Almost 60 years ago, Don and June Mulford set out with their pack horses destined to film the first ever thru ride of the Pacific Crest Trail. The story they captured sparked the imaginations of many who were to follow their path later. In May 2017, as I prepared to set off on my own first thru hike attempt, I met Barney ‘Scout’ Mann. He and his wife Sandy aka ‘Frodo’ have become legendary trail hosts at their home in San Diego. Scout in particular relishes the sharing of PCT history with new hikers. During my first stay, he produced the old film camera the Mulford’s had used to document their ride. Seeing that bulky bit of trail history made quite an impression on me. I mused about the possibility of doing a first ever (as far as I am aware anyway) thru hike capturing the experience in 360 degree video.
If you have yet to try virtual reality, a visceral experience awaits. Looking up, back, and around tricks your mind into believing that your body is elsewhere. Knowing that there are many more people captivated by the PCT than ever get the chance to hike it, I conceived this project as a way to bring the trail to folks who lack the opportunity, ability, or resources to experience our national treasure firsthand. I also thought it would be a nice way to remember my own hike when age has taken it’s inevitable toll.
Many factors conspired and in late 2017, GoPro released their Fusion camera making such an endeavor possible without the need of professional equipment. Though not yet inexpensive, virtual reality (VR) technology has advanced and become more widely available. So it was that when I returned to the trail for my second northbound attempt in April 2018, I began again at the Mexican border not only to accomplish a true northbound thru hike but also to record highlights of the trail in 5K, stabilized, spherical video. Since returning home from my successful bid, I spent much of my time figuring out how to convert, edit, publish, and distribute the hundreds of gigabytes video I collected. Suffice it to say the task was nontrivial.
It seems fitting that as the PCT celebrates its 50th year as a national scenic trail this week, I have completed my work. You can find a short trailer on Facebook here and the full 2 hour VR experience can be found on Vimeo On Demand. If there’s anyway you can watch using a headset, I would definitely recommend it to have the most immersive experience. The recently released Oculus Go makes a compelling experience more affordable than ever, eliminating both the wires and the need for a high powered PC.
However you manage it, I hope you enjoy. And did I mention… while not free, the movie does come with a ‘no blister’ guarantee!