I went to see Wild because it was the top-rated movie this Christmas season, with 92% on the Tomatometer.
Wild is a movie about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, as it is commonly called. That’s how it’s presented.
But that’s not really what it is. Wild is a movie about a young woman growing up in middle America with disadvantages, lots and lots of disadvantages.
The movie is based on the book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed that came out a few years ago.
I never read the book. Checking the cover, and trusting the reputation of Oprah’s Book Club, I decided that this was a chick book and it wasn’t for me.
I entered the theater to watch the movie only because of all the choices it was the highest rated. You might say I entered with prejudices.
Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) and her little brother grew up mostly with their single mom Bobbi (Laura Dern), who left her abusive husband when the children were little. They were poor, mom working waitressing jobs just to keep things together. Bobbi got cancer at the age of 45 and died rapidly. The children tried to cope, each in their own way. Cheryl ruined her own marriage through her adulterous ways. After her divorce she skided into self-destruction, seeking abusive male relationships, descending into the fog of the drug culture all the way to shooting up heroin. Somehow she decided to pull herself up by her bootstraps and hike a portion of the PCT. The hike of over 100 days was supposed to clear her foggy mind and extract the demons that haunted her life.
The movie starts out with hiking scenes, but is constantly interspersed with flashbacks to Cheryl’s childhood, youth and young adult life of self-abuse. The flashbacks are sometimes only seconds long. While lots of flashbacks in a movie sometimes make it disjointed, it actually works quite well here, since the scenery of the two lives are so vastly different.
The scenes on the trail are nature, tents, backpacks, mountains, meadows, snow. Unmistakably the present. The scenes in the flashbacks are mom, children, naked bodies, drugs, wife beater guys and life in run down houses. So I always knew what part of the story we were in without getting confused.
Being a hiker, I looked forward to the hiking parts, but hiking is basically boring, hours and hours of setting one foot in front of the other, surrounded by breathtaking scenery that you don’t even see, because you are hungry, thirsty, tired, and can’t wait for the next four miles to be over so you finally reach your destination and camp. Hiking does not an exciting movie make.
But the parts about flashback life are more interesting. Sex, drugs, illness, drama, all makes for a story to tell. So it is not surprising that’s what the movie makers focused on to move the story along. And it worked. Getting some frontal nudity of Reese Witherspoon probably also attracted a viewer or two.
Cheryl “only” hiked a part of the PCT, about 1,000 miles, from the Mojave desert to the Bridge of the Gods, the cross-over from Oregon to Washington. The actual Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650-mile ribbon of dirt and rock that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. If you want to learn about what it’s really like to hike the PCT, you can check out the following blogs, all by people who hiked it just this past 2014 season.
- Carrot Quinn – hiked the PCT in 2014, then the lowest to highest (L2H) from Death Valley to the peak of Mt. Whitney in 6 days, and is now on the Florida trail, hiking 800 miles from the southern tip of Florida through the swampland north.
- Not a Chance – hiked the PCT in 2014, then with Carrot the L2H, and is now hiking the Te Araroa, 1800 miles from the northern to the southern tip of New Zealand.
- Twinkle – hiked the PCT south to north in 2014, ended in September, flew to Maine, and hiked a large part of the Appalachian Trail (AT) north to south, ending late in November. He hiked 4,400 miles between March and November 2014.
These people didn’t hike 1,000 miles in 100 days, they hiked the full PCT 2,650 miles in 110 days, give or take a few. These are the badasses of ultra-light long-distance hikers, and their blogs are enlightening. This is where you learn about hiking.
But this is not a review of long distance hiking, it’s a review of the movie Wild. Cheryl Strayed, with her book and this movie, has put some spunk into PCT hiking, I am sure, and there probably are a number of people who went on the trail due to it. Not a Chance, somewhere, says that people keep asking her if she knew Cheryl Strayed, and she keeps answering “Cheryl hiked the PCT in 1992 when I was a toddler!”
The hikers I listed here didn’t affect the image of the PCT anywhere near how Cheryl did with her book and now movie. But then, Cheryl didn’t start out her hike wanting to affect hiking, the PCT, or the hiking world. Her story was about overcoming the demons of life. We are not all lucky enough to be born into affluent and functional families, with clean college educations, parents that can afford to send us to Harvard or Stanford. Many, many of us are born into much less fortunate environments. So it was for Cheryl. She chose hiking to expel the demons, and it seems she was successful.
And, in the process, she greatly popularized the PCT.
Wild is a wild ride, with stunning scenery, some suspense, good entertainment value, and no doubt a learning experience for viewers – particularly those that know nothing about hiking.