Oscars Night Offers Two Reasons for Idyllwild to Cheer

"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed

By Julie Pendray

IDYLLWILD — Locals viewing the Academy Awards at The Rustic Theatre on Sunday night quietly cheered in two heartfelt moments related to this town.

One was the recognition of Herb Jeffries during a memorial for stars who passed away last year. Jeffries, an actor and singer, was the last living member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, before he died in May at age 100. He lived in the Idyllwild area, near the San Bernardino National Forest above Palm Springs, from 2000 to 2010. A special dining room is named after him at Idyllwild’s Cafe Aroma, where he often performed and visited with friends.

The other local interest during the Oscars was Reese Witherspoon’s nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of a woman who set out to face her demons while hiking alone over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Idyllwild is a re-supply town for PCT hikers. Witherspoon was honored for her role as Cheryl Strayed in the movie “Wild.”  However, Julianne Moore ultimately took Best Actress for her part in “Still Alice.”

Wild book cover WitherspoonThe Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650-mile route through a series of wilderness areas from the Mexican border to Canada. PCT hikers are close to the heart of Idyllwild because this village of 3,874 people swells as it accommodates up to 1,000 of them each year, mostly in the spring and fall. As the lean and weary walkers arrive dusty, sweaty and hungry, with blistered feet, residents enjoy offering rides and hearing stories. The travelers collect mail, wash clothes at the laundromat, buy new shoes and socks, and get stuck into carbs at local restaurants. Some just visit for a day and hitch a ride back onto the trail but an estimated 800 hikers stay in Idyllwild’s campgrounds and inns, according to Franceen Unwin, Office Assistant with Mt. San Jacinto State Park. About 300 hikers stay at the state park campground each year, she said.

This year’s first northbound hikers have already passed through  Idyllwild, according to Evelia Nash, co-owner of Idyllwild Laundry Service. She said recent good weather has caused some to get an early start. People can hike the PCT from the northern or southern ends. The official kick off for northbound thru-hikers — people who plan to complete the whole journey — is in April in Campo.

While thru-hikers generally take about six months to complete the journey, some people prefer to hike only part of the trail; they’re called section hikers.

When Cheryl Strayed was 22, she did more than 1,000 miles of the PCT on her own, without any training, as a way to walk out the grief over her mother’s death. She began in the Mojave Desert and hiked through California and Oregon to the state of Washington. She did not pass through Idyllwild. However, her impact is felt in the town, as people talk about the movie. According to staff at the local Forest Service station, more women have been hitting the trail since 2013, following the release of Strayed’s book,  “Wild” — on which the movie is based. Online forums suggest the trail may be crowded this year.

In 2014, there were 1,468 people who started a thru-hiker’s journey but only 425 people reported completing the trail, according to Beth Boyst, Pacific Crest Trail Program Manager, US Forest Service. She said there were an additional 1,187 section hiker permit applications for trips greater than 500 miles last year.

Recording the completion of the hike is done on an honor system, she said. Each person who finishes the journey receives a medal from the Pacific Crest Trail Association and is asked to write about the experience.

Boyst said it’s hard to know if more hikers will do the trail this year due to the movie.

“Certainly there’s an increase in interest generally, and we’re delighted. It’s a great way for citizens to learn about this national treasure,” she said.

Idyllwild will hang out welcome signs and offer discounts for the sojourners again. Higher Ground Coffee House is known for its delicious seasonal “PCT Sunrise” concoction of orange juice and yoghurt. At Sky Island Organics health food store, owner, Michael Wangler, and manager, Ryan Jackson, understand hikers’ needs because they’ve both done major sections of the PCT. They offer a charging station for electronic gear on their back patio, along with weather information and a bulletin board.

Boyst of the Forest Service said a lot of women were already enjoying the trail before the book or movie. However, she said Strayed’s story is “compelling.”

“It’s clear that time and space allow for transformation,” she said.

But Boyst doesn’t suggest hikers begin in the desert like Strayed did.

“The desert is a tough place to travel,” she said. “I would start in a place where there’s water.”

In this interview with Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil, Strayed talks about the benefits of a long journey during difficult times. Witherspoon and Laura Dern, who plays Strayed’s mother in the story, discuss making the movie.

On Oscars night, Witherspoon did a pre-awards ceremony interview with ABC-TV’s Robin Roberts, in which she said she’d learned a lot about herself while making “Wild” and that it was the most strenuous movie she’d ever made. Witherspoon talked about her admiration for Strayed, who had hiked a “dark” journey by herself, “without a man and without a job.”

The actress noted that there were 44 women nominees for Oscars this year.

“We are so happy to be here and talk about the work that we’ve done, you know? It’s hard being a woman in Hollywood or in any industry,” she told Roberts. “It’s exciting for me to get to talk to other nominees about all the hard work that they did…it’s been a great year producing “Gone Girl” and “Wild,” and [my company] just hopes to have more success in the future bringing great leading roles to women.”

Copyright to Julie Pendray and SpecialsNotOnTheMenu.com

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