Stunning Documentary Sequel “Why Do I Hike 2” Shows the True Hardships of Thru-Hiking
“Why Do I Hike 2: Hardships of a Thru-Hike” is a 1.5-hour documentary by Croatian filmmaker and thru-hiker, Nikola Horvat, aka “Tesla” about his 2022 CDT thru-hike attempt. It is a sequel of sorts to his documentary, “Why (Do I Hike),” about his 2020 Colorado Trail thru-hike. While the first edition was structured based on the reasons one might thru-hike, this sequel delves into the difficulties of thru-hiking. It is divided into five sections outlining different difficulties, alternating between vlog-style narration, a pre-written narration script, interviews with other hikers, and B-roll of his hike.
A more accurate film title would be “Why Do I Not Hike”, as Tesla quits his CDT thru-hike at the Wyoming border. After suffering through heat, dehydration, snow, storms, blisters, and the death of a fellow thru-hiker, he decides he’s lost the spark, and flies home to Croatia.
Most people in Tesla’s position, after leaving a thru-hike halfway through, would have abandoned the documentary. Tesla’s choice to produce the film anyway gives us a relatively rare artistic insight into the vast majority of thru-hikes — those that are not successful.
Overall the film is successful at evoking the highs and lows of a thru-hike, from sweeping vistas to mental and emotional breakdowns.
One of the biggest strengths of the movie is the original score by Denis Kozlica, a Croatian composer. The music is evocative yet subtle, lending ambiance, enhancing tone, and adding emotional complexity. The score won an award for Best Original Documentary Score at the International Sound and Film Music Festival.
It is clear that skill and intention went into the shots and editing of this film. It is beautiful to watch, and nicely balanced between grand scenery shots, intimate interviews, and vlog-style talking to the camera. Tesla has invested in his filmmaking, and it pays off in the drone shots surveying the landscape, the well-framed hiking clips, and the interviews overlayed on scenes that exemplify the subject and themes.
Tesla’s goal here is to convey how hard a thru-hike can really be, and that he does. It’s easy when producing thru-hiking media to gloss over or sugarcoat the negatives. This is especially true in film, which lends itself to the more spectacular and awe-inspiring elements of a hike, yet Tesla remains true to his goal.
I was especially moved by his portrayal of the mental breakdown that led him to leave the trail. It was a raw and vulnerable moment and one to which any long-distance hiker can relate. Even those who finish the trail have their moments when they ask themselves, “Why am I even out here? Is this worth it? I’m getting nothing out of this? How can I possibly suffer for one more day, let alone another several months?” For Tesla, the answer was no, and he decided to end his hike early.
While the film was beautiful, honest, and evocative, I did also find that some elements didn’t quite work for me, particularly the narration script and the overall structure.
In fairness, this may be a matter of taste. I thought the narrations were a good idea, to help tie different clips and interviews together. However, I found them to be very general and vague — so much so that they were hard to follow. They were also written and delivered with a degree of seriousness that struck me as verging occasionally on melodrama and pontification. These narrations and slides also break the cardinal rule of storytelling: “Show, don’t tell.”
Also, the English in the narration and the chapter transition slides was quite clunky. Tesla’s English is overall quite fluent, far better than any of my second languages. However, I personally think that written and published media should be held to a higher linguistic bar, and I think this film could have used a once-or-twice-over from a native English speaker.
The film is divided into five “chapters:” Heat, Water, Discomfort, Mountains, Loss, and Breakdown. I did not find this to be a structure that served the overall themes and intention of the film. A minor frustration is that they are not all in the same category. For example, while mountains bring hardships, they are not a hardship in and of themselves. That section was also more about the mountain weather than about mountains themselves.
I also think that these chapters actually detracted from the arc of the film. Tesla goes through so many hardships that build and build, culminating in the death of a friend and his decision to quit. I don’t think each of these struggles is equally worthy of a self-contained chapter.
That’s A Wrap
I think this film will appeal to several groups of people:
- Former thru-hikers looking to reminisce on the good and the bad from their time on trail.
- Aspiring thru-hikers who want to learn more about the real thru-hiking experience.
- Friends and family of thru-hikers who want to understand more about what their loved ones are going through.
If you fall into one of these categories, I would definitely recommend a watch.
Featured image and screenshots pulled from Why Do I Hike 2, courtesy of Tesla.
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