Reese Witherspoon is very good here as a woman who has messed up her life badly, and as a means to “find herself,” goes looking along the Pacific Crest Trail. This is a path of misery, sweat, tears, blisters, and all manner of other discomfort that stretches from Mexico to Canada through some of the most dangerous terrain in North America. She doesn’t actually walk the whole thing, but Mojave, California, to the Bridge of the Gods between Oregon and Washington ain’t bad. I give the movie a thumbs up.
Now to my own feelings …
I first heard of the Appalachian Trail from A Walk in the Woods, an excellent book by the excellent Bill Bryson. He set out to walk the whole thing, from just outside Atlanta to Yankee’s Asshole, Maine. He didn’t make it. Very few do. He had to skip parts of it here and there. But a funny thing happened to me as I was reading of his hardships, misery, despair, and filth. I found myself wishing I could make the hike. To emphasize the bad parts of the trip is just Bryson’s style. I’m sure they were as bad as he said they were, but coming through his narrative behind all the bitching was that the trip was really a hell of an experience, and he was glad to have made it. And I wished I had.
I’m far too old and decrepit to tackle something like that now. And the PCT is much, much harder than the Appalachian, which mostly goes through relatively civilized terrain. On the PCT you travel only in summer, of course, and you still need showshoes. It was funny to watch Reese struggling at the beginning, with her pack that looked like it weighed more than she did, stuffed with crap some enterprising clerk at REI had told her was essential. But the trip strips you down, and by the end of it, standing on the bridge, she was an experienced outdoorswoman, and in real life seems to have found her center. I really wish I could make the hike.
One more thing: I’m sure the real woman, Cheryl Strayed, is a peaceable person, but I think any female who hikes the PCT alone really should have a pistol near at hand. In the film she encounters two bow hunters whose intent is never completely clear, but who seem very threatening. If I were a woman, I think I’d feel a lot better facing guys like that with my hand on the gun in my pocket.