaneous hike on a wilderness trail, get lost and spend days trying to get back to civilization – all without either food or water. Things get dire, then things get deadly. Directed by independent visionary Gus Van Sant, it tends to be a film people love … or loathe.
Southbounders: A Journey on the Appalachian Trail (2005)
A low-key independent film about a woman who opts to tackle the already-difficult trail in the hardest way possible: From south to north. Along the way she finds friends, love and a dogged determination to finish.
The Way Back (2010)
Based on a now-largely-discredited memoir by a Polish prisoner of war who claimed he escaped a Siberian gulag and walked 4,000 miles to India, it’s still a gripping tale of men versus nature. With a cast including Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and Saorsie Ronan, the film follows a handful of prisoners who improbably manage to first get away from the prison, then hike through snow, ice and desert to land in the edenic Himalayas and India.
The Way (2011)
When his son dies in the Pyrenees during a storm while hiking the Camino de Santiago trail, Thomas Avery (played by Martin Sheen; the film is directed and co-stars his real-life son Emilio Estevez) goes to France first to retrieve the body, and then to walk the ancient path himself while carrying his son’s ashes. As he walks, he meets a number of people on the trail, each with their own unique and highly-personal reasons for their trek.
Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild stars Reese Witherspoon as a woefully-unprepared, emotionally frayed young woman reeling from the death of her mother who decides to take on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail as a way of finding herself. Long scenes filled with little more than the sound of Strayed’s boots on the path and spectacular cinematography make the film a visual pleasure, and may also convince some overpackers to re-think what they bring on the journey.
Randee Dawn is a contributor for InsureMyTrip