On her 6-month journey to beat these odds, Feener covered more than 2,000 miles, tested her physical capabilities, connected with like-minded travelers, and ultimately opened a new chapter in her life. She engages the audience to join her on this life-changing experience through personal storytelling and a cinema verite style of shooting. The film will be screened at the Maine Outdoor Film Festival on Thursday, October 9th at Southern Maine Community College.
Originally, it was my boyfriend at the time's dream. We broke up and the idea shaped into something that I wanted to do. At the time, I needed a change or a way to hit the reset button. When learning about the trail, much of what I read referred to the changes you undergo during the journey and that called out to me.
How did you prepare for the hike?
I spent a lot of time reading about the trail and had been hiking for a few years in the White Mountains, so I was already used to some of the rougher terrain. Since most of my hikes were day trips, I went out on some solo overnight trips the summer before to help prepare for that aspect. During the winter, the treadmill became my friend, I'm not much of a winter hiker.
When I reached the summit of Katahdin, I wasn't prepared for how emotional I became. It was such a relief. Having been out in the woods for 6 months and now, reaching the end, I relive that moment in my mind every day.
What was your greatest challenge during the hike?
Trench foot, definitely.
It was a struggle to care for my feet in the moist and cool environments. Aside from the physical toll the trail takes on you, the mental challenges are equally as difficult. There were times when I'd feel so completely alone, and although I had tried to prepare myself for that, I discovered that maybe I'm not as much of a loner as I had thought I was.
I would not hike with a deadline. I was doing this film as part of my graduate thesis at Emerson College and I had a time I needed to be back in order to edit the film and finish my degree. It definitely influenced decisions I made along the trail and I think I would have enjoyed it more had I not felt that need to get back.
Hiking the AT is a huge undertaking and often an unchecked bucket list item for many people, what would you say to those that would like to do it, but put it off or find 'reasons' that they can’t?
It's really as simple as just doing it. There is no good time to take 6 months off and do something like this. I think it's one of those things where if you really want to, you need to just get out there and do it.
I shot the entire film on GoPro cameras. I did that because I knew that I'd have to carry everything with me and they're the most durable and lightweight camera that met my needs. I also had a separate audio recorder because I knew the audio on the GoPro was not that great. I think that, all together, my shooting gear was about 8 pounds.
As far as memory cards, I had an assistant editor in Boston and once I had filled up a few memory cards, I would ship them to her. She would then back the footage up on multiple hard drives, wipe them clean of the files and then ship them ahead where I could pick them up.
In terms of the battery power, that was really tough. GoPro cameras tend to drain batteries pretty quickly and if I was carrying it in a certain pocket, sometimes it would turn on automatically. It didn't take long, with battery and cell phone charging, to know exactly where the outlets would be when you stepped inside a building. You learn to scope those spots out.
What's next for Kori Feener?
I'm a filmmaker, foremost, and I'm working on my next film. The feature is about a girl that has a disease so rare that no one else in the world has it, there isn't even a name for it. I'll be following her for the next few years as she goes into her teenage years and becomes more aware of who she is as a person and how the disease affects her.
"I'd also love to do the Appalachian Trail again, without cameras."
Hard Way Home will be featured at the Maine Outdoor Film Festival next Thursday (October 9) at 7PM at the Southern Maine Community College, Jewett Hall Auditorium 2 Fort Road, South Portland, Maine.
Visit www.hardwayhomefilm.com to learn more and watch the trailer.
The event is Free for students; $6 for non-students. Tickets can be purchased at the door (or in-advance at EMS locations in Southern Maine). All proceeds go to benefit Teens to Trails – a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the opportunities for Maine teens to experience the outdoors through a variety of programs that promote high school Outing Clubs across the State.
Photos provided by Kori Feener