How Would we Detect the Wild Effect?

There are many ways that we might be able to detect the Wild Effect.  One way would be to see if the number of inquiries about a trail increases after the release of a story. We could measure web traffic about a trail before and after the release of a story.  Let's simplify the literature search.  Can we see the Wild Effect in the number of thru-hikers who complete a trail?

 Image by Cindy Edwards

Image by Cindy Edwards

Unfortunately, that’s about all we can say about our investigation.  We cannot comment on the number of thru-hikers who read the book or saw the movie, and were inspired to hit the trail.  That information is simply not available.  Some, perhaps most, thru-hikers take trails on for other reasons.  We really cannot connect the number of thru-hikers to their motivations.

The information about numbers of thru-hikers tends to range from the implicit to the explicit.  That is, some sources make high-level statements, without providing much support.  Other sources declare specific numbers of thru-hikers.

The Wild Effect and Bryson Bump are phenomena listed on several outdoor-related blogs.  Many of these sources imply that the books and movies will cause or have caused an increase in hiking on these long distance trails.  The blogs list little support for such hypotheses or conclusions.  A reader almost feels that the authors want these increases to happen.

Outside magazine published Wild’ Movie Boosts Number of PCT Hikers on January 20, 2015.  In this article, the editors state a) the number of thru-hiker permits was up 300%, and b) the number of hikers was 30% higher. A reader could reconcile these two numbers.  Perhaps 3 times the number of hikers registered, but only 30% more showed up.  In a related article, Behind the Scenes of 'Wild', the author notes that the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is estimating a hiker increase of 30%. 

The PCTA reports on anecdotal observations.  The PCTA reports that there seems to be more hikers on the trail after Cheryl Strayed’s book was published, and again when the movie was released.  Also, there seem to be more people on the trail for day hikes or weekend backpacking trips.  It makes sense that an inspiring story in a movie or book could move people to tackle long distance trails.

In the next blogpost, we’ll look at the numbers of thru-hikers readily available and see if we can see the Wild Effect or the Bryson Bump.