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The Making of: TREK: A Journey on the Appalachian Trail

On October 1st , 2001, a beautiful sunny day in the backcountry of Maine, we summitted Katahdin. For the 30 or people on the summit that day, the work was done, and it was time to relax after a brisk 2,168-mile stroll of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. For us, the work was only partially done, and if we knew what lay in store, we may have abandoned the project long ago. (Not really though, because in the long run it was really fun making a movie.)


TREK: Summitting Mt. Katahdin, Maine on the Appalachian Trail

A little background about how we got into this whole thing. For future reference in both reading this article and watching the movie, my name is Brian, and I’m known on the trail as Strider. My first experience on the trail was in middle school with the Boy Scouts at Roan Mountain NC. I was with one of my best friends, Andrew (a.k.a. Movement in the film), and we absolutely loved the rolling grassy balds and exposed ridges. We were so amazed that the thin little trail we were walking on stretched all the way to Maine, and we decided right then that we were going to hike the whole trail when we graduated from college.

So the years of high school rolled by, and as I moved through college I met Leon Godwin, a.k.a. Gunslinger, and Max Schoenberger, a.k.a. Maximus. Leon, Max and I spent a lot of time rock climbing together while we were supposed to be in class, and somewhere along the way, they joined the prospective thru-hike crew. Leon was studying documentary film, and came up with a plan to make a film about our adventure. And thus, the work of making an hour and forty minute documentary, TREK, began.

We began researching gear. We knew we didn’t want to carry huge heavy cameras, but we also didn’t want to sacrifice quality where we didn’t have to. We conveniently worked at a TV production studio, so we tested some gear, and decided on the Canon Elura 2. We brought the small digital video cameras, mic, tripod, batteries, tapes, and were set to go. Leon and I each carried about three pounds of camera equipment in addition to our normal backpacking load.

So with dreams of a casual, mystical walk through woods in our head, and camera gear in our packs, we set off on May 1st, 2001. We interviewed ourselves weekly along the way, and within a few days we knew we had the makings of an epic story. We quickly discovered what the trail had to offer both physically and mentally, and the angst could be seen on our faces.

Leon and I both had seen movies and read books on the Appalachian Trail where people drove from section to section and met up with hikers for interviews, and therefore offered the audience only brief glimpses into thru-hiking life. The original purpose of this adventure was to walk every step of the trail from Georgia to Maine, and what better way to document the life of a thru-hiker than by being a thru-hiker.

We had no support vehicle or crew, so we marched north like all the hikers, and while everyone re-supplied in towns, we would send full tapes home, pick up new tapes in our mail drops, and charge our camera batteries while we tried to ingest 6,000 calories worth of bacon cheeseburgers.

TREK: The Appalachian Trail in Tennessee As the weeks and months passed, we met more and more fellow hikers, and soon we found ourselves in a wonderful thru-hiking family, which was great for filming. Our new family of friends helped us accurately capture the essence of the thru-hiker lifestyle. It allowed us to interview other hikers and discover the common threads running through them, and to see how people from all walks of life converge on the trail yearly with the same goal. In addition to documenting the favorite stories that people enjoyed recounting, we were able to show the day to day of life on trail, what it really takes to stay motivated, and the crazy ideas people can come up with when they spend 10 hours a day hiking.

When it was all said and done, we had 50 hours of video and 30 rolls of still photos waiting for us in the editing room. Since this project was completely self-funded, it took us a couple of months after our Katahdin summit to get our finances together, and to formulate a plan for editing our documentary.

The spring of 2002 was our biggest editing push. We were using a beefed-up Mac G4, running Final Cut Pro with some other nice software, and a couple big hard drives to manage the project. We edited eight to ten hours a day, every day, for four months. We had a screening of the rough cut at Trail Days in Damascus in 2002, and the hiking community loved it. In the summer of 2002, we finally had a product that we were happy with, and began the task of marketing and distribution.

Editing a film about a monumental event in your life is a very unique experience. It allowed us to relive the experiences, the friendships and the emotions of the trail on a day-to-day basis. We could also show our friends footage of our adventures, which had so much more impact than the conventional photo album.

But there were the frustrating and trying times as well. As with any large, long-running undertaking, there are times when you question yourself, and the project. A month into the edit, knowing that we had a few more months left, it seemed like there was no end in site. We would look at the pieces of the 27 scenes we had put together, and wonder if they “worked”, or whether they would flow together in the end. But just as we learned while hiking the trail, we broke the large goal down into small manageable goals, and just kept going. In the end, it all came together into a film that we are both very happy with, and has been wonderfully reviewed and accepted.

With the final version of ‘TREK: A Journey on the Appalachian Trail’ in hand, we had DVD’s and VHS’s made, and began premiering the film. We hit up local film festivals, the Banff Mountain Film Festival, REI, and other local outfitters to show the film to the hiking community. The film is now nationally distributed and can be found at REI, Amazon, many local outfitters, and will shortly be available at EMS. A trailer to the film can be found at www.CirqueVideo.com

All said and done, it took us a couple months to prepare, five months of hiking, five more months of editing, and a year and a half of marketing and distribution to launch the film. Oh, and we spent $15,000 of our own money. But the experience and educational value was definitely worth it, and has led us to do some other great things in the meantime, such as making a second documentary, this one following our 6,200 cross-country bike trip last year. ‘Share the Road’ will be available on DVD after we finish with the overwhelming editing process, which, of course, has no end in site. TREK: Along the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire

Brian Burnham / Strider 01

Cirque Productions
Maker of TREK: A Journey on the Appalachian Trail


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