A Walk In The Woods: A Movie Review

I fell head-over-heels in love with the Appalachian Trail years ago. I dream of, one day, consumating that relationship with a thru-hike. For those of you unaccustomed to the term, a thru-hike of the AT would consist of me shouldering a back-pack, beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia and following the white blazes, hiking north for 2,189.2 miles (This year. It changes each year.) until arriving at the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. (This is not the only way to thru-hike the AT; there are myriad options. This is how I would prefer to do it). And to answer your question, yes, people really do this…every year. Many more attempt and bail than succeed but still, a lot of people make it to Katahdin (Or Springer, for those contrary Southbounders.)

In the meantime, while I try to pay off my house, eliminate a mountain of medical debt etc., I bide my time by doing section hikes of this beautiful footpath, reading AT books, memoirs (I have a bookshelf full of them), poring over maps etc. The first AT book I ever picked up was Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. (For the hilarious account of how I discovered it, listen to the first few minutes of episode 2 of the All Who Wander Podcast:
I really, really enjoyed the book. I also care deeply for the guy in the aforementioned story who really, really hates this book. Jack, if you know him, is a hard-hiking, hard-drinking character with a heart as big as all outdoors. He so despises this book that he is often seen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “Bill Bryson is a Candy-Ass”. Was I surprised that Jack went to see the film adaptation of the novel? Yes. Was I surprised that he didn’t care for it? Really? Do I need to answer that? Jack posted a seemingly sincere query on facebook several days ago. It read,

“Well, someone else will, no doubt, start a thread like this, so it may as well be me…the film version of A Walk In the Woods opens nationally tomorrow. Some of you have already seen it. I’ve already viewed it and have my own opinion…but I’d much rather hear YOURS. Looking forward to hearing from lot of you.” I responded simply, “We plan to see it this weekend.” He replied, “Save your money.” Daniel Quinn, a mutual friend, commented, “So much for I’d rather hear from others. LOL”


Hee hee hee. Funny stuff.
So, notwithstanding Jack’s friendly economic admonition, Dana and I bought our tickets, mandatory $20 worth of popcorn and root beer and settled into our seats to see what Redford had done with this (mostly) beloved book.

Disclaimer: As I mentioned at the start I fell head-over-heels in love with the Appalachian Trail years ago. This, undoubtedly, colors my perception of all things AT…including this movie. Jack and thru-hikers like him (He has 7 completed thru-hikes under his belt) take issue with the fact that Bill didn’t finish the entire trail. Well, I’ve most certainly hiked fewer AT miles than Bryson so I’m not sure where this places me on the scale in terms of hiker-cred. In addition, I’m no movie critic. I’ve only known one and, true to his title, he was terribly critical of nearly every movie he saw and looked down his nose on anyone who actually took pleasure in a film. I’m not that guy and hope I never will be. I’m much more easily entertained. Also, this whole process is awfully subjective. Because I so love this trail, hiking, backpacking and all things wild…I’ve no idea how a non-hiker might perceive the film. But here it is through my eyes:


I liked it

Yeah, I know. With that lead-up you were expecting a little more.

Okay, here’s a little more.

I liked it a lot.

I didn’t love it but I loved parts of it.


It’s a movie about the Appalachian Trail. You had me at “hello.”
It’s filmed on the Appalachian Trail. You set the hook.
It’s a movie based on a (mostly) beloved best-selling AT book which stars Robert freakin’ Redford and Nick Nolte. Really, what more could you ask for?
Were some of my favorite parts missing? Yes?
Did some of the jokes play out better in the book than on the screen? Yes.
Was it too short? Sure did seem that way.
All things considered, I guffawed through much of the film. Because of my deep love for the Trail, moments touched me on a soul level and caused my eyes to well with tears. I guess part of me wonders if I ever will see my dream of a thru-hike fulfilled. I’m nearly 50, with a laundry list of ailments doctors haven’t found a diagnosis for, a boatload of debt, two aging parents that need me to be around and a love for my family deeper than my love for the Trail. Yes, I identified with both of the main characters, Bryson and Katz. Maybe that’s where the magic happens.That connection. Will that happen for everyone? I don’t know…but it certainly did for me. It made me long to spend more time on my beloved Trail. It inspired me to do more to protect and defend our wild places. Maybe, just maybe it’ll do the same for someone else. I’d say that would be a success.
The gist:

Good film. Grumpy Old Men meets Homeward Bound. I hope you like it. That’s my Trail up on that screen. I give it 4 trowels.

Wild: A Movie Review – Addressing the Criticisms

While anxiously awaiting the release of the film adaptation of the classic fly-fishing novel The River Why I read a comment by one of it’s creators that was critical of the classic movie, A River Runs Through It. They snobbishly dismissed the film for its lack of realism in the fly-fishing scenes. Over dinner I mentioned to Dana and Josiah how the comment had left a bad taste in my mouth for the person who made it and had sort of tainted my opinion of the upcoming movie before I’d had a chance to see it. My son Josiah, 18 years old at the time, said, “It’s not a documentary on how to fish. It’s a story.”

“It’s not a documentary on how to fish. It’s a story.”

Some of the biggest criticisms of Wild that I’ve heard have, unfortunately, come from the trail community. I heard comments like, “Want to learn what not to do while backpacking? See Wild.”

