The Priceless Commodity: Long-Distance Trail Hiking in the American Wilderness

First name: 
Last name: 
Class Year: 
Michael Dove
Essay Abstract: 
Wilderness, in the American imagination, has become a space of refuge from the crowdedness and alienation of human civilization. The designation of pieces of land as “Wilderness” is an act of decommodification, removing that land from the formal market. But, as Wilderness spaces emerged as protected land in America, there grew an idea of wilderness that has become increasingly commodified. Every year, thousands of people attempt to continuously hike, or “thru-hike,” the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, two of the longest hiking trails in the world. The experience of thru-hiking is characterized by contradictions and embodies the tension between the decommodification and commodification of American wilderness. The trails themselves act as a mechanism for “othering” the wilderness while at the same time providing what hikers tend to imagine as an unmediated experience of the wild. They both perpetuate the commodification of wilderness and resist it. In the end, these processes of commodification and decommodification exist in tandem, and, in the case of thru-hiking, require hikers to enact the fiction of noncommodified wilderness.