6 Reasons to Write about Hiking
Following knee surgery last year my grandmother sent me a book to pass the time. The only problem? It was a collection of essays about bird watching. Not an identification manual or a how-to guide, but a collection of essays. I am not a bird watcher. I find it dull. Arguably a collection of essays on the topic is the only thing more boring.
The same argument can be made for writing about thru-hiking. At the end of it all, thru-hiking is just walking. Most folks walk in some form daily. Who wants to read (or write) about walking? Why spend hundreds of words failing to describe some spectacular vista when you can just take a picture?
Sometimes you just don’t want to do the thing. Having an audience puts on pressure to continue. Previous to my hike I had not backpacked for more than three days at a time. Even in those short trips, I had hit lows where I didn’t want to continue. In those instances, I kept moving because I had to get back to my car. For my thru-hike there was no car waiting for me, and hypothetically I could bail at any point I could 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 keep up some sort of regular writing practice.
No matter how many pictures I take or notes I jot down, time will have its way. Writing about the experience not only increases my chance of remembering, but when I inevitably forget certain timelines and details, I now have a reference. Not only will this blog help me remember what my experience was, but I also expect my perspective on this experience will shift over time. Writing captures this in a manner that no picture could.
Pictures are great, I took a million, but they are just that: a snapshot. As a medium, writing allows for a greater depth of exploration. In words I can portray what lies just outside of the frame, as well as how I got to that frame, and how that frame personally impacted me.
In order to make sense of events in our lives and build a cohesive identity we create narratives. This is instinctual and part of how we sort and store memories. A lot happened on this thru-hike, and I have not had a great deal of time to figure out how it all fits in to my narrative at large. As strange and esoteric as it sounds, writing helps to build space to sort it all out.
For all the major trails, especially in the US, there is a plethora of information. I found personal narratives, like blogs, to be one of the most helpful. Reading others’ 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. Accurate expectations lend themselves to accurate preparation. Gathering data from blogs that were largely descriptive, rather than instructional, also let me avoid some of the judgment and condescension that is occasionally present in the thru-hiking community, particularly online. I hope that what I have to say might help someone else in the same way that others have helped me.
I have always had an interest in writing. In school I gravitated towards English (ultimately earning a loosely related degree in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences), but was apprehensive of sharing any of my writing. This anxiety has extended into my adult life and limits me. Blogging is a reasonably low-stakes way of challenging myself to present my writing to a broader audience.
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