A Walk In The Woods


            Yes, the comparisons with “Wild” are inevitable: last year's celebrated movie, starring Reese Witherspoon, about Cheryl Strayed's trek through the Pacific Crest Trail.  But the woman who wrote that book was much younger, much edgier, and saw the solitary wilderness journey as a way of finding herself, a kind of soul-searching, introspective spiritual pilgrimage.

            “A Walk In The Woods” is, as the name implies, much more leisurely.  Based on the book by Bill Bryson, it's more about an older guy checking off something on his bucket list.  Robert Redford plays the Iowa-born professor who spent years in England, as something of an Anglophile, and winds up in New England, a retired Chancellor, with a lovely English wife, Catherine (Emma Thompson), who thinks he's taken leave of his senses, and insists he can go only if someone else agrees to go with him (secretly hoping he couldn't find anybody).  Bill calls practically every man he knows, and gets the predictable answers:  too much time, too many other commitments, not in shape, not interested, too old, too lazy...but as a last resort, he calls an old friend he hasn't even heard from in a long time, but as college buddies they went to Europe together, so at least there's a history of camaraderie.  Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) is still the proud profligate that he was as a younger man.  He claims that he's spent half his life drinking and chasing (women), and the other half he's wasted.  He looks the part, too:  overweight, red-faced, unkempt, short of breath, raspy voice, but---willing to go.  He informs Bill later that he was also running away from a couple of outstanding arrest warrants.  Bill is somewhat taken aback by this revelation, but then, Bill realizes that beggars can't be choosers.  So, off they go to Georgia, to begin the famed Appalachian Trail together.

            Cheryl often sought other hikers for company; Bill and Stephen try to avoid other hikers, because the only one who showed any interest in walking with them was really annoying.  Cheryl lost toenails, and threw away her expensive hiking boots; Bill and Stephen lose their dignity in a mudhole, and their food to foraging bears.  Reese Witherspoon, nominated for an Oscar for her rendition of Cheryl, does a sizzling nude scene as part of a casual sexual encounter.  Nick Nolte briefly flashes some butt cheek trying to crawl into his pup tent, which is supposed to be more humorous than erotic.

            Bill and Stephen don't mind getting off the trail to stay in a communal lodge, or even a cheap motel, where once Stephen connects with a rather large flirtatious lady at the local laundromat, also supposed to be funny.  Both men are tempted to quit the Trail several times, especially after they fall off the beaten path and spend the night on a narrow ledge.  Finally, they do quit, miles away from their goal, but then, it really wasn't about doing the whole thing, anyway, it was about re-connecting with nature, and with each other, which they did.  And then they simply return to their previous lives, whereas Cheryl constructs a new life altogether, marrying and raising a family, and only writing about her solitary experience much later.

            Bill keeps claiming he wasn't trying to do this just to write a book, but then, he does, anyway.  It was still the physical adventure of a lifetime, even if not all that much happened.  But it suggests to fellow Baby Boomers another coveted item on the bucket list.  If you can find someone willing to go with you who's as much fun as Stephen.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  What's on your bucket list that involves a long hike or trek through the wilderness?  What's stopping you from going?

2)                  If you were to plan a trip like this, whom would you invite to come with you?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kaufman, Texas