“The Long Start to the Journey” opens at RiverRun today

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by Eric Ginsburg

The Long Start to the Journey opens tonight at Hanesbrands at 8 p.m. and screens again tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. at A/perture 1. Director Chris Gallaway will be in attendance for both.

My parents used to tell people that I had an aversion to the outdoors, but the truth is I just hated family hikes.

The best parts of a trip up Mount Washington — save for a badass story of picking our way across the top of a small waterfall in blinding fog — were the moments I savored when we reached a cabin for the night and I could play my Game Boy. It was my first encounter with a part of the Appalachian Trail, and I was about as fond of it as a pop quiz in math class.

Much has changed since then; I’ve returned to short stretches of the impressive trail in three different states, every time of my own accord. But I’d be lying if I pretended to be any sort of hiker or rugged outdoorsman, and so it was with some reservation that I watched The Long Start to the Journey, a documentary about hiking the entire AT, as it’s known.

Chris Gallaway is inspired to thru-hike the AT by a woman he loves, who goes by Sunshine and lives in Asheville — that fact, along with somewhat tedious narration at a few points, wasn’t exactly winning me over. But ultimately, Gallaway captures not only his own compelling and engrossing story, but that of several other hikers he encounters.

I chose to watch The Long Start to the Journey out of a curiosity for these introverted types who couldn’t be more different than me — putting up with mice, battalions of mosquitoes and loneliness to slog up the East Coast mountain trail. It sounded like a genuine definition of hell as far as I was concerned. Especially when I could dip in and steal some fantastic views with minimal efforts in places like Clingman’s Dome (the AT’s highest point, which happens to be in western North Carolina), Grayson Highlands (where I found wild ponies in Virginia) and along a stream in western Massachusetts.

Gallaway’s reasons for the extensive hike are illuminating, as is his recounting of the many reasons people he met were trying to do the same. The trail draws people in transitional moments of life, he points out, though the specifics vary widely. And by the time Gallaway nears the end of his hike, he has a dramatically different, and much more sobering, reason to finish the trek. That, and his honest accounts of his struggles, frustrations and shortcomings come together to make a moving piece of cinema that will appeal to wanderlusting and hiking-averse viewers alike.

 

Dir. Chris Gallaway, 70 min., USA, 2015