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  1. #1
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    Default What makes a good trail story?

    Hi WhiteBlaze, I have a question for those of you who follow trail journals: what characteristics make trail stories most enjoyable to read?


    I've kept a travel blog for a few years while teaching overseas and tried to strike a balance between tips/advice, humor, and simple reporting of the who/what/where. Now I've shifted the focus of the blog to hiking as I prepare for my Nobo thru, but my posts get too long when I try to combine all these elements. I don't think I'll want to write (nor will people want to read) a 2500 word essay every few days. I know everyone has different taste and I'll settle into my own style once I have a routine on trail, but I'm hoping for some ideas from my fellow hikers about which aspects of the hike to emphasize.

    Mileage, terrain, and weather?
    Other hikers and their stories (with permission)?
    Overviews of the whole day, or specific little funny, detailed anecdotes?
    I also like to doodle pictures to go along with stories, is that appealing? (Example attached here from my most recent post about bear bag difficulties on my shakedown hike. If you want to read the full (hopefully humorous) account of my shakedown misadventures, you can find it right here)

    IMG_20180328_195356_2.jpg


    To be clear, I'm also keeping a handwritten personal journal on trail, but the purpose of this post is to request tips regarding which parts of the hiking experience are most enjoyable to read about in an online trail journal/blog that I will update 1-2x per week.

    Thanks and happy hiking!

    A.T. 2018 Thru-hike Hopeful
    Follow along at www.tefltrekker.com

  2. #2

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    I seem to never have anything profound to write about while on the trail, so my journals are mostly mileage/terrain/weather and therefore not worth reading. Such as "I hiked 13.7 miles today, the trail was a muddy mess because it was raining." Repeat.

    Now there are people who can turn that mundane day into a short story and make it sound exciting and interesting. Sadly, I'm not one of them. I'm in awe of people who can post a couple of paragraphs everyday and write it so you want to keep reading about their exploits.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  3. #3

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    A good trail story begins with "There I was . . . . . . . . "

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    I seem to never have anything profound to write about while on the trail, so my journals are mostly mileage/terrain/weather and therefore not worth reading. Such as "I hiked 13.7 miles today, the trail was a muddy mess because it was raining." Repeat.

    Now there are people who can turn that mundane day into a short story and make it sound exciting and interesting. Sadly, I'm not one of them. I'm in awe of people who can post a couple of paragraphs everyday and write it so you want to keep reading about their exploits.
    Yeah same, here. Good writing is good writing. I review gear for Trailspace and the Review Corp folks often help each other with editing. We have some reviewers for whom I'll read everything they write, no matter the gear type, because it's good and compelling.

  5. #5

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    Most good trail stories come from folks who've never posted a trail journal.

    Very late the fire ring at Hikers Welcome Baltimore Jack had a group of southbounders convinced the rocker that 2000 milers were awarded was an actual rocking chair, and that he had one at seven different hostels up and down the trail. He had debating choices of oak or maple, shellac or paint, carved name or plaque, for their rocker once they were done. Pre-order forms to be had at Harpers Ferry, if I recall correctly.
    Teej

    "[ATers] represent three percent of our use and about twenty percent of our effort," retired Baxter Park Director Jensen Bissell.

  6. #6

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    Misqoutes, embellishments and flat out lies!

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    I seem to never have anything profound to write about while on the trail, so my journals are mostly mileage/terrain/weather and therefore not worth reading. Such as "I hiked 13.7 miles today, the trail was a muddy mess because it was raining." Repeat.

    Now there are people who can turn that mundane day into a short story and make it sound exciting and interesting. Sadly, I'm not one of them. I'm in awe of people who can post a couple of paragraphs everyday and write it so you want to keep reading about their exploits.
    I find that I can't even stand reading my own journals when I find that's all I have to say. (It's perhaps acceptable to include a data block about mileages and weather, because surely you care about those when you're doing it!) Therefore, whenever I do a trip report or a log entry, I try to tell some story. It doesn't have to be anything profound necessarily - but it has to be about more than just the miles and the weather. This usually means logging only very rough notes, and then going back after I'm off trail and filling in the story. I've had readers compliment me in private on some of what I've managed to write.

    Sometimes the story is actual personal drama, as with http://www.trailjournals.com/journal/entry/476234 , or a family tragedy, as with http://dftscript.blogspot.com/2014/1...rimage-or.html. Those stories always make the best reading, but of course not every hike has an actual dramatic episode!

    Sometimes the story ties into the local history, with a tale of the robber baron who once owned the place: http://dftscript.blogspot.com/2014/0...mountains.html, or the story of how a ruined radio station came to be atop a mountain in the middle of nowhere (and a dramatic helicopter rescue that took place there) http://dftscript.blogspot.com/2014/0...nd-graham.html - start with the pictures of the ruin about halfway down the page - or the Black history of a Northville-Placid trailhead (with the first Black PGA golfer, and a major from the Tuskegee Airmen) http://www.trailjournals.com/journal/entry/511147.

