We’ve reported quite a bit recently on studies that show, more of them all the time it seems, that being in wilderness, especially being active in nature, can act as a healing salve for mental and physical ailments. For some people, thru-hikes over incredibly long distances become life-changing experiences, a kind of resetting and refreshing of goals, tendencies, and expectations of life and our place in it.
Will Robinson had that experience. He spent five years at war in Iraq as a member of the US Army and when he returned home he came back with knee injuries, a fused wrist, and a serious case of PTSD. Those conditions meant the end of his service time. Robinson was aimless. The military had been his way out of potential trouble in his hometown of New Orleans. It gave him purpose. A sense of identity.
When he arrived back home it was as a broken man. Physically and mentally. Robinson had lost the lifeline the military threw him. The next 12 years became a blur of bottles and pills and therapist visits, with nothing really working. Robinson spiraled into a very dark place.
Finally, a new idea: hiking. Robinson would try the time-honored cure of nature. It worked.
In 2016, Robinson took on the ambitious task of thru-hiking the PCT, his first serious hike, and completed an impressive 1,600 miles before bowing out. While in the Sierra, he took on the trail name Akuna, short for “Hakuna Matata” of Lion King fame (“I tend not to worry about things,” Robinson says). After the PCT, he walked the length of the Appalachian Trail. Next, Robinson plans to tackle the Continental Divide Trail. All as a means for his own healing, personal exploration, but also to show what wilderness and thru-hiking can do to help anyone else out there suffering.
The short film, Akuna, above, shows Robinson’s path of hiking discovery. Robinson does an incredible job of describing the ways in which long, sustained hikes can quiet a racing mind, and bring a much-needed peace.
The filmmakers put Akuna together with a mind toward showing how hiking can be a form of PTSD healing. They picked a solid subject in Robinson—his warmth and positivity are downright infectious.
Photos: Jessica Colquhoun