America’s Wild Spaces: Appalachian Trail

The new full length  (50 minutes) documentary entitled America’s Wild Spaces: Appalachian Trail , on  National Geographic network TV,  premiered last night at 8 PM.   I  had to invite myself over to my friend Mike’s house to be able to see it, as I don’t subscribe to the station on this newfangled TV setup.

I have enjoyed many of the AT documentaries and this one really had my hopes up.   I have viewed other videos, and have sometimes been moved to tears watching them.

At least National Geographic had most of the requisite number of facts straight ( ” The AT is less than a 1 day drive from one-half the population of the USA”.).    I’m grading it a “C” , which was a real disappointment considering the resources that this organization has to draw on. When I heard the pilgrimage talk, against a sunset shot, with the deep strings in the background , I thought , too bad, you don’t need to do this, let the hikers themselves talk and walk.

The first section profile is through the eyes of Chad, a section hiker who does a 28 mile piece from the start at Springer Mountain  to Blood Mountain.  It was humbling to be reminded of the challenges of the formidable Georgia mountains.  The fact that that 500 people a year thru hike  isn’t correct. The numbers have varied between 300 and 400 a year for the past decade.  In the 1970’s some years saw less than 10 people a year walking the whole AT.

The best part of this video is what is impossible to appreciate as a hiker, the documentary’s aerial shots, which were truly amazing.

There was a wavering focus to this story.  The acid rain segment  about the Smokies was informative, but there were  three other “environmental messages” that seemed forced in. Why did the video take up  several valuable minutes showing a remote camera being set up to verify that there are many different animals present out in the woods?  Yep, there are bears, deer, and racoons out there.  Could that time been used to interview the fabled Bob Peoples, whose Kincora hiker hostel and whose decades long devotion to trail building demands coverage ?

It was also strange that you were whooshed from Harper’s Ferry  four hundred miles up to Bear Mountain Bridge in New York.  There was no mention at all of those middle Atlantic states. I guess the message is those places don’t merit a word or a video footage?  At the Maine section  there was this bizarre rapid motion segment of being whooshed down some greenery amidst quiet reflections of fall.  It was jarring, and sure didn’t fit.

This film didn’t touch my heart.   I won’t be adding this one to my AT documentary collection. If you really want to get a taste of what  hiking the AT  is all about I’d suggest you check out Michal Daniel’s  ( AKA Lion King) Walking With Freedom : A Hike Along the Appalachian Trail instead. But, check this one out for yourself.  The next EST National Geographic Channel airing is scheduled for Nov. 17 at 4 PM.  I’d appreciate comments from other viewers.

For extensive commentary on this topic, get over to the Whiteblaze forum concerning this show.

5 thoughts on “America’s Wild Spaces: Appalachian Trail

  1. I have been in the network/documentary business for going on 29 years now and was excited to hear about this film being produced.
    I am sad to say that I was let down by national Geo. and that I am in total agreement with Tom and his comments. I feel they let too much ride on the beautiful aerials, which was spectacular to watch in High definition on a large screen, but much was lost in the real stories of hiking the trail. The profiles of the hikers were of those that were at the beginning of each end and not much in between. That is what much of the DOCUMENTARY leaves out,the middle stories. I was gearing up to see a DOCUMENTARY about what it is really like to be on the trail and was let down when I saw hikers that looked like they had just stepped out of the trailer before the director yells “Action”.(showered & powdered)
    A DOCUMENTARY is a day in the life of the subject and what that person goes through. This was not a DOCUMENTARY, it was a fluff peace with not much stuffing. For those who have not done much hiking I can see how this might draw them to the experience but for those of us who have spent months on this beautiful and difficult trail it is a let down.I would expect that most if not all the viewers who watch National Geographic are those who spend time out of doors. The beautiful shots taken for this program did not by any means show how difficult the trail is to those who hike it for more than 7 days.
    On the other hand I have to say good job on the production values through most of the film I do know how hard it can be to carry the equipment and shoot. I am sure it was a hard job and that is why you see so much from the air.
    With basically only 45 minutes to tell the story,I feel a lot of that time was wasted on things that were pretty obvious and did not tell the real story of hiking the trail.


  2. Thanks for the detailed post. True, it was not meant as a story of through hiking, but you are right in that it also appeared to miss just how hard it actually is to get out to walk the walk, even for those who have the chance to take even 7 days to do it.


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