The Real Wilderness of Wild: A Brief History of the Pacific Crest Trail

TIME

Wild, a film based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, in theaters Dec. 5, tells the tale of a woman wandering over more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. And that means one of star Reese Witherspoon’s most important co-stars is the trail itself.

Today there are more than 1,000 official national trails that sprawl across America like a nervous system. But in the beginning there were just two: the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. The latter, spanning about 2,650 miles of America’s West Coast, from Mexico to Canada, was the dream of a fellow named Clinton Clarke. In 1932, the avid hiker formally proposed a border-to-border trail connecting the peaks of the Pacific Coast, to preserve and protect America’s “absolute wilderness” before it was overrun by “motor cars” and industry.

“In few regions of the world—certainly nowhere else in the United States,” he later wrote…

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