Trail journals are a personal thing by nature. Just as hikers hike in their own way, they journal in their own way too. Some folks spend a great deal of time during the day on trail and in camp, focused on filling pages with notes about their experience or something. Not sure as I haven’t ever been rude enough to ask what all the scribbling was about heh. Other folks carry a journal that they never remember to write anything in at all and the rest either fall in between or don’t even think about it in the first place.
I tend to fall into the group that carries a journal, but rarely remember it is there when I’m on an adventure. Partially that is due to my focus on what I’m doing at the time rather than thinking about documenting it. Partially it is because of the way my memory allows me to retrieve the experience later negating the need to write it down at the time. The rest of the explanation likely has to do with my love of cheese and sausage. Why spend time writing when I could be eating‽
My journals tend to come along for several trips before anything gets written down. By then the paper has soaked up humidity and dried out again numerous times. Combined with the friction of the pages rubbing against each other while riding hundreds of miles in my pack that gives the paper an odd feel; Sort of spongy and porous so neither ink nor pencil produce sharp lines. I find that fitting for the notes I tend to leave myself in my journals as they are often just a few hazy words giving a slight indication of what was on my mind. Just enough to remind me of what I was thinking when I made the note with no effort made to convey complete thoughts. These notes can be amusing when seen later at home with a head full of coffee and a roof over my head.
The note in the picture above is a great example of that. “Existential crisis averted Day 4” has few details, yet conveys enough of a message to fill pages of notes as I look back on that moment now. This is from a week long, solo trip I took to Baxter State Park in early June of this year. It was my first chance to get out on trail for over two months and over the first few days of the trip my brain was a mess. There seemed to be a lot of questions about who I was and what I was doing wandering around the forest by myself. Should I be home being a husband or daddy? Should I be working or saving the world? It seemed that I had only questions and answers with no clue which were important in either category. Who was I supposed to be?
So I wandered through the forest for a few days, going through the actions of making water, camps and meals with all of this turmoil in my head. Then on the fourth morning, as I relaxed in camp before loading up for the day, I realized that the noise had stopped. Questions and answers had stopped swirling and I could see what was important…the answer to who I was supposed to be.
I was just a guy, sitting in the woods, happy. There could be no more clear answer than that. While I remain husband and daddy wherever I roam and those callings come first, I am at heart a man who is happy in the wilderness. Alone or with others, being out there is time well spent and accepting that fact empowers a person with the conviction to go and do and be.
If you’re the sort who doesn’t carry a journal or remember to make any notes, maybe give it a shot sometimes. Just enough to jog your memory later and bring back a moment. If you’re the sort who fills pages of notes in one of those big books every day on trail, maybe ease up and experience the ride a bit more without letting the notes take all your focus.
Just that one faded, scribbled line in a rumpled notebook was enough to take me to that moment and bring it back in full detail. I can see the camp at Long Pond in the morning light, hear the red-wing blackbird and woodpeckers, and know what it feels like to be where I’m supposed to be. Soon…