    Sometimes it's just a tiny observation about a butterfly (and who can resist reading a journal entry with 'sex' in the title?) Hiker sweat, alkali metals, and butterfly sex, or an essay on the bridges you see on the trail: http://dftscript.blogspot.com/2014/1...cid-trail.html

    It's always about the question: "What was different about this day from any other day on the trail? How does that connect with the world off the trail?" It takes a little practice, asking yourself that question, and searching yourself for the answer, but that's the answer to, "what should I write about?" For me, it's also the answer to, "why should I keep hiking?" I don't think I'd have much will to keep going, if I weren't in the habit of noticing these things.
    I always know where I am. I'm right here.

  8. #8
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    Paging Just Bill.

    Paging Just Bill.

    Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by TJ aka Teej View Post
    Most good trail stories come from folks who've never posted a trail journal.

    Very late the fire ring at Hikers Welcome Baltimore Jack had a group of southbounders convinced the rocker that 2000 milers were awarded was an actual rocking chair, and that he had one at seven different hostels up and down the trail. He had debating choices of oak or maple, shellac or paint, carved name or plaque, for their rocker once they were done. Pre-order forms to be had at Harpers Ferry, if I recall correctly.
    Baltimore Jack had us all saying ewe around a CF one night. On trail, he often carried a Ziploc of orange Tang and another two Ziplocs of mac n'cheese separating the pasta from the cheese powder which he called "orange death powder." It was late July summer time. He was nearing dehydration and very thirsty. Finally, found a water source and mixed up a bunch of Tang into it. I came across him spitting, orange foaming and caked orange at the mouth, and puking out "orange death powder" he mistakenly mixed into the water thinking is was Tang.

  10. #10
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    My two cents. Write down the following at the top of the entry, just the into, no need to write it out in proper sentences:
    Date
    Daily start point
    Daily end point
    mileage
    hikers met
    weather if noteworthy.
    This is basic info I often look back for and wish I’d written for all my section hikes.

    From there write out a proper journal entry only if you have something to say that’s worth saying. Some of my journal entrie are a page long, others just have the into above, a quick note about what shelter I stopped at for lunch and a quick comment about something interesting that I saw.
    Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

  11. #11
    Clueless Weekender Another Kevin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sarcasm the elf View Post
    My two cents. Write down the following at the top of the entry, just the into, no need to write it out in proper sentences:
    Date
    Daily start point
    Daily end point
    mileage
    hikers met
    weather if noteworthy.
    This is basic info I often look back for and wish Iíd written for all my section hikes.

    From there write out a proper journal entry only if you have something to say thatís worth saying. Some of my journal entrie are a page long, others just have the into above, a quick note about what shelter I stopped at for lunch and a quick comment about something interesting that I saw.
    Elf, do you have examples of yours on line? I like your wit, and I'd be interested in reading them.
    I always know where I am. I'm right here.

  12. #12
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    I like reading trail stories that incorporate life lessons, Nature observances, display an awareness that backpacking isn't conducted in a bubble, offering back, mention growth pointing to a greater awareness, how challenges were not only encountered but how they were overcome. I like Muir's and Aldo Leopold's accounts.


    When including gear accounts in trail trips I like hearing from people like Andrew Skurka because he displays a willingness to grow, to learn, intellect, analyze, and point to his(our) own silliness in a good-natured way in post trip accounts.


    I like JPD's trail accounts because she displays gratitude, will, intellect, trail ethics, appreciation of how other's have contributed to her life and hiking success. She also post trip analyzes. I like the conclusion JPD came to after thru-hiking the MST with her family and prioritizing what she values as stated in Blue Ridge Outdoors. Her family, the betterment of her children, her marriage, and staying true to off trail values while being on trail. https://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/go...nds-sacrifice/ What JPD displays is sometimes missing in trail stories - PERSONAL CHARACTER.


    And this by Heather "Anish" Andersen: https://search.yahoo.com/search?p=he...n&type=default
    That's display the forethought, the courage, and the willingness to Define Success on Her Terms. That's self actualization. And in the end it was more about Life's Lessons than FKT's. That's often misunderstood about some FKTers, their motivations the lessons the hold more dearly than a FKT

  13. #13

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    Well, according to Bill Bryson, a good trail story involves a tremendous amount of fiction/artistic license.

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    More than any other consideration what makes a good trail story is a good story-teller. The story is often secondary, as Roald Dahl has proven over and over (e.g., Mildenhall Treasure, etc).

    Search Google for Then the Hail Came and A Limp in the Woods, two truly great AT journals. Take some time to read from two masters of the craft. As the dude who wrote Limp said, "The average reader doesn't want to read the average story."

