This post is going to be a little out of the ordinary for what I normally blog about. I typically stick to informational posts about the Appalachian Trail, but I might be seeing a Pacific Crest Trail hike in my future. So today, I want to talk about WILD. Or more specifically, WILD being turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, and what the hiking community has to say about it.
For those of you that don’t know what WILD is about, I’ll give you a short synopsis: Sometime in the nineties, author Cheryl Strayed decided to embark on a three-month long backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail. She was in her twenties and had already been through a divorce, her mother had died, she had a heroin habit, and she liked to sleep with too many guys (no judgement, it’s in the book). Cheryl had no idea what she was doing and she hardly had any money, but she started walking north. She made a lot of mistakes, and she learned a lot about herself. In her elegant writing style, she describes her high points and low points, both on the trail and in her previous life. When she gets to the Bridge of the Gods, on the Oregon/ Washington border, the reader can’t help but celebrate with her.
WILD was published a little less than two years ago and has been wildly successful (couldn’t help the pun). Now it’s being made into a movie, starring Reese Witherspoon. This announcement has caused quite the buzz in the hiking community, and people have had both positive and negative opinions. My main concern is the affect that this will have on the female hiking community, and why the movie will be a good thing.
So why are some hikers against the book WILD, and against it being turned into a movie?
- Cheryl’s not a “real thru-hiker” and WILD isn’t a “real hiking book.” This is the first argument about why WILD doesn’t deserve the success that it’s received. Cheryl Strayed never claimed to be a thru-hiker. She just had three months, and she wanted to go for a walk. There’s nothing wrong with that. More uptight members of the hiking community will say that WILD is “just about drugs and sex.” The trail was about healing for her, so it would be pretty boring if she strictly talked about only things that happened on the trail. And furthermore, I’ve read plenty of books by “real thru-hikers,” purists even, that have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and can’t write worth a crap. It’s refreshing to read a book by a hiker who is also a great writer.
- Cheryl made a lot of stupid mistakes on the trail, and a movie about her might encourage people to come to the trail unprepared. The girl threw her boots over the side of a cliff. She was a rookie when she started her hike. But really, how do you get backpacking experience? You go backpacking. Her readers will learn from her mistakes, and hopefully not make the same ones when they attempt a hike.
- Anyone inspired by “cute, little Reese Witherspoon with a backpack” probably won’t last 50 miles. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that anyone inspired to hike, for whatever reason, will probably do research ahead of time. I don’t think that most people will assume that they’re prepared for a long-distance hike after watching a two-hour movie. Regardless of what inspires people to hike, a movie or not, their chances of success aren’t any lower than someone who knew about the trail “before it was cool.”
- The Pacific Crest Trail will be over-crowded with wannabe hikers. More people on the trail means more funding, better maintained trails, and more money for businesses along the trail. We can’t be selfish with our back-country. There are plenty of other trails to choose from for people who are interested in solitude. Regardless, I don’t think the PCT will ever see the same amount of hikers as the AT.
- Cheryl Strayed is not a good ambassador for the trail because she does drugs and is messed up. Most hikers are a little messed up, to tell the truth. Most twenty-somethings are a little messed up. Anyway, this story took place nearly twenty years ago, so I would assume that she’s grown as a person since then. Anyone that can go from heavy drug user to best-selling author, wins my vote for trail ambassador of the year.
So, what good will come from the success of WILD?
- Hopefully, more women will hit the trail. I don’t know about anyone else, but it took me about one month of hiking, with no female companionship, to lose my mind. I really went over the deep end in Pennsylvania when I bought a bottle of pink nail polish. More women on the trail is a good thing.
- The hiker lifestyle might become more acceptable. Yeah, I don’t really need anyone else to tell me how detrimental a thru-hike is to my career prospects. I also feel awkward when I’m in a trail town and people think I’m a homeless person. I think it’s the people who have never done anything crazy in their lifetime that are most judgmental of the choices and lifestyles of others.
- The movie will be as badass and inspiring as the book. I’m really excited about seeing WILD in theaters. Not gonna lie. It’s not often that the hiker lifestyle is glorified, so I’m ready for the world (the piece of the world that watches the movie, anyway) to be just as excited about hiking as I am.
I was on Facebook recently, and I saw a trail angel’s status, asking about what hikers thought of WILD. I was surprised that there were a lot of negative comments, mostly from women. People thought that Cheryl isn’t a “real hiker”, her book isn’t a “real hiking book”, she will inspire other amateurs to make foolish mistakes, and WILD fans will make lousy hikers.
I was very surprised that my fellow female hikers would be putting down the success of another women. This has led me to wonder, why do some women feel the need to put each other down, especially women who are empowered enough to do a long-distance hike?
I know that as female hikers, we are a rare species, and it does make us feel unique to be capable of such extraordinary feats. Do we think that if more women become interested in our sport, we will somehow become less unique? Like, “I know that I’m fabulous, but that other girl is fabulous too. Does that make me less special? Should I put her down so that I am, once again, the only fabulous girl around?”
That shouldn’t be the way things work. We women need to stick together and encourage each other. Trail blazers like Cheryl Strayed (I’m here all night), who aren’t “real thru-hikers”, are doing more to positively impact long-distance backpacking than the people who are criticizing her book and hiking style.
If you want to figure out if you like WILD or not, you can order a copy on Amazon.
If you want to read more about the book, movie, and Cheryl; check out this article on the New York TImes.