Photos Courtesy of Chris Gallaway
Former BRO dispatcher Chris Gallaway has completed his long awaited documentary about the trials and tribulations of his Appalachian Trail thru-hike. The film is photographically stunning and emotionally compelling, but it also weaves in interesting tidbits about the long-standing history of the Appalachian Trail. Check out an exclusive, six minute sneak peak of the film below, and don’t miss Chris’ next screening at the Asheville Community Theater this Saturday at 7:30 p.m in Asheville, North Carolina.
We recently caught up with Chris to get an inside look at what drove him to complete this long-awaited project.
BRO: When did you begin contemplating an AT Thru-hike?
CG: I had casually toyed with the idea of doing a thru-hike for much of my 20’s, but I didn’t get serious about it until I met Sunshine, my then-girlfriend and now-wife. Sunshine had done two thru-hikes on the AT in 2004 and 2005, and hearing her stories really lit up my imagination and started me thinking about what it would be like to do it myself. A month after my 30th birthday in 2013 I started on the trail in Georgia with hopes of reaching Mount Katahdin in Maine.
BRO: What was the hardest thing about the journey?
CG: There were plenty of physical challenges, from deep snow and sub-zero temperatures in the Smoky Mountains to horrible mosquito swarms in New England. One of the things I struggled with most on the trail was learning how to slow down and pace myself. I’m a fairly competitive person; so the challenge aspects of the trail easily get a hold of me. In Virginia, when the terrain leveled out some, I charged hard for two weeks walking long miles each day under a heavily-loaded pack, and I ended up with deep blisters and nerve damage in my feet. That pain was so depressing and defeating. I was determined to go on, but I was emotionally depleted and miserable as I limped down the trail each day. Thankfully, Sunshine met me on the trail for a few days near Daleville, Virginia and helped me to slow down and recover. My feet healed up, and I resumed my hike with a more patient, steady outlook.
BRO: Tell us about your outdoor background. What kind of activities were you into growing up?
CG: My parents had us out hiking, fishing, and camping as kids. Those early adventures in the woods developed an explorer’s imagination in me—I am happiest and most engaged when traveling a trail or a river and anticipating what will be revealed around the next bend. After college I delved into whitewater kayaking and spent several years exploring the class V rivers of the Southeast. Then in my later 20’s a backpacking trip with my older brother Ben reawakened me to the excitement of life on the trail (and also the intriguing culture of the AT). That trip put me back on a track towards many more hiking trips and eventually the AT thru-hike.
BRO: Where did your first backpacking trip take place?
CG: I car camped a lot with my family growing up, but the first real backpacking trip I can remember happened in my freshmen year of college when I joined an outdoor program trip to Joyce Kilmer forest in Western North Carolina. We hiked among the old growth trees and up onto a ridge that was shrouded in storm clouds. It rained on us all night, and we hid in our tents playing cards. There was a lot of misadventure on that trip, but it proved to me how quickly close friendships can form during those shared adventures. I came away from that trip with a couple of good friends who became my camping buddies during college.
BRO: What was the main lesson you took away from the AT?
CG: Whenever I go to the trail I feel like it’s teaching me to slow down and pay attention. I usually set out from the trail head over-loaded and at break-neck speed, but after a couple of days I begin to settle into the pace of the forest and walking the trail. Time on the trail always helps me to get in touch with what really matters in life, and it refreshes my imagination and creative capacity.
BRO: What is the main lesson that you want viewers of this film to come away with?
CG: I hope that people are inspired to get out and spend time on their local trails (and also to be invested in protecting and stewarding wild places in our communities). It’s easy to forget about and overlook the heritage of wild places that we’re blessed with as Americans–I need fairly constant reminding myself about how good the wild places are for us and how important it is for me to spend time in them. The legacy of wilderness in America is ongoing, and there are still so many important ways for people to get involved in stewarding and protecting our trails, forests, and streams. So that’s my hope: 1) that people watch the film and immediately want to go out and spend time on a trail or a river, and 2) that through that they are led to a deeper engagement with environmental conservation and stewardship in their community.
Tickets are $7 and available at the theater box office (35 East Walnut Street, Asheville, NC 28801), by phone (828-254-1320), and online http://qrs.ly/k74otdb.