Anything we do in life during the times when we have the most clarity, the best memories and witness the most breathtaking places, scenery or lessons should motivate us to want to capture all of it while it is still fresh. I'm not only talking about photos you might snap with your phone or camera. I'm talking about your thoughts, your discoveries and your reactions to all of those. Any seasoned hiker knows that no two hikes are the same, even if in the same location, so how awesome would it be to have it all on record to refer to and reminisce about decades from now.
I Love Hiking But...
Don't panic! Yes, I am talking about journaling. First and foremost, you don't have to be a literary genius or sketch artist to preserve your memories. What I am referring to is simple basic note taking. The documenting of your hike should not feel like a time-sensitive commitment, nor should it interrupt your focus while you are in the middle of an intense climb. There may be times when you take a break for a snack. Jot down a few words. We're not talking about writing multiple pages or even a paragraph. You can simply put a sentence or a couple of words in your notepad to write about later. Journaling mustn't feel like a dreaded chore, or you'll find yourself making excuses for not doing it. Rather, it should be like that relaxing night cap at the end of a beautiful day. Make it a time of reflection and sensory awareness, a commitment to preserving your memories of the day.
Backpacking Inspires Thoughts
How can a non-writer have "writers block?" you ask? As mentioned, you don't need ultimate writing skills. Once you get the hang of documenting your day, it will become easier, I promise. Notable things that make for great reflection later on are the sights, sounds and smells that you naturally encounter during your time in the wilderness. You will become more keen to them if you are subconsciously storing the info in your brain to write down at the end of the day. If you are convinced that you'll be too tired to think straight or recall your journey of the day, jot down some key sites and your reactions and thoughts up to that point. Once rested, take your words that you wrote earlier and make a longer journal entry. You can do this several times and compile your thoughts and findings once you are home in a larger notebook. Make sure your writing tool and your notepad are sealed in a ziploc bag or pouch to keep from getting wet. Always keep your notepad in an easy-to-access place in your backpack.
Struggling For Subject Matter
Whatever your age is now, imagine your great grandchild reading your entries without ever having met you or known you. Imagine being that silent inspiration to a young child one day to love hiking like you do BECAUSE of you and your journal entries. He/she won't care how grammatically correct you were, they will interpret your words like a prize-winning novel and savor your every thought like you had one magical adventure after another. Evening reading your own words decades later will allow you to relive an awesome hike as if it were yesterday. Some hikers like to sketch beautiful mountains or winding rivers. I admit, artistry is not my thing, I cannot draw for beans! My square boxes are never even. I use my phone to take pics that I will add to my journal later to back up my memories. You are journaling not only for others but for yourself to recall certain data like where you found edibles growing and what areas to avoid due to animal nests or heavy insect population. Trail choices are best when recorded as positive or negative experiences, so there is no guesswork when you return to the same spot.
Slow Down Your Hiking Pace
Are you a highly-focused, have to get there by sundown kind of a trekker? Or are you taking the time to enjoy all the things around you that are unexpected moments of glory? People in a hurry miss things in life that take other's breath away. I'm an avid bird and animal lover. I cherish the glimpses and exposures I had to so many different species and even momentary scary encounters. I love the adrenaline. You can journal your findings with very few words. Here's an example.
Where: The Wallowa Mountains in Oregon
When: May 2012
Saw a black bear cub through a clearing - Where was the mother?
Caught a sockeye salmon in Wallowa Lake - what other species can I catch?
Fed peanuts to a wild chipmunk- what makes him so people friendly, is he starving?
Observed a patch of compressed leaves and wondered what animals had been lying there
Found and munched a few black huckleberries- noticed other plants I couldn't identify
You get the idea, right? Keeping a journal forces you to zone in on your surroundings. That act alone gets you to slow down your mind and thoughts, which further enhances your zen experience. Once you're back home you can find answers to your questions via research. Your observations will feed your curiosity and inspire you to seek those answers. People have been reading journals which their great-great grandparents have passed down from remote findings while homesteading, explorations, camping and in survival times. As an avid outdoors man or woman, you already have a heightened sense of the environment because you have an appreciation for Mother Nature. This fact will help you in writing what you may take for granted, but may allow others in future generations to know what it was like for you during your lifetime of backpack hiking expeditions. Anything from animals and plants and insects you observe, to fascinating cloud formations and tree scratchings...all of it has meaning to someone who may never have witnessed what you are describing. Perhaps others have experienced the same thing and will smile knowingly. Becoming a better observer in the wild benefits your brain and your mood. Some things feel comfortingly familiar while others may open a whole new path of learning. No two hikes are ever the same.
Paths Will Cross Like New Hiking Trails
You will often meet up with other hikers and/or seasoned backcountry trekkers who are a wealth of knowledge. Take time to converse with them and journal any new tidbits of information you may pick up. Regardless of your age, writing things on paper helps the sorting process of need-to-know info and "I can't believe I got to see what I just saw" in the wild. If you rely on just your memory, valuable tips could slip your mind if you don't journal it. During your travels, you will find that fellow hikers love to share their experiences. Grab onto their enthusiasm like water to a sponge. Document what they divulge and where you might want to hike in the future to experience similar things.
Best Time To Journal Your Backpacking Hikes
When you are hiking, it's a good rule of thumb to not let yourself get overly hungry or overly tired. So for me, I find it comforting to journal at night, either back home from my day of note taking or while resting in my tent before sleep. You may want to write while the experiences are fresh in your mind. Whatever works for you is what is best. After doing this on several hikes, you will look forward to cataloging your discoveries. Happy hiking and good luck journaling!