Following knee surgery last year, my grandmother sent me a book to pass the time. The only problem? It was a collection of essays on birdwatching. Not an identification manual or a practical guide, but a collection of essays. I am not an ornithologist. I find it dull. Arguably a collection of essays on the subject is the single most boring thing.
The same argument can be made for writing about hiking. At the end of it all, hiking is just walking. Most people walk in one form or another on a daily basis. Who wants to read (or write) about the march? Why spend hundreds of words not describing a spectacular sight when you can just take a picture?
Sometimes you just don’t want to do the thing. Having an audience puts the pressure to keep going. Prior to my hike, I hadn’t backpacked for more than three days at a time. Even on those short rides, I had hit lows where I didn’t want to continue. In these cases, I kept moving because I had to get back to my car. For my hike, there was no car waiting for me, and hypothetically, I could bail out any time I might catch a hitch. By publicly declaring my intention to complete and document this trail, I made myself accountable to others. It also forces me to maintain some sort of regular writing practice.
No matter how many photos I take or how many notes I take, time will pass. Writing about the experience not only increases my chances of remembering, but when I inevitably forget certain timelines and details, I now have a reference. Not only will this blog help me remember my experience, but I also expect my perspective on that experience to change over time. The writing captures this in a way that no image could.
The photos are great, I’ve taken a million, but they’re just that: a snapshot. As a medium, writing allows for greater depth of exploration. With words I can describe what is just outside the frame, as well as how I came to this frame and how this frame affected me personally.
In order to give meaning to the events of our lives and to build a coherent identity, we create stories. This is instinctive and part of how we sort and store memories. A lot happened on this hike, and I didn’t have much time to figure out how it all fits into my overall narrative. As weird and esoteric as it may sound, writing helps create space to sort it all out.
For all major trails, especially in the US, there is a plethora of information. I’ve found personal stories, like blogs, to be one of the most helpful. Reading about other people’s experiences gave me an idea of what to expect. By combing through different experiences from different years, I was able to essentially crowdsource an exceptional amount of data. Precise expectations lend themselves to precise preparation. Collecting data from blogs that were largely descriptive rather than informative also allowed me to avoid some of the judgment and condescension that is sometimes present in the hiking community, especially online. I hope what I have to say can help someone else the same way others have helped me.
I have always had an interest in writing. At school, I turned to English (eventually got a loosely related degree in speech, language and hearing sciences), but I was afraid to share my written. This anxiety has extended into my adult life and limits me. Blogging is a reasonably inexpensive way to challenge myself to showcase my writing to a wider audience.
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