How Would we Detect the Wild Effect?

There are many ways that we might be able to detect the Wild Effect.  One way would be to see if the number of inquiries about a trail increases after the release of a story. We could measure web traffic about a trail before and after the release of a story.  Let's simplify the literature search.  Can we see the Wild Effect in the number of thru-hikers who complete a trail?

Image by Cindy Edwards

Image by Cindy Edwards

Unfortunately, that’s about all we can say about our investigation.  We cannot comment on the number of thru-hikers who read the book or saw the movie, and were inspired to hit the trail.  That information is simply not available.  Some, perhaps most, thru-hikers take trails on for other reasons.  We really cannot connect the number of thru-hikers to their motivations.

The information about numbers of thru-hikers tends to range from the implicit to the explicit.  That is, some sources make high-level statements, without providing much support.  Other sources declare specific numbers of thru-hikers.

The Wild Effect and Bryson Bump are phenomena listed on several outdoor-related blogs.  Many of these sources imply that the books and movies will cause or have caused an increase in hiking on these long distance trails.  The blogs list little support for such hypotheses or conclusions.  A reader almost feels that the authors want these increases to happen.

Outside magazine published Wild’ Movie Boosts Number of PCT Hikers on January 20, 2015.  In this article, the editors state a) the number of thru-hiker permits was up 300%, and b) the number of hikers was 30% higher. A reader could reconcile these two numbers.  Perhaps 3 times the number of hikers registered, but only 30% more showed up.  In a related article, Behind the Scenes of 'Wild', the author notes that the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is estimating a hiker increase of 30%. 

The PCTA reports on anecdotal observations.  The PCTA reports that there seems to be more hikers on the trail after Cheryl Strayed’s book was published, and again when the movie was released.  Also, there seem to be more people on the trail for day hikes or weekend backpacking trips.  It makes sense that an inspiring story in a movie or book could move people to tackle long distance trails.

In the next blogpost, we’ll look at the numbers of thru-hikers readily available and see if we can see the Wild Effect or the Bryson Bump.

How Would the Wild Effect be Defined?

Do best-selling books and successful movies inspire people to action?  How about when the stage is backpacking?

Image by Jeff Edwards

Image by Jeff Edwards

The Wild Effect is the phenomenon that the movie Wild would increase the number of hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in years following the release of the film.  It is the belief that the story of Wild would inspire others to hike the PCT.  The Bryson Bump is a similar idea for the Appalachian Trail (AT).  Bill Bryson wrote A Walk in the Woods in 1998.  This generated interest in the Appalachian Trail should have translated into a greater number of visitors to the AT.  The Way, a film about walking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago trail in Spain, was produced in 2010.  Did wild, the walk, and the way inspire people to visit these trails?  Can we see it in the numbers available?

This is more than just a curiosity.  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy considered how to protect the AT after the movie, A Walk in the Woods, was shown in theaters in 2015.  The conversancy’s solution was to devise a mechanism for AT thru-hikers to register and communicate their hiking plans.  No hiker would be turned away, but it would give the conservancy an idea as to where the hikers would be when.  A hiker could see the plans of others and make adjustments if, say, a high number of registered thru-hikers were planning to start in the 2nd week of March.

Perhaps some of Trailiac’s readers have been inspired by these books or movies.  My first backpacking trip along the AT was during 1999, one year after Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods came out.  I hadn’t read the book, but I traveled with one who had.  The book inspired a friend, a western backpacker, to give the AT a try.

What inspired you to try backpacking?  A book or movie? A friend?

Trailiac describes the PCT and the AT.  Trailiac will describe the Camino de Santiago in the future.

Wonder About Backpacking in a Tropical Storm? Watch This and Wonder no More

What would keep you from your backpacking plans?

Would you let the remnants of a hurricane keep you from the trail?

These two backpackers said, "No!" As Tropical Storm Matthew made it's way up the east coast, these two headed to the Roan Highlands.

The Appalachian Trail, always open.

No backpackers were harmed in the making of this video.

Know the September Night Sky as Well as You Know the Trail

Backpackers should peel away from the evening campfire and glance skyward.  The sky is relatively quiet this month.  There are a couple of planets visible at sunset, but many are too close to the sun's light to see.  The greatest meteor shower of the year ended last month.

That doesn't mean the universe has suddenly become boring.  The moon's sunny surface continues to change as it swings around earth.  Meteors still streak across the night sky.  We can still see approximately 6,000 stars on a moonless night.

There is much to appreciate.  Enjoy September's night sky with a light jacket.  Soon, the winter stars will show themselves.

