A guest post from 2011 PCT hiker Wired — second of two parts
In today’s world, it is becoming more and more common for thru hikers to have an online trail journal. In my previous article, Getting Wired on the Trail, I discussed how to start a trail journal and plan for journaling along the trail. Now I want to go into more detail of how journaling actually works in daily trail life. Before I do that, I want to acknowledge that there are some people out there who strongly oppose the use of technology along the trail and I can respect their point of view. Before judging the journals too quickly, I just want to point out that everyone finds what works for them and it is all part of the “Hike Your Own Hike” mentality. I found it to be greatly rewarding and well worth the time and energy, but journaling isn’t for everyone. For those who want to make the effort, here is my advice.
If you are new to thru hiking, like I was, you will quickly find that trail life is not as relaxing as it first appears. It can actually be quite exhausting (especially in a record high snow year!). Also, at the beginning of the hike, there is a lot of socializing to be done. Finding the time and energy to journal can be challenging. I typed my entries nightly on my iPhone and it took about an hour each night, which kept me up well after hiker midnight. Journaling as a couple can be easier if you plan on having a hiking partner. One can journal as the other is pitching the tent and cooking dinner.
Many of my fellow hikers this year stopped journaling by the time we hit the Sierra. There were many factors that played into their decisions. Some hikers found the commitment to journal often and use technology to be taking away from their trail experience. I can completely understand that and it’s a balance all hikers must find. Others struggled to find computers in town or their phone reception was too limited to post. Again, I want to stress how beneficial it was for me to have and iPhone and Verizon in these situations. I also bounced my laptop to myself eight times along the trail to upload complete slideshows and videos. It is a risky thing to do, so I recommend having everything important on the laptop saved on an external drive before the hike. Once the photos and videos are uploaded and online, you will have them no matter what happens to the laptop. Also, as a warning, the uploading process is often limited and extremely slow in trail towns. Unless you are willing to put in a lot of time and have a lot of patience, don’t expect to upload a lot. I was fortunate to be named Wired, so many trail angels were warned that I was coming, and they would go out of their way to make sure I had a computer and/or good connection.
For taking videos and pictures, I used both an iPhone and a Cannon PowerShot camera. The iPhone takes great pictures and I used it for the photos I knew I’d want to put on my journal each day. I would often take the same picture twice (once with my iPhone and once with my camera) so that I would have a clearer version on my camera’s SD card. I used the camera for the rest of my photos and videos that were not posted directly to my blog. Some short videos could be uploaded from the iPhone along the trail, but the quality wasn’t as good as my camera. I used a SticPic, which is a great product that attaches my camera to the end of a hiking pole so that I could film videos as I hiked or take photos of myself without asking other hikers to stop and take my picture. I highly recommend it! One problem I did have was uploading high resolution photos through my Blogger App (Wired used the BlogPress app). For easier sending, apps intentionally make the photos post small and at a lower resolution. As a perfectionist that bothered me, so I (or my sister back home) took extra time to go online and edit the HTML code on the blog page so that the photos could be enlarged and the resolution was clearer. Towards the end of my hike, the app changed again and made it even more challenging. Finding a good blogging app that posts quality pictures would be one thing I would put more time into if I were to do it again. Another issue I had when I got home from the trail is that all my photos that were uploaded directly to my blog were then at a lower resolution. I had erased them off my phone and I should have kept them and then uploaded them to my computer when I had time. Then I would have gotten the full resolution versions for my post-hike albums. Just remember that once photos are uploaded through apps, they tend to lose their optimal size and resolution. Keep the originals on your phone if you can.
Having a charger of some kind is really helpful if you’re journaling regularly. I used a PowerMonkey solar charger and had a pretty good experience with it as long as I treated it with care. Each hiker finds their own balance of what is important enough to carry and the PowerMonkey was the lightest thing I found for the charge I needed. Also, most importantly, keep your devices dry! The moment that you get tired and decide not to put your camera in a waterproof bag, you are sure to fall in a stream. Believe me, it happens! I learned the hard way…twice! Be careful!
As for journal content, I recommend veering away from too much detail on food, weather, or terrain.
It’s good to mention them, but general descriptions work well for those topics. Let the photos speak for the scenery. I suggest spending more time describing your thoughts, emotions, and social interactions. Those are what you’ll value most when you look back on the journal years later. I made a conscious effort to name and photograph many of the hikers I met or hiked with each day. You never know what will happen in the future and how those people might pop back up months later along the trail. There were many times when I found myself running into people again, and it was fun to look back and recall the previous encounters. Since I numbered my days, it was even more entertaining to think of how many days or weeks had passed. I liked Blogspot because it allowed me to post many pictures (or even video) in one entry. Having a visual made my journals so much more memorable and concrete. Overall, I highly recommend that people journal daily on the trail. Even if it’s a personal journal that no one else will ever see. It’s a commitment that can be difficult to keep up on long days, but it’s well worth the effort. The trail goes by quickly and the journal will last a lifetime.
For me personally, my journal became the most amazing part of this hike that I never saw coming. I knew I wanted my friends and family to share in this adventure, but it took on a life of its own. It was amazing to share it with thousands of people all over the world. The support I got from strangers through comments, personal emails, and care packages were unbelievable. I got to connect with people all over the world and hear how my hike was inspiring them. It was motivating to know that I wasn’t hiking alone, and it felt good to know I wasn’t only hiking for myself. I look forward to binding my journal into a book for myself so that I’ll have it to relive, over and over again, the rest of my life.
If anyone has any other comments or questions, feel free to contact me through my journal at http://erinspctjournal.blogspot.com.