On “A Walk in the Woods” – Part II

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Part I ended with film critic Susan Wloszczyna‘s take on Walk in the Woods. She said Robert Redford’s “wry Bryson” decided to walk the entire Appalachian Trail on a whim. (And he was “in a funk after attending a funeral.”)  She added that at the time he was “tired of resting on his considerable laurels.” (Which I thought a metaphoric zing!)  She said the whole idea was crazy, and “against the wishes of his sensible British wife.” Finally, she said the only reason “Bryson” got “Katz” to come along was that “none of his other friends are crazy enough to say yes.”

The unspoken message? “Why don’t you old geezer-men just give up?

She could have easily asked the same question of two other old geezers – aged 63 and 69 – who planned a canoe trip 12 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, off the Mississippi coast. (And well into the realm of sharks, drownings, and other potential catastrophes.)  That was us – my brother and I – last November, eight days of primitive camping on isolated offshore islands and the occasional salt marsh. (And against the advice of my older geezer’s sensible daughter…)

For one answer we can turn to John Steinbeck. He began Part Two of his book Travels with Charley by noting that most men his age get told – constantly – to “slow down.”  (The object being to “trade their violence for a small increase in life span.”) But that wasn’t his way:

I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage…  If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway.  I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage.  It’s bad theater as well as bad living.

November 10, 2014 photo IMG_4329_zps7f7b5ddb.jpgFor the full answer see On canoeing 12 miles offshore, posted last May 23. (With the image at right, with the answer, “For moments like this!“)

That post included what Steinbeck said in Travels with Charley, and what Robert Louis Stevenson said in his 1879 book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. The point being – to Ms. Wloszczyna and others like her – that the problem has been around a long, long time, and is not likely to go away any time soon.

It is true – as she notes – that “Nolte’s wheezy scalawag can barely stumble out of a small plane.” (Which made me wonder as well:  How could his character really hike as far as the movie said he did.)  It’s also true that there’s “an R-rated abundance of salty language, what with Bryson prone to expressing what a bear does in the woods and Katz’s committed embrace of the F-word.”  But her comment about the “lack of deep revelations or bouts of philosophizing along the way” suggested that she doesn’t know men very well.

(We have our flaws, but we are good for one or two good things around the house…)

On the other hand, she did get the connection with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

Oddly enough, there is a scene that briefly summons memories of Butch and Sundance when the guys [Redford and Nolte] are trapped on a ledge and peer over a harrowing incline to see a body of water below. I kept hoping they would jump in together.  But it was not to be.

Which brings us back to Wloszczyna‘s question:  “Can you justify sitting through an utterly predictable and rather tame man vs. nature ramble?” The answer – for me anyway, and others as well – is a hearty “Yes!”  (Especially true after having watched the definitely-creepy movie “The Gift” just the day before.)

A Walk in the Woods has flaws. I found myself asking – throughout the film – “Why in the world would he do that?”  (Or the variation, “Why would he do it that way?”) Why would the Redford character pick the Nolte character to tag along, when he would clearly be better off hiking alone?  (Having hiked portions of the Trail myself by now, I can say it’s definitely not “lonely.”)  And why would he commit to hiking the whole length of the Trail, without even considering a preliminary or test* overnight-hike or two?

Which is pretty much the same mistake my brother Tim and I made back in 1967.

Back then we were stupid teenagers.  (Or is that redundant?)  Plus, we had “sensible” parents who should have known better.  One answer is that life is fraught with flaws, so sometimes it’s “good theater” to show life as it really is, or will be if and when you make stupid mistakes. And Fact-Checking “A Walk” offered some positive things about the film.

For one, it’s about “novice hikers who attempt to complete the trail.” (In itself a recipe for disaster.)  For another thing it’s “a movie about nature’s majesty.”  (Not about “philosophizing.”)  And third:

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has said that additional ridgerunners will be hired in anticipation of an influx of hikers motivated by “A Walk in the Woods” to check out the famous footpath.

Fourth, the reviewer noted many “greenhorns” he met as a ridgerunner “were dangerously unprepared or ridiculously over-packed.”  Also, “the most common source of trail stress I encountered were people with blisters and other foot ailments caused by brand new boots or excessive mileage.”  Then too the director himself noted, “In our story it was important that Redford’s character doesn’t really know why he’s doing it.”

Which I suppose is an viable comment on men in general, and especially older men, on the verge or past the verge of “Geezer-dom.”  Sometimes we do things just for the hell of it.

(“Oh, and women never do things ‘they know not why?'”)

But the best part of the Fact-Checking review?  The part where the director – Ken Kwapis – said that he doesn’t pay any attention to – or even read – those negative reviews:

Didn’t read a one of those reviews.  As people say, if you’re going to believe the good ones, you have to believe the bad ones, so I ignore all of them…

Which provides another valuable lesson.  “Sometimes you should just ignore the critics.”

For all these reasons and more, A Walk in the Woods is definitely a film worth seeing.  If you’re into that sort of thing.  And even if – or perhaps because – “every female [in the film] exists to simply serve the needs of the central male characters.”  (As Ms. Wloszczyna alleged.)

But don’t just take my word for it.  Mi Dulce liked the film almost as much as I did…

 November 10, 2014 photo IMG_4332_zps47e076b9.jpg“Siesta at sea,” 12 miles offshore.  (An experience a “stay-at-home” will never have…)

The upper image is courtesy of Kristen Schaal Talks A Walk in the Woods: “Kristen Schaal is one of those trusted comedic talents who, whenever she pops up in a TV show or film, you know she’ll leave an impression…  [In “Woods” she] plays a fellow trail hiker who is also a know-it-all annoyance.”

And speaking of “every female [in the film] exists to simply serve the needs of the central male characters…”   It’s hard to see how the Kristen Schaal character fit into that stereotype

Re: director Ken Kwapis and what he learned.  He added that after “reading the book and making this movie, I came home and realized I could barely identify any of the trees in my own backyard.  So it has encouraged me to better see what’s right in front of my face.”

The lower image is courtesy of On canoeing 12 miles offshore.  Yours truly took the picture just after the dawn of a morning when we two geezer-canoeists got up at 3:00 a.m.  (The object was to negotiate the Gulf of Mexico before the wind stirred up the waves.)  We paddled 17 miles in 11 hours, in two separate canoes .  And aside from the occasional “siesta at sea,” the only break we took was a one-hour stopover on Cat Island, some seven miles off the Mississippi coast.

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 Which brings up the wisdom of doing “a preliminary or test* overnight-hike or two.”   (Something the Redford character failed to even consider in the film.)

Which is being interpreted:  My “failure” back in 1967 has always stuck in my craw.  But at this late stage of my life I know I’ll probably never hike the whole Trail, or even the 623-mile segment from Springer Mountain to Gettysburg.  On the other hand I am determined to hike segments of the Trail, one in each state it passes through, and preferably in three- or four-day segments.

To that end, I’ve done two three-hour hikes, one north and south of where U.S. 64 intersects the Trail near Franklin, North Carolina.  The second test-hike was “to” Springer Mountain, but from the other end.  (So to speak.)  That is, from the trailhead in Google Maps as “Three Forks USFS 58 4.3, Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge, GA.” (That would be “U.S. Forest Service Road.”)  And for both test-hikes I wore a 22-pound weight vest, for training purposes.

My next project is a 27-mile hike from where U.S. 64 intersects the Trail, up to Wesser NC.  The question is whether it’ll take two or three days.  

And a BTW:  My “canoe buddy” from 12 miles offshore is now proposing a 16-day canoe trip down the Yukon River, from White Horse to Dawson City.  (That‘ll be worth a blog-post!)

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