Colin Arisman and high school friend Casey Gannon share a love for the outdoors that has kept them friends five years later. Their friendship will have a chance to grow lots more starting April 19th as they begin their hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile hike that begins in Mexico and ends in Canada. Starting in the blazing heat of Mexico, Colin and Casey are raising funds on Kickstarter to help pay for a documentary that will share the joy they have for the great outdoors. The project is called “Only the Essentials”, and is inspired by Thoreau’s quote that says “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Driven by a passion to experience nature, challenge himself, and live off “the essentials” in life, Colin has shared how he is preparing for the hike, and the vision for the documentary.
Rebekah: How do you physically train and prepare for such a huge hike?
Colin Arisman: My friend Casey and I went to high school together and just being outside has always been a key part of our friendship. We played hockey, ran, and did skied. Some people might call that training, but we didn’t think of it like that. We just had natural work-outs.
Going for a hike is a physically intensive activity, but we’re out there to have that experience. That’s kind of been our lifestyle. Since college, Casey biked across the country to Washington state, now he’s working at a ski mountain. I was in South America pretty much hiking the entire time. I would hike for three or four days, then take time for a cultural experience. It wasn’t as intense as this is going to be because I took more breaks, but it’s still helped to prepare me. Now that I’m not in South America anymore, I’ve been cross-country skiing.
As far as the climate change, the desert is definitely a hard place to hike. I experienced that in Peru. You really have to create a strategy where you work around the sun. I try to imitate the environment, what the animals do. Most animals in the desert aren’t very active during the afternoon, but a lot are active at night. We’ll try to hike at night more using headlamps.
RV: It’s said that fewer than half actually finish the trail. Are there certain obstacles you foresee happening?
CA: I’m a pretty determined person so it’s hard to think about failing sometimes. There’s an element of injury, and I’ve definitely had to accept that I’m undertaking something that I can give my best effort, but I have to be humble enough to know that even if I give it my best I still might not reach my goal. I think it’s a good sign that I’ve set the bar high enough that I can fail. It’s daunting to think that I might not complete this experience, but it’s also going to be an incredibly amazing journey. We’re going into it with the Canadian border on our minds.
RV: What do you hope to gain from this hike?
CA: It’s pretty personal. My entire life I’ve been looking for a test like this, kind of like a right of passage. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how much getting outdoors effects me. I’ve realized how much it affects my mood. I come off it being in great shape, and it’s energizing spending time outside. After I heard about the trail three years ago, it just seemed like something I was going to do, it was just out of my control at that time.
RV: What’s the purpose behind the documentary?
CA: The idea of the documentary is going outside of our personal experiences, and sharing with people who might not have the resources or passion to do this. We grew up with the resources and opportunities to do this, and we just took it for granted. If you grew up not knowing this, our idea is to convey why you should get outside and have experiences like this.
RV: You talk about “nature deficit disorder” on your Kickstarter page. How do you hope this documentary will combat a culture of technology and consumerism?
CA: It’s kind of counter-productive because in some ways you’ll spend more time watching T.V. I don’t know if it will motivate a little kid, but I hope our enthusiasm will come across in this film. That’s one thing anyone can pick up on. Hopefully it can encourage them to just go on a hike or change their habits. Hopefully parents change the way they look at a hike like this. Hopefully it can influence how parent’s spend time with their kids.
RV: What are your ‘essentials’? What do you need to experience and live life?
CA: The idea boils down to everything we’re doing. I’ve found that spending time outside is the essence of what I find valuable: connection with people, and my happiness. My life is exactly where I want it to be when I’m outside.
I’m in my room right now, and I’m just looking at all this stuff I don’t need. On the hike, we’ll be carrying our shelter, food, water, and a way to start a fire. That’s the essentials to survive. It’s what you need to stay healthy and happy.
RV: What do you think is ‘essential’ for people to experience nature?
CA: It’s a little weird for me answering that question because I grew up in a rural state. I would imagine that it’s very difficult for many people to even access a real wilderness area, especially inner-city kids. If your family doesn’t have a car, it could be really hard to access a national park. Creating outdoor associations that help get kids access to outdoors are essential. If you’re in New York, you probably have to drive two or three hours to get to national park. You might not have the transportation to get you there. And, if you don’t grow up knowing how to camp, you need a mentor. An outdoor activity club really fills both positions; you have a mentor and transportation. Kind of like the Outward Bound idea.
I think a big way that can help people enjoy the outdoors is for them to pack less. People are really resistant to carrying less. People think we really need a pillow and all these other things, but it makes the experience less enjoyable because you can’t go as far. You’ll experience blisters, wear, and tear. It’s best to, within reason, reduce the weight of your pack as much as you can. Really decide what you need. The less you carry, the less you need to know about using your gear. There’s a lot of things we convince ourselves we need that we don’t need. Your hike is going to be much more enjoyable and you’ll be more likely to do it again if you just pack light.
RV: Who or what inspires you to hike and experience the outdoors?
CA: I think that we all have a natural desire to get outside. I learned at a pretty young age that I just wanted to get outside. We need curiosity to get outside. Children’s books like the Wind and the Willows or really any exciting outdoor story were inspiring. I read “Into the Wild”, and that made me want to undertake more serious outdoor activities, but obviously not live in a bus in Alaska. Also “The Snow Leopard”, by Peter Matthiessen is about a guy’s trek in the Himalayas, and that’s a good book. It deals with some Zen Buddhism, but it’s also just about the hike. I just read John Muir’s book about his first summer in the Sierras. That’s definitely a classic, and I’m going to that area.