THRU: A Discussion with Filmmaker Lindsay Taylor Jackson

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THRUBy Taylor Ciambra

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]T[/dropcap]he moment I climbed over the last rocky ledge of Mt. Washington, I sat down in exhaustion. My legs dangled painfully away from my knee sockets like a marionette puppet. I wore jean shorts, beat up sneakers and had my then-boyfriend carry four bottles of water for me. I wasn’t exactly prepared for the 6,289’ hike. When I saw a line of cars driving up the auto road, I didn’t even have the energy to curse aloud. I spit and put my head between my legs. When some of the pain and anger subsided, I looked out to see waves of blue mountains reaching towards the sun. I began to fill with a feeling of accomplishment and wonder that was completely new to me.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]

This was when I first thought about thru hiking the 2,181 mile Appalachian Trail, which is what this massive mountain is part of.

“If you hike the Appalachian Trail with me, yes, I will marry you,” I started telling my boyfriend. It started off as a joke. He’d ask me to marry him in the off-handed way we had developed over the past few years. He would mean it, knowing the answer was “yes” with a caveat of “one day.” “One day” eventually becoming “after the Appalachian Trail.” He’d gift me gear for birthdays and anniversaries instead of jewelry and chocolate. We’d continue to hike around our college town and summit Mt. Washington together again. I’d get stronger and more confident in my hiking abilities and I’d research the trail between semesters of school. I didn’t have a date to do by but I had the dream. We had the dream.

When he slipped my cold house key into my hand without a word, I was shocked.

“Are you breaking up with me?”[divider type="short" spacing="10"]

I threw out my hiking shoes and gave up on writing. I avoided walking in the shadows of the mountains I lived in. I was too ashamed to work through my grief but slowly, I understood that I had to. The mountains got steeper and the notebooks filled up. There were less reactions and more reflections. There were not a lot of answers but a few important questions. One being, did I still want to hike the AT?

Meanwhile, lying in a hospital bed in the Czech Republic for ten days, Patrice Kincade listened to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild on audiobook, twice. With the future of her health no longer certain, her dreams had to turn into plans before they could erode under a doctor’s diagnosis. After meeting another Native New Englander and hiker, Filmmaker Lindsay Taylor Jackson, the women committed themselves to hiking the AT in 2016 and creating THRU: An Appalachian Trail Documentary.

“In filmmaking especially, there is a lot of negative media around girls and women regarding who they are and should be. We want to create a positive piece that is about a woman going through these challenges, this journey, and discovering what true beauty and strength are,” Jackson tells me of the crowd funded project. There’s a sunny quality to her voice that is as welcoming as an old friend’s. In fact, we could have been. As alumna of the same college and working artists, it’s amazing that it took the AT for us to find each other. Until I remember that on the trail, we’re in limited company. We are the 25% of the 25%.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]A[/dropcap]bout 25% of all hikers will complete a thru hike (hiking the entire length of the trail over the course of one year) and women make up 25% of thru hikers. This film is unique not only in its focus and challenges, but in it’s execution as well. Jackson plans on shooting in third person perspective. She loves “the intimacy of following one person, that we can build up and capture a character,” but third person will allow the film to “fit into a bigger scheme that women can identify and associate with.” Which is where the importance of this film lies, in encouraging not just females or just hikers to relate to Kincade, but all people. “The strength and beauty of women, that needs to be seen by all genders,” Jackson adds thoughtfully. Which is why THRU has partnered with the Utah based nonprofit, SheJumps, “SheJumps is about getting girls and women outside and showing the positive effects of being able to do so.” Jackson hopes that THRU will bring SheJumps and their goals further into the public’s awareness and can help with fundraising.

The challenges loom large with a project like this. Emotionally taxing, Jackson realizes there will be a balance of when to film and when not to. “A lot of people go on the AT to get away from technology and to experience nature. We’re conscious of people wanting that. We’ll talk to people and ask them if they feel comfortable sharing their story. All of that will happen before they even see a camera, even with Patrice. If you don’t want a camera in your face, I will shut it off,” says Jackson. Physically, there’s the issue of weight and pack space. Jackson and I share a good natured laugh, this is a tough part of preparation. “What to keep what to lose. It’s a weight puzzle. I also love it though, as a filmmaker, trying to make work through those challenges.”[divider type="short" spacing="10"]

The ability to have this film crowd funded is evidence that there is an interest and need for films that showcase women in a positive light and cinematically unique rolls. But I’m curious if there’s been any negative backlash. “I’m surprised at how overwhelmingly positive the feedback has been. The only really interesting thing, when we first were thinking of this project, we created a username that had something to do with the AT and posted something asking if any female thru hikers in 2016 that were interested in being interviewed or filmed, and people thought we were a man. They were really angry... They said things like, 'There are easier ways to find someone to sleep with.' Just because we were filmmakers. It hadn’t even crossed their minds that we could be women filmmakers.”

Our conversation ends with the hope that we’ll find each other among the white blazes. “I’m just so ready to start it. I’m excited to film outside,” she tells me. Eyeing my own pack whose contents have exploded onto the floor, I’m feeling ready too. There’s a notebook with it’s front and back covers ripped off and two pens, carefully selected for their weight. The expectation of a good story weighs enough.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]I[/dropcap] remember how much it bothered me that I didn’t know if I wanted to hike the AT after my relationship ended. It was like the drawer I had at his place. There was some soap, a T-shirt, and contact solution that I really didn’t need but I hated that they were still there. I didn’t need to hike the AT and I couldn’t for at least a year, but I had to figure out if I wanted to. I cycled through a variety of reasons to hike, all of them feeling angry, spiteful or in some way wrong. I knew it was going to take a specific attitude to make it from Georgia to Maine and my pain could not be a part of that. I had to do this for me, but I also had to figure out why I had once wanted it for us.

I imagined that committing to hike the Appalachian Trail with someone I loved would be intentional time we took to learn about ourselves and each other, that it would strengthen our bond as we faced the rest of our lives. But the meaning of the hike did not have to change because my relationship status did. It could still mean self-exploration, discovering potential, and challenging commitment. Alone, I realized, I could let it mean whatever else it would come to mean, too.

And with that, there was only one way to go: thru.