In 2013, filmmaker Chris Gallaway set out in the heart of winter to attempt a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. The journey took him seven months to complete, and along the way he documented the highs and lows of his experience: everything from proposing to his girlfriend on Max Patch Bald to the sudden death of his brother when he was nearing the end of the trail. His story is now captured in the film The Long Start to the Journey, an intimate depiction of what makes the Appalachian Trail special and how it shapes the the lives of those who walk it.
In addition to telling Gallaway’s story, the film delves into the origins of the trail and the battles that were fought in the early 1900’s to determine what it would become. From the outset of the A.T. project, the visionaries and planners who spear-headed the effort foresaw the many ways that the trail could be influenced by the noise and bustle of the modern world, and they sought to preserve it from such contamination. Anticipating the temptation to make it a competitive endeavor, Walter Bordman wrote, “The Appalachian Trail is not a stunt in heroics of endurance . . . It is rather an opportunity for someone to find himself as a creature in nature. It is a way of life and an experience in living.”
Today the trail means many different things to many different people. Some go to the A.T. to test themselves and to find their limits of courage and endurance. Others seek renewal in nature and a spiritual connection to the woods. For these reasons and many others, the Appalachian Trail is a national treasure and one of the great American wilderness legacies. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “in Wilderness is the salvation of the world.” Countless people have found a form of salvation on this great American trail, and many more are doing so at this very moment.