Roaming the American Wilderness

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Willem Van Den Heever is an independent filmmaker, photographer and traveler from Pretoria, South Africa. He began his film-making career in 2011 while still in high school. He graduated with a Bachelors degree in Film Arts in 2015 from The Open Window Institute of Film Arts in Centurion, Pretoria. His first film, Coffee (2013), gained international recognition and in April 2014 he was awarded the Best New Talent Award at the 2014 National Film Festival for Talented Youth in Seattle, USA. In January 2015, he was selected as a Sundance Short Film Challenge winner.

In 2016, Willem set foot alone on a daunting journey into the American Wilderness. He landed in New York but spent the majority of his time on the west coast’s mountain passes, predominantly following the Pacific Crest Trail. It was a physically and emotionally challenging journey and it has etched its significance into his life.

‘I think the inspiration and thirst for adventure already came from the Tin Tin comics I read as a kid. Then sometime in high school I read about South African adventurer Riaan Manser and how he circumnavigated the African continent on a bicycle and of course Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild. This was also later fueled by the literature of Jack Kerouac. Throughout the years my fascination for the great American wilderness grew and at the end of 2015 I graduated, got a backpack and in 2016 got on a plane and set off.

I hitched hiked around and hiked about 1000km in the wilderness through mountain passes, mostly following the Pacific Crest Trail. Even though I tried to learn from Christopher McCandless’s mistakes I think I too was still very naïve… I was not prepared for what lied ahead at all and I headed into the Wilderness way too early in the season. At the end I had good times and bad times, including escaping death a few times, but overall it was one hell of an experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. The good times were also always so much more rewarding and when the body is ravaged the spirit grows stronger.

During some stretches I would go for days without seeing a soul. It was hard, really hard, physically and emotionally, but I was forced to confront myself about a lot of things I was subconsciously hiding from myself. It was not just the relationship with myself, but my relationship with God that also improved. No I didn’t return with all the answers to the world and it’s problems and I still have a lot of questions myself, but I learned; about myself, the world and humanity. I learned there are still so much good and love in this world and not every second stranger out there is set out to kill or steal from you. I now also know how little I actually know about myself, to what extend the human body can actually go before you really “can’t even” and that Christopher couldn’t have been more right when he said “Happiness is only real when shared.”‘

Here are some exquisite images from his daring venture captured on his 35mm film camera.

You can discover more about Willem here.


Published by Ross

Ross grew up on the wrong side of the Jukskei. He studied at Vega and was awarded the Top Student prize at his graduation. After working as a freelancer for four years, he founded Nicework with Ben Vorster. He has a penchant for Scandinavian wood furniture and really nice shirts. He is open to bribery- all iPads are welcome. He also likes chocolate cake and is happily married.

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1 Comment

  1. So glad to have met Willem during his travels. This is a nice write-up.
    Terri and Ken
    Wrightwood, CA

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