Know the Migrating Birds Above Your Trail

Guest writer: Dwayne Smith

Even if you don’t consider yourself a birder (or even a bird watcher), the fact that you are a hiker means you spend an above-average amount of time in the great outdoors.  At certain times of the year, especially along the Appalachian Trail (AT), you can get an in-depth look at the birding world.  International Hawk Migration Week (IHMW) is one of those times.

IHMW, which will take place September 17-25, 2016, is a great time to see some of our most magnificent birds; and not just a few at a time.  On September 16th, 2016, watchers at Snicker’s Gap, VA cataloged 16 Osprey, 9 Sharp-shinned Hawks, a Cooper’s Hawk, and – brace yourself – 4,747 Broad-winged Hawks!  That’s right – all those birds in just a single day!*  The record count for a total season (September – December 2011) is 40,759.  But why Snicker’s Gap?  What’s so special about that location in Virginia? It’s the Appalachian Trail!  Well, sort of…  You pass through Snicker’s Gap because that’s where the trail is, and hawks are there for the same reason.  You’re interested in the foot path, but they are all about the updrafts.

Raptors may migrate from Canada to as far south as Texas, Central America or even South America.  With their broad wings, they are well-suited for gliding, and take advantage of thermal currents rising from the mountains to sustain lift with minimal effort.

Image courtesy of Francesco Veronesi from Italy (Broad-winged Hawk - Cuba_S4E9781-Modifica) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Francesco Veronesi from Italy (Broad-winged Hawk - Cuba_S4E9781-Modifica) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Soaring high overhead, raptors such as this Broad-winged Hawk may cover as many as 4,500 miles in nine weeks.  You can understand their need to conserve as much energy as possible.  After all, as you rest your weary feet at the end of a long day, wouldn’t you have preferred gliding?

Snicker’s Gap is located at the Loudoun/Clarke County line in Northern Virginia, less than a mile from the Bears Den Hostel.  The AT trail head off of VA Routes 7 and 601 VA is a great parking place to start a hike or to join the Hawk Watch.  For more information, start with the Snickers Gap page of Virtual Birder.

*Count data courtesy of the American Birding Association. See this online resource for information on other dates and locations.

About the Author

Dwayne Smith grew up in a hunting, fishing and hiking family. As an adult, most of his shooting is done with a camera, and he primarily hunts for the next entry in his birding life list with a pair of binoculars and his trusty field identification guide.

Dwayne and his wife in the great outdoors.

Read "A Sketch & A Prayer" to Plan or Remember Your Appalachian Trail Hike (Book Review)

Few books spark backpacking memories as much as A Sketch & A Prayer: A Visual Journey of the Appalachian Trail – The Southern Mountains.  This book is a personal travel journal of the author’s section hike of the AT during July and August in 2014.  Mike “Sketch” Wurman has returned from the backcountry to tell us about the adventure.

The author lets you know that this is going to be a personal account when his first sentence shares one of his weaknesses.  The introduction is critical to understanding what triggered this backpacker’s first trip since his time in the Boy Scouts

The book’s content is organized by day.  Each day provides a description of the trail, a few illustrations, and the author’s memory of the day’s hike.  Photos are available for many of the days. On Day 1, the author starts at the southern terminus of the trail, the AT approach to Springer Mountain in Georgia.  After many ascents and descents, the book ends in Damascus, Virginia.

The author may have intended to publish a book of illustrations, but his trail descriptions are just as compelling.  A Sketch & A Prayer should be of interest to those new to backpacking, to those who have thought about backpacking the AT, and to those who have traveled this trail.

For those new to backpacking, the author describes how to plan and execute a multi-week backpacking trip.  This book reveals the good and the bad.  The author describes the joy of a zero day and the misery of walking in the rain day-after-day.  This book can help the new backpacker plan for the next backpacking trip.

Books, documentaries, and movies describe the AT as the grand-daddy of long-distance hiking trails.  Many have imagined what it might be like to walk this trail.  The author tells and shows what it’s like to walk this trail through the southern mountains.  A reader will learn about the terrain, the wildlife, and the now famous trail culture.  For those readers with some backpacking experience, the book’s Tips & Tricks reveal insights into traveling this particular trail.

AT thru-hikers and section hikers will enjoy the book for the memories triggered by the text and illustrations.  Quick… what do you think of when you see a drawing of a tin can suspended from a wooden rafter?  Do you think about the night when the shelter mice attacked?  Would a drawing of clean laundry hanging from a line stretched between two trees remind you about your trip’s laundry days?  The diagrams of this book will incite many trail memories for those who have hiked this trail.

This book is offered through http://www.asketchandaprayer.com/collections/all and www.amazon.com.

The author’s 2nd book is in the works and the material for a 3rd book has been collected.  Be sure to check A Sketch & A Prayer's website for news about subsequent books.