Mentally, I sure NEEDED this movie. Overall, there are many impressive aspects, and it certainly serves as inspiration for hiking at least portions of this trail, even if joining that “elite” group of individuals, reported to be about 300 a year, who “thru hike,” that is, hike the entire trail in one season, is beyond my “station in life.” This movie roughly follows some of the “elite,” obtaining their opinion on various aspects of their lives and what brings them to undertake such a journey of, as the title indicates, some six million steps. The key aspect that I needed: virtually all the hikers interviewed said much the same thing: the hike restored their faith in humanity!! Time and time again complete strangers, often dubbed “trail angels” would assist the hikers, with food, water caches, transportation, shelter, et al. “random acts of kindness,” as it were. Hiking exposed these individuals to a rich vein of the goodness that is still there in the human condition which would be a wonderful antidote to the putrid vein I have experienced, (and am currently experiencing) whereby so many individuals seem to be dedicated to harming others.
The Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) extends 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada. As the movie brings out, in interspersed segments, it was first conceived of in the early 1900’s. Volunteer YMCA hikers helped survey optimum routes in the 1930’s. One person interviewed hiked portions of it in the 1970’s, when it was still in the “cobbling together” stage. It was officially completed and dedicated in 1993 – yes, almost a century in the making. It takes about six months to hike the entire trail. The southern portion is desert and the northern portion is forest. During many years thru-hikers experience snow, in the high Sierras, in July and August, and the movie did show clips of hikers walking in the snow.
The film director, Will Oxley, seemed to capture all the right aspects of a good hike, in the right proportions, and filmed them impressively. There is the trail itself, that ideal path, worn, just so wide, no rocks, that “speaks” to you, and beckons you to follow it. Then there are the segments of the hikers themselves walking on it. And numerous segments of them at rest, after a long day. There are also Google map displays of portions of the trail.
Of equal importance with that beckoning trail, are the interviews, in “sound bite” format (that is, one subject idea, and the interviewees take on it). I had to chuckle when one guy, a lawyer, was basically complaining about the aging processing, noting that he was “half way to 70,” (!!) and felt he just had to do it now. In terms of demographics, thru-hikers, a self-selected group for sure, were overwhelming white males between 20 and 35. A couple women. One Asian. A couple of older men, in their 40’s. But at one point, one hiker said that the demographics of the trail were of essentially two categories: the young, before a family and a career, and the “retirees,” and indeed there was a brief clip of some hikers in their ‘70’s, who were obviously not in the elite “300.”
“My church has leaves,” is one interviewee's comment. Another interviewee, another lawyer, said he had been diagnosed with an apparently terminal condition and advised to “get his affairs in order,” and the PCT popped to the top of the affairs list. Another said: “When I am out here, I feel just fine.” The heat, exhaustion, and shoes are likewise covered. Life stripped down to the basics is another common theme. Amazingly, for so many young, healthy looking young men, they reported weight-loss of 20-30 lbs.
And the issues not addressed: there was no mention of the starry and moonlit nights, nor if any of the hikers carried a book with them, or any electronics, such as a GPS, or even music. Nonetheless, just for the “yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus…” aspects of this wonderful film, that vein of human kindness that is brought out, this film deserves 6-stars, and an annual re-viewing, as well as actual DOING.