Coltin Calloway has spent the better part of three years engulfed in the Appalachian Trail, and the footage from his adventures, compiled as the documentary The Climb to Katahdin, will premiere Thursday, July 25 at Manship Theatre at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8.50 and available here. A Q&A with Calloway will follow the screening.
In 2010, Calloway and his girlfriend Lindsay Fasic were at that mid-20s crossroads of Boredom Avenue and What Now Street. He was working part-time at a boot store and mowing lawns. Lindsay had just finished up college, attending LSU’s School of Art, and worked as a barista.
The situation was less than ideal, Calloway says: “We hadn’t really found out what we wanted to do or where we were going.”
The lack of having that something in their lives changed after the couple streamed a documentary on Netflix about the Appalachian Trail.
“We looked at each other halfway through and were like, ‘This is pretty interesting,'” Calloway says. “It’s crazy. You get to hike through mountain towns, see the back country, and it’s not a road trip. It’s a totally alternative way of doing things. For me, I’ve always been in a position to never trust a vehicle to get you where you’re going, so I was interested.”
Calloway also saw the journey as an opportunity to flex his filmmaking muscles. Upon researching, Calloway couldn’t find a documentary he liked on the subject; so, in addition to hiking the trail for the sake of adventure, he would document it all and make the movie he wanted to see about the Appalachian Trail.
A graduate of Baton Rouge Community College’s (BRCC) entertainment technologies program, Calloway was at a point in 2010 where he had tried to make indie films, but hit a dead end on that career path.
“I met some friends through BRCC, and we did some films together,” he says. “We tried a lot of stuff. With no budget, though, it was hard to do features. At some point, life happened. You can’t blame anyone, really, but I realized if I’m going to make a film, I’ve got to do it myself.”
However, Calloway, his girlfriend and his dog, Chaser, couldn’t just start walking on the 2,100-mile footpath that spans Georgia to Maine and takes around six months to complete. There was at least a year of meticulous planning.
“We planned this to a tee,” he says. “It was crazy what we did. We went above and beyond. I knew if we were going to fail it wasn’t because of [stuff like] lack of food.”
After years of prep and saving more than $10 grand, the trio finally arrived on the trail in April 2012.
Those first two months were the hardest. Coltin and Lindsay were realizing the factors of the hike in real-time—the weight of their backpacks, the camera slipping from Coltin’s self-made belt every 20 steps, batteries running out on electronic devices and having to get to food drop-off points that were miles out from the trail.
Think about it. While you’re climbing this beautiful terrain, you’re also running against the clock to get to camp points or to make sure you have enough food for however many miles you walk the next day.
If you slack, you’re putting yourself up against a harsh winter in Maine as the final stop—Katahdin—closes Oct. 15. Don’t forget that Calloway is shooting constantly.
And just when you think the trail has reached its most challenging point, it makes you dig deeper physically and mentally.
“Everyday, you’re like, ‘If I can do that, I can do this…it can’t get any worse,'” he says. “But it does. At the end of it, I felt like Lindsay was more of a woman than I am a man. I was more impressed with her than myself. You’re dealing with the elements. You don’t have time for fishing and hunting. You’ve got to be somewhere everyday.”
One would think patience evaporates miles into the trek.
“I let somebody watch it the other day, and he was like, ‘Either she’s the best girlfriend ever or you’re a really good editor,'” Calloway says, laughing. “It’s a bit of both. At first, we weren’t ready for this trail. There are no fights according to the movie, but there were a couple arguments. There was a lot of, ‘C’mon…we gotta go and be here in two hours.’ But you can’t get that on film. You’ve got to be crazy to do that.”
Once the hike ended in October 2012, Calloway returned home with 100 hours of footage. Since then, he’s been hard at work editing The Climb to Katahdin.
Years since the idea popped into his head, Calloway is still living on the Appalachian Trail. When he talks, he’s all nervous energy about the hike. He hopes the movie does well and will propel his career. If not, you’ll probably see him, his girlfriend, and dog back on the trail, helping out other trekkers.
“We’ve built up some serious pay it forward action,” he says. “There are few things I want to do more right now than just go out there and help the trail community. We didn’t know about that community. We didn’t know we’d meet a gazillion people we’d absolutely love. We’ve done a substantial amount to spread the word about the Appalachian Trail in town. I hope this inspires people to go out and hike.”