  15. #15

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    Never let the truth get in the way of a good story...keep it reel

  16. #16

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    My trail stories should be called the Idiots Guide to Hiking. I’m too embarrassed to tell them but they sure are funny.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Another Kevin View Post
    Elf, do you have examples of yours on line? I like your wit, and I'd be interested in reading them.
    Mine are all confined to a single notebook and they are a woefully read. They primarly consist of start and stop points and the basic info.
    The best of my stories have nearly all been written in detail here on WB.
    Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Burrhead View Post
    Misqoutes, embellishments and flat out lies!
    Quote Originally Posted by Sarcasm the elf View Post
    Paging Just Bill.

    Paging Just Bill.

    Quote Originally Posted by James GAME2009 View Post
    Well, according to Bill Bryson, a good trail story involves a tremendous amount of fiction/artistic license.
    Quote Originally Posted by rocketsocks View Post
    Never let the truth get in the way of a good story...keep it reel

    I won't give you any writing advice because it would even stretch my fabrication abilities to call myself a writer. Though as a reader I am free to comment...

    Write a story you would enjoy reading. Even if it sucks.
    If you don't have a story, don't publish it. Nothing wrong with sitting on your journal for a bit until there is something worth saying.

    Most importantly, write something that is true. Truly your voice, your experience, and your story.

    There are folks who are new who like to read a 'journal' but for the most part that type of tale has run it's course. Most of hiking is monotonously boring to the reader.
    There are folks who like to read about the sweeping changes and life affirming experience of the trail. Told by the right person sincerely those can do well.
    There are folks who like to read the simple facts and simple observations, especially when the trip is a big one in someway... Understated adventure is a long established tradition many like.
    There are folks who enjoy the real time trail journals, you'll find many here who enjoy observing others change in their entries or curious about how the trail touches each differently... people watching.
    There are folks who do enjoy ticking off the miles, hearing the details, the weather, the routine of it... it takes them back or lets them imagine the hike.

    What all those tend to have in common is the reader already has a connection with the trail, and by extension the author.
    That bridge conveniently spans many faults in the writing itself... as the reader is already halfway involved in yer tale afore they even turned a page.

    Crossing from a decent 'trail book' into a real book is a different deal.
    While some hikers see Bryson's hike as lie... his skill in the telling, wit, and observation are not. Some don't have a sense of humor though.
    Wild is a lie as well... barely an attempt at a thru by hiking standards... but a sincere experience nonetheless that touched many. Some ain't much fer being touched.
    So it turns out the 'best' hiking tales are simply good stories period. It's only the hikers who forget the trail is the setting, and not the star of thebook. Haters gunna hate.
    Nobody but a hiker is concerned about the difference between 'based upon a true story' or 'based upon a pure thru-hike'. Readers gunna read.

    I suppose there are folks who have skill at the craft and could fake it well enough to entertain a reader... though if'n you were one of em guessing you'd already be writing fer a living and not asking here.

    So at the end of the day; "what characteristics make trail stories most enjoyable to read?"

    The same thing that makes the trail a good place to be... it's real. Interesting **** happens in real places to real people and some people find the **** that happens real interesting.

    If you can't tell a story that is real it won't be read. The reader will call bull**** and put it down. Better to have them call disinterest, boredom or crappy writing in my opinion than call bull****.
    Mark Twain was such a famously tall teller of tales that he didn't have the decency to even write under his own name. But despite tremendous fabrication , dereliction to the sacred duty of the reporter and voluminous stretching of the bounds of the word... he never once lied even when he was full of bull****.
    So use the voice you got and pen something you find interesting to share. Tell the paper whatever you want, and if yer not interested in what that paper has to say back... start a fire and think on it some more.
    Odds are decent it will suck... but every once in a while you might get lucky. And eventually you might get better at picking winners from the pile. If you get real lucky sometimes the trail will crap a story on yer head and all you gotta do is type it up.
    Even liars know if you don't tell the truth it doesn't work.
    And every hiker knows you can't lie to the trail.



    PS... keep it short.
    People hate reading **** that goes on and on or authors that just love the sound of their own voice droning away.
    Especially when they come off looking like they think they are the cleverest packet of hot sauce since blac chyna in thigh high boots.

    PPS... keep it topical or filled with obscure references to things that happened earlier in the tale. People like inside jokes.

    PPPS... keep the language clean. People don't like it when you go talking mama jamba or cuss too much.
    Huck Finn got banned fer talking trashy (not the whole freeing slaves thing) and it really hurt Mr. Clemens career.

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Traffic Jam View Post
    My trail stories should be called the Idiots Guide to Hiking. I’m too embarrassed to tell them but they sure are funny.
    Eventually young lady you might be able to knit a yarn.
    Never know if what you weave up may be of interest to some.
    Even managed to sneak your face into your profile picture here and there... maybe a few more years and you'll be ready to talk, lol.
    I know you've come a long way... sincerely.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Traffic Jam View Post
    My trail stories should be called the Idiots Guide to Hiking. Iím too embarrassed to tell them but they sure are funny.
    You might own authorship of the first chapter of the book but I lay claim to the next three chapters. Book will never be finished.

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