Stunning New Documentary “Why (Do I Hike)” is a Love Letter to Thru-Hiking

Croatian filmmaker and thru-hiker Nikola “Tesla” Horvat has released a stunning new documentary from the Colorado Trail entitled “Why (Do I Hike).” The award-winning 23-minute film pairs magnificent footage of the Colorado Rockies with thoughtful narration to capture the thru-hiking zeitgeist. Why (Do I Hike) has already won the grand prize or been named a finalist in numerous film festivals.

Why (Do I Hike)

Horvat filmed the documentary during his 2019 Colorado Trail thru-hike. It features interviews with fellow hikers and trail angels he met along the way. Through their comments and narrator Richard Riley, the film muses on the qualities of the trail that draw hikers, seemingly inexorably, to traverse the mountains each hiking season. As the film puts it, “every time I venture into the wilderness, I feel as if I am returning to the place I belong.”

Why (Do I Hike) is divided into five segments. The first four deal with the key factors that motivate long-distance backpackers (Nature, Time, Community, and Mental Health, respectively), while the Final Chapter synthesizes Horvat’s conclusions.

why do i hike

Although some of these insights may feel too cosmically weighty to resonate with some hikers (“I am the universe in that atom of humanity, an assemblage of molecules that unite the chaos of the Big Bang and the order of life,”) most of them will almost certainly hit home.

For instance, of mental health, Horvat (through narrator Riley) says, “the wilderness gave me satisfaction over a sip of water, the smell and taste of food, the joy of a warm shower, o a place to rest my weary legs. I could even rejoice at a can of sugared water.” (Cue footage of Horvat in sheer ecstasy after discovering a cooler of cold soda alongside the trail). One of the film’s interview subjects, Kyle “Rock Mule” Burnett, puts it best. “Even a bad day hiking is probably one of the best days of your life.”

On the subject of community, the film observes, “in the wild, people respect each other more. They listen more. They love each other… With people like that, I feel purpose and kinship again. I belong to a community and finally don’t feel the need to escape it.”

why do i hike

tldr: If you like thru-hiking and want to feel warm and fuzzy about the trail, you should probably watch this documentary. Come for the awe-inspiring footage of the Colorado Trail. Stay for the on-point observations about what makes the thru-hiking community tick.

Behind the Scenes

Nikola Horvat is a successful PCT and Colorado Trail thru-hiker, author, filmmaker, and founder of the Croatian Long Distance Trail. He pioneered the CLDT upon returning to Croatia from the PCT in 2016. He mapped the route himself, authored a guidebook, and founded the Croatian Long Distance Trail Association, of which he is the president. Two others have thru-hiked the CLDT after him—no foreigners yet, though Second Chance Hiker is on-trail at the moment.

Horvat says the documentary was a one-man show. He wrote, filmed, and edited everything himself and shot the footage while thru-hiking the Colorado Trail in 2019. He carried 11 pounds of camera equipment along with his backpacking gear. This included a camera, tripod, two lenses, a drone, a GoPro, and various charging units and batteries.

Instead of trekking poles, he carried his camera and tripod in his hands most of the time. He wanted the film to stand out from the multitudes of thru-hiking vlogs that abound on YouTube. “I wanted this movie to look like a million-dollar budget film with at least 15 people involved. The truth is my budget… was $0.”

Filming was challenging on many levels. Horvat had to spend extra time in town to charge his equipment. To capture footage on rainy days, he had to stow most of his equipment and rely on the GoPro exclusively. Filming could sometimes have an isolating effect. “I don’t know about others, but I don’t like watching other hikers pass me.”

Still, Horvat says the project was worth the effort. “Filming always attracts attention, so you get to meet more people. And the best thing about filming while thru-hiking is when you get home… I turn on my computer, and amazing footage just takes me back to the trail. Emotions hit me hard, and in the end, I have the best possible memories.”

why do i hike

How Do I Hike

Horvat says that he is planning a sequel on the Arizona Trail. In contrast to this film, it will focus more on the “how” than the “why.” Help from fans will be crucial as he begins preparations for this next installment. “I want to lift this film on another level.”

All images, including featured image, courtesy of Nikola Horvat.

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Comments 9

  • Avatar
    Ralph Mahon : Nov 11th

    In reference to this line:
    On the subject of community, the film observes, “in the wild, people respect each other more. They listen more. They love each other… With people like that, I feel purpose and kinship again. I belong to a community and finally don’t feel the need to escape it.”
    I couldn’t agree more. And I believe it carries on even when not hiking.
    Hiking, in my opinion, is as much emotional therapy, as it is physical therapy.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Kevin Martin : Nov 11th

    I truly loved this film. It helped me to reflect on the reasons that I, myself, hike. I don’t make the time I should to get out in nature to explore the vast beauty of this planet and the beautiful mind cleansing that comes with that. Indeed, challenging oneself and celebrating all that is hiking and what it provides each of us…SO much more than I could capture in such a small space. But, done so eloquently by Horvat and the people/friends who worked with him on this film. Well done…and congratulations. :o)

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Heather Adam-Cerri : Nov 11th

    First or all:Beautiful photography! secondly: I share alot of these feelings but just can never find the wordage to explain how much hiking and being totally alone in nature means to me and what it does for me! I am retired and I hike daily…to escape depression.My hikes are not small hikes,they are 9 to 10 miles round trip into the Adirondack Mtns!!! I LIVE FOR THESE HIKES!!
    I would love to go for a hike/camp trek that takes me “away from it all” for a couple or more weeks! Planning a trip to Washington State Olympic Mountains for next year…a life long dream about to materialize!?? Thank you for this inspiring video! ❤️❤️

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Emily : Nov 13th

    This looks great! Where can it be watched?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Ralph Mahon : Nov 14th

      Click on the video

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Scribbles : Nov 14th

    Stunningly beautiful scenery!

    I’m a hiker – completed thousands of miles and agree with getting back to nature, the minimalist approach and meeting some of the best people.

    My caveat is – everyday is not sunny and beautiful in life or on the trail. Hiking is not a cure for illness of any type. On long distance hikes where your inner strength is all you have to rely upon it is important to have that mental capacity to push yourself forward and not give in to the weariness, tiredness and loneliness that can be the trail.

    Being outside in nature with sunshine and clean air is definitely good for the body and the soul. That does not mean everyone should be attempting long distance wilderness hikes without experience and proper preparation.

    Reply

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