With the movie Wild debuting in theaters around the country tomorrow, we’re betting on record traffic this summer along the film’s dramatic location, the 2,663 mile-long Pacific Coast Trail. The movie is based on writer Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about her 1995 solo hike, for which she packed — and then regretted packing — substantial camera gear. As Strayed’s account of her journey makes clear, when you’re hauling everything you need on your back, including food, tent, and water, any gear that’s neither essential for survival nor immediately soul gratifying quickly gets tossed or mailed home.
Photographers intrigued by the PCT and its colorful, ever-changing band of pilgrims can take a lesson from Strayed’s mistake and bring lighter gear. Or they can do what San Francisco-based photographer Eric Tuttle did and avoid the limitations of the pack entirely.
To create portraits of the PCT hikers who were passing through last summer Tuttle simply set up camp at three different points along the trail. His images of weary, dusty, and (mostly) blissed-out faces are paired with snippets of his subjects’ lives in a gallery at Outside Magazine. We get glimpses into their motives for undertaking the grueling hike, their survival strategies, and hints about how their lives are forever changed by it. One of them, a NASA employee (“Space Age”) describes the challenge of staying motivated during such a lengthy, earthbound walk. A young hiker, “Eleven,” reveals that she’s a serial long-distance walker. And a retired marine, “Buttercup,” discloses that the PCT is just the beginning; he and his wife have sold their home and plan to keep traveling.
An epic journey like the one these folks have undertaken isn’t for everyone, but you can taste the intensity of their experiences in Tuttle’s images (more at his website) and Strayed’s book (and now movie). And if you do decide to head into the wild with photo gear, make sure you pack a modular, compact, and weather resistant camera like the Fuji XT-1 (which takes interchangeable lenses), a battery grip, and a solar charger.