A guest article by K.A. Hrycik
We’re closing in on the end of the hiking season near my hometown of Buffalo, NY, and while I have recently relearned to enjoy cold weather activities, the majority of my outdoor adventures shift in favor indoor writing adventures. They’re both such a huge part of me that I never completely separate from either, though, and in fact, I’ve found that the more I hike, the more I use that mentality to have a productive writing day, and the more I write, the more I use that mentality to have a productive hiking day. Works out, if you ask me. But what does pounding away on a keyboard have to do with swatting at mosquitoes?
Well. I’m so glad you asked.
1. Sometimes you’ll love it
The words flow, the coffee is warm, your fingers can’t move fast enough to get everything down, your brain is dancing in the colors and sounds and smells of a world you created. Things are good. The alphabet and its infinite combinations make sense, and you’re so drawn into your work that a tree could fall over in your backyard and you might not notice.
Or maybe you’re outside on a new trail and the weather’s perfect, there are wildflowers layered on each other, and a stream is bouncing and rolling its way down the side of a hill near the trail. Maybe you’re walking through an old growth forest and you have the ridiculous thought of hugging one of the old oaks, and find out your fingers don’t even come close to touching once you give into the thought and find your arms wrapped around the mossy trunk.
You wish you could bottle it all up and save it for a different kind of day because …
2. Sometimes, you’ll hate it
I mean, how long can a person stare at a blank page and have zero words? Indefinitely, it feels like. Perhaps the only words you managed to squeeze out were some godawful arrangement of the English language and the forty-two synonyms you just rotated through didn’t make anything better, so you scratch the entire paragraph. At this point, not only have you not written anything in two hours, but now your total word count is NEGATIVE EIGHTY-FIVE. Holy shit. Excuse me, while I go find a wall to bang my head against.
You won’t have many walls in the mountains to bang your head against, but every once in awhile, you get one of those days when you find your fists bunched as you’re yelling into the wind. Like on those days when your legs don’t work, your lungs don’t work, and all you want is a burrito, a shower and a nap, and not necessarily in that order. Maybe your sleeping bag got soaked in a storm, or a horde of mosquitoes has made it their mission in life to buzz you into insanity and suck up every last sorry excuse for patience you have left. Or possibly you’ve been stumbling over snow spots in snow fields for four days straight and if you wipe out one more time — just ONE MORE! — you’re going to throw your tent up for the day and not go another step farther.
But what are you going to do? Sit on the side of the trail and let the hypothermia set in? Stare at that half-finished page until your characters turn on each other and eat you from the inside out?
Nope. You’ll have to pour yourself an extra cup off coffee, and haul yourself up by the bootstraps and understand that …
3. You’re going to have mountains to climb
And they are All. Going. To. Be. Different. Even if you climb a mountain twice, it’s going to be different than the first time you climbed it. Remember Pocahontas belting out, ‘Just Around the Riverbend’? That girl knew what she was talking about when she said you can’t step in the same river twice. The weather, the time of day, your company, life events… all of it changes, and because all of it changes, you have new tools for the mountains of the future.
It’s OK to look up at the top every once in awhile, too, but most of the work is done with your head down, one foot in front of the other, one word in front of the other, and one day at a time. If stubbornness were a profession, it would be called writing. If stubbornness were a sport, it would be called long-distance backpacking. That’s all. Just showing up to do it another day. Another mile, another sentence. That’s all. As Neil Gaiman famously said, “It’s that easy, and that hard.”
But here’s the thing, everyone: those mountains? You get the best view from the top of them. Once you’re up there, you can see other mountains — gorgeous mountains! Mountains you might not have even known existed! As Mike Edwards wrote in the June 1971 publication of National Geographic, “No strangers walk trails. When they meet, backpackers plunge into enthusiastic conversation about where they have been and where they are going.” I think if one were to swap “backpackers” for “writers,” that sentence would make just as much sense, don’t you think?
It’s much easier to make it to the top of the mountains, though, if you concede to the idea that …
4. You’re going to have to ditch about 50% of what you start with.
At least. For writing, maybe more. I have writing projects that I’d like to ditch all 100% of, right into the briny deep to ensure they never see the light of day even after I die. No, but really, a lot has to go. Scenes might have to shift around or get eliminated, characters might have to be redrawn, plot holes need to be filled.
This editing mindset certainly isn’t exclusive to writing. My first backpacking trip pack isn’t even recognizable after nine years and 4,000 hiked miles. That first trip, I hiked in a pair of jeans, and I don’t think I had even one item that was any sort of fast-wicking material. Luckily I didn’t have to, but I imagine hiking for six days in damp clothing would be mildly uncomfortable at best. My friend explained his method to me: if he hasn’t used it in three days, it’s gone.
You have to ask yourselves, “Do I really need that? Do I need six pairs of pants? Do I need six words to describe a pair of pants on a secondary character?” These are the hard choices, my friends. Maybe, in fact, you do. Maybe those pants will one day save your life on a knife edge, or maybe those pants reappear two books from now. But if you keep those pants, you’d better be looking for something else to cut because those extraneous words, those four extra pairs of socks? They need to be rolled up and packed the hell out.
The good days, the bad days, the mountains, the editing, it’s a lot but in the end …
5. It’s all totally worth it
Our job is to exercise our imaginations, how cool is that? You get to chase your characters down talus slopes and up blackberry brambles, you get to write about the weather that moves across canyons, and those sturdy, little plants that crouch close to the ground and live in a world of wind. Whether you’re hiking or writing, you’re going to learn things about yourself. Lots of things. Fabulous things and disgusting things, but enlightening things nonetheless, and when you mix them all together and stir them up, you’ll have a wild adventure, a catchy story, or the writer’s holy grail: both.
We might even be lucky enough to have someone say to us someday, “Hey, I read your work,” or “I heard of what you did and because of, that I changed this part of my life, and it made all the difference.” Wouldn’t that just melt your heart?
Whether we’ve heard this or not, there’s work to be done, so in the meantime, we’ll have to put one foot in front of the other, one word after another. There are views up ahead and we wouldn’t want to miss them.PAGE_BREAK: PageBreak
Meet the Author:
K.A. Hrycik grew up exploring the wilderness of Western New York, until at 18, she got in a plane for the first time — and jumped out. Since that first plane ride, her adventures have taken her around the world and on hikes that have totaled over 4,500 miles. She’s hiked over 4,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in which she was exposed to an incredible community of hikers and the support system around the trail, and those people and places were the inspiration for her first novel, Hold for Hiker Trash. When she’s not traveling, she works at a daycare and teaches swimming near Buffalo, NY.
Connect with K.A. Hrycik on:
Don’t forget to check out Hrycik’s debut novel, Hold for Hiker Trash!
After her car goes up in flames, Vika Carmichael finds herself stranded in Northern Washington at a Victorian house that hasn’t seen upkeep in longer than she’s been alive, owned by an eccentric, foul-mouthed artist whose goal of reconstructing the old house is to aid Pacific Crest Trail hikers.
Vika is immersed in the company of the backpackers as they join to help Dane, the artist, and his mother, the affectionate Grandma Peach, strip the house of plaster, lath, electrical, and plumbing before they can build again. As she works pounding and hammering the walls of the house, Vika begins to understand the allure of the wilderness and even ventures into the nearby mountains to hike a 100-mile stretch of the trail with a hiker named Slip An’ Slide. Her appreciation grows for the Trail Angels who selflessly assist this tight-knit community of endurance athletes.