Strayed lays her heart bare in the book and on the screen. She unabashedly lays out a gruesome recounting of heartbreak, loss and bad decisions. She is beyond candid concerning her lack of experience as well as her moral failures. At no point does she claim expertise…in anything. In fact, she paints a picture of herself that is far from attractive. It is, at times, difficult to watch. I imagine it was even more difficult to endure. When confronted with this kind of raw confessional, our response is judgement? Really? Did we all come forth from the womb with an ultra-light pack, a 10 lb baseweight, practicing LNT ethics and obeying the levitical law to a point? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…or boot.

It’s not a documentary on how to backpack…or live, for that matter. It’s a story. It’s her story.

Another criticism or complaint goes something like this, “Oh great, now everyone and their brother are going to hit the Pacific Crest Trail to try and ‘find themselves.” And that’s bad? My own story is not that different. Dana, Josiah and I followed Jesus right out of the doors of the institutional church and into the woods. The wilderness became for us a sanctuary and a place of healing. The trail community welcomed us with open arms and have become like family. Yes, I discovered myself on the trail. I discovered life and passion and saw a longing awakened that transformed my life. I know countless nemophilists who would echo that sentiment. Why disparage others from searching for the same?

A related concern is that the hordes of newbies will cause irreparable damage to the trails. Granted, more traffic is going to bring about wear and tear. That’s unavoidable. Why not use this as a teaching opportunity? Great organizations such as The Pacific Coast Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy have. They’ve seized upon this opportunity to raise awareness, teach trail etiquette and draw attention to causes that desperately need it. In addition, think for a moment about how you felt about caring for the wilderness before you discovered backpacking…and after. Conservation wasn’t even on my radar before I found my place in the woods. Now? Don’t get me started! At this moment in US history the protection of our wild places is on precarious ground. I just recently signed a petition to try and prevent the logging of a great national treasure, Pisgah National Forest…just a couple of hours from our home. What if these hordes of new hikers were to become passionate about caring for wilderness? Imagine the potential!

I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the film. I enjoyed it even more when I watched it with my wife. Dana lost her dad just a few months ago. I knew the early scenes would be difficult for her to get through. They were. I’ll admit, I strained to see her expression during those scenes and others. You know what I saw? Solidarity. She saw something of her own struggle in Cheryl’s tribulations. She resonated with the heartbreak. She identified with the call of the mountains and their promise of beauty and healing. She remembered what it was like when we were first starting out and had no clue what we were doing. She laughed sardonically with self deprecation at Cheryl’s bad luck, frustration and angst. When the boot flew off the mountain, I swear I saw Dana do a fist-pump. She rejoiced with Chery’s triumphs and gloried in the vistas attained. If for no reasons but these, I loved the film. C.S. Lewis said,”Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”  ” I’ve no doubt that were Dana and Cheryl to meet they’d be fast friends.

The gist?

Great story, great acting, great film making, struggle, heartache and redemption. Beautiful scenery, to boot. If you want to see a “How-To” on backpacking there are some good videos out there that’ll fit your need. If you want to laugh, be moved and inspired see Wild. You’ll be glad you did.

It’s not a documentary on how to backpack…or live, for that matter. It’s a story. It’s her story. And it’s a good one.

Blue Like Jazz the Movie: A Review – Nooooooooo!




I’m pretty sure I groaned out loud as the first scenes flashed on the screen.  I thought back to the grass roots effort by fans of the book to save the movie that was slated to die before completion, “There just wasn’t enough money to do this right.”  I thought, “No, don’t start like this…people are gonna get up and leave.”  I wanted to get up and leave. It was awkward…really, uncomfortably awkward.  In fact, I was afraid that maybe one of those awful, garish “christian”  production companies had donated a huge sum of money and hijacked Don’s book and Steve’s vision.  I honestly thought these things.  With dread and overwhelming disappointment, I thought these things. Then I remembered how much I had paid for the ticket and decided, “Eh, I’ll give it another scene or two.” Honestly glad I waited.

I would write this completely different if I thought everyone had already seen the film. But if you’d already seen the film you wouldn’t really care what I think…hopefully.  Okay, maybe you would.  You would probably be as excited as I am and wanna talk about it.  (So, I may actually write a “spoilers included” version of this just because I’m so stoked about the movie.) So, editing out the spoilers, there’s not a whole lot I can say that won’t ruin the genius behind this movie. But there are some things.  Here they are:


1. If you’re easily offended…don’t see this film. Wait, do see this film.  You need to see it.

2. If you’ve read the book, forget that you’ve read it. Watch this as a completely separate work.

3. If you’re expecting something akin to Fireproof…you’ll really enjoy the first 5 or 10 minutes,  then you’ll get up and leave.

4. Don’t leave.  Wait it out. I promise it’ll be worth it. (Have I said that already?)

5. That first scene…it’s awkwardness?  Intentional.  Genius. You”ll see.

6. Steve Taylor’s fingerprints are all over this.

7. So are God’s.


Yup, that’s all you’re getting out of me on this one. So go see it.  Then come back here and let me know what you think.  Save the spoilers for my private e-mail (

One last thing”  What does this have to do with wilderness, hiking, the outdoors, etc? Nothing, really. It has everything to do with God. With searching. With struggle.  With wandering. And you know…not all those who wander are necessarily lost.