The book that I am currently reading is one on cognitive dissonance. Don’t let the fancy-pants language impress you. So far, what I’ve gathered from Mistakes Were Made – Not By Me, is that our brain works in some crazy ways, we concoct stories and memories. Often this is harmless, but other times, it can start wars.
With regards to my own memory – I know my memory can fail me. Lists abound around my computer and house in various forms so I can stay on track with personal and professional commitments. I have them on my phone, in Google Docs, and other online software, as well as my own inbox – leading to an often overstuffed inbox. It is not pretty but it works. Certainly there are things that I recall well, but my wife and I joke about how many movies I have rewatched because I didn’t remember watching them the first time.
Certain experiences, however, I don’t want to forget. For better or worse, there have been only a few occasions that I have kept a journal of any sort. In my early 20s, while living abroad for a couple years, I made my first go at keeping a journal. And now, in the last few years while long distance hiking, I also keep a daily journal. Integral to the journal, for me, is pictures….so I try to get a few each day as well.
Here are my reasons for writing a journal (and doing so online). These help to remind myself of why I do this, even at times when I am dead-tired and just wanting my head to hit the stuff sack.
#1 – I am sentimental and want to reflect on the memories:
At home in NH, we keep a couple photo albums on the coffee table and my sentimental side enjoys looking at these photos and reminiscing. Rereading my own trail journal is a bit like that. I enjoy reliving those moments. Keeping a journal helps me recall things a bit clearer and more accurately and I can often get a mental picture of where I was at [emotionally] at a particular time on a hike. Having the journal online, with accompanying photos helps my recollection all the more. Viewing a particular photo of a mountain pass will often help me remember parts of the day or people I met that day.
There has been one trail that I didn’t keep a journal for. I was hiking the Wonderland Trail in 2013 with some friends and didn’t want the hassle/responsibility of keeping a journal. This hike was with friends that I have known for 20 years and knew that we’d be up chatting later than I typically would be on a thru hike of a longer trail. I wish I had stayed up a little later and wrote some notes….no doubt I’d enjoy looking through them now and in the future.
#2 – I have found journals from other hikers so helpful:
When preparing to hike a trail, both SweetPea and I will take a look at the journals of other hikers on the trail that we are planning to hike. Reading these gives us inspiration and gets us amped up for a hike (in the midst of getting all our other responsibilities taken care of before the hike). Often these journals are very helpful prep tools in a practical sense, as the journals help us form decisions on appropriate weather gear, water sources, timing, lodging, restaurants, etc… along a trail.
Thinking about the journals of these past helpful hikers, I see it as a way to continue the favor – which is another reason for keeping the journal online. I have had other hikers write to me before their hike, so I suspect it is working. Additionally, reading the journal of someone on a trail can be simply entertaining. One can feel a bit a part of the action…even if the journal is years old.
#3 – Family and friends like to read them:
They like to be in the loop, whether they are vicariously enjoying the journey through the journal or just want to know that we haven’t been eaten by a bear/slidden off the side of the mountain. The journal helps give good context when we speak over the phone or in person. Folks love to see the photos of places they haven’t been to or dream of visiting. Since so many of the long distance trails are in places that happen to be wondrously beautiful, the camera can speak well. There are several tools to let people know that a new post or journal entry has been written via a simple mailing list, Facebook, or other notification system.
#4 – Reflection over the days events:
Writing a daily journal, I end up taking the time to reflect on the events, people, wildlife, weather, water, thoughts in my head, etc.. that made up the day. A lot can happen walking all day, and I think that it is generally healthy to reflect on it before closing one’s eyes for the day.
#5 – Storage and Accessibility for the future:
As we try to limit both clutter and items that need to be stored, the nature of saving something online is very practical. Online journals can be more accessible for many folks (definitely for us). If you are on one of the major blogging platforms or trail journal sites, those companies themselves will likely have solid backup systems so that your journal can be alive and well as long as you’d like it to be. For those of us on our own domains, it is simple enough to use a backup plugin to store a copy of our work in the cloud.
Some reasons not to do an online journal:
While all of the above are important enough for us to keep an online journal, there are certainly some good reasons why you may not want to do so. Writing online generally kills anonymity. Some folks have concerns about stalkers who may find their journal and try to find them while on the trail. Other folks don’t like having details of their life on public display. Because online journals are generally public, one may find themselves self-censoring a bit more than they’d like. We have met a few wackos, and had our journals not been public, we probably would have noted and described the encounters for future personal entertainment. Other people may prefer to rant in a journal, get very emotional etc..and feel hindered knowing that it is public. It takes time to write the journal, either in town at a computer or on your phone. Either way, it takes energy and attention when a hiker would often rather be resting, sleeping, or eating. For those that want to divorce themselves from technology while hiking, keeping an online journal probably sounds like a terrible idea. It feels good to step away from technology and social media while out in the wilderness..pretty understandable. Lastly, for artists, drawing in a paper journal can be motivation for some to stay old school with their medium for journal keeping. A hiker I met on the PCT in 2012, Condor, is an artist, and I recall him making beautiful drawings in his notebook.