Friday, October 16, 2015

Review - A Walk In The Woods

My Walk In The Woods movie ticket
It was spring 1970, and a lonely teenager told his parents one afternoon that he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail that summer. He was an active Boy Scout and was well trained in the outdoors and he could take care of himself. And that he was going with this girl. Apparently that was all the wrong things to say. The ensuing eruption of parental angst was legendary and still today reverberates in the neighborhood trees of rural Kentucky. The unhappy result was that trip did not occur...yet. Maybe soon, though, and without that girl.
A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson is still a fond book with awesome humor and a different life perspective from the other side of the pond that I appreciate. The film, directed by veteran Television and film director Ken Kwapis, stars actors Robert Redford and Nick Nolte and the Appalachian Trail. Kwapis also directed Route 66, The Sisterhood of Travelling Pants and many other feature films and television shows. This film explores relationships, and how they still show connected-ness even after years of being apart; what had originally brought them together then, now holds them together on an adventure today. Like the book, the film highlights more than a few humorous moments, like when Bryson's wife scoffs in her British accent "You want to hike the Appalachian Trail, 2000 miles... you could die out there." My wife would say that too, without the accent. And she would demand that someone goes with me for safety along the trail, which in the story is just how Katz tags along.

Movie poster shot at McAfee Knob
The film crew spent a lot of energy and resources on location shooting of the Appalachian Trail as the third character of the film. Aerial shots of the hikers crossing the Fontana Dam and the starting point of the trail at the Amnicolola Lodge, entering the Smokey Mountains National Park, views of the Bryson and Katz on the precipice of McAfee Knob, (the most photographed site along the AT overlooking the Catawba Valley and North Mountain in Virginia), Springer Mountain, Neels Gap, other hikers like the 'annoying' Mary Ellen and the 2 younger backpackers who offer unwanted help, and the open-sided AT shelters providing the only real shelter during thunderstorms. A favorite scene is Bryson wearing long underwear in the dark while facing two bears in the campsite, standing up in his tent reading out loud to Katz "Stand up as tall as you can to intimidate the bear".

The film has a deeper message about the future of the AT, one we all need to hear about responsibility, respect for the trail and for all of our National Parks. It is up to all of us to preserve and protect the Appalachian Trail and all other outdoor areas in America. Check out the Public Service Announcement from Robert Redford.
The film crew worked with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to show the trail as backpackers see it; a community of different people hiking together and separately reaching common goals, with actually some of the best of what American Community Spirit has to offer. The crew felt an obligation to work with the Conservancy and the hikers to do it the right way. I really enjoyed the film, as a hiker, an ultralight backpacker, an Eagle Scout, a lover of the "Green Tunnel", a media professional and a writer.
Robert Redford plays an older, more conservative Bill Bryson than presented in the book and Nick Nolte plays a more outlandish rogue of Steven Katz. The balance works well for me and the humor is still very good. In Bryson's book that I still re-read, the two hikers never do complete the trail, but are still happy with what they accomplished. They HIKED the Appalachian Trail!
Which is what my parents should have allowed to happen back in 1970. Maybe I would have finished the trail and come back, completed high school, gone on to college and perhaps attacked life in a different way than I did. And that is what the Appalachian Trail is all about.

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