On the surface, hiking and blogging seem like complete opposites: one involves wandering the big outdoors, while the other involves sitting in front of a computer for far too many hours trying to wrangle my thoughts into a form others might understand. However, while I do far more hiking than I ever write about here, it is a fundamental part of my blogging process.
Really, it’s probably a good thing I don’t write too many posts about the hikes I do, since they would be fairly boring to anyone not doing exactly the same hike:
It was steep! It was flat! It was tough! It had beautiful views! The birds were singing! I saw seventeen animals! You should totally do it!
Make sure you don’t miss the turn-off to the XYZ trail after about 3km, because it’s narrow and winding and gives incredible views. If you’re lucky you might see a herd of kangaroos up there.
Neither approach seems particularly enlightening.
In this discussion, I’m talking more generally about walking, not just “hiking”: It could be anything from a ten minute walk during a lunch break to a 20+ km hike taking much of the day. Each of those gives me time to think, and sometimes the thinking gets so engrossing that I start to feel guilty for walking through beautiful countryside without really noticing it.
That time to think then feeds into my blog. Many of the posts on this blog have been conceived while out walking (as have the hundreds of others that didn’t make it onto the blog). And even the posts which didn’t start during a walk have been extensively refined, refocused, and perhaps completely rewritten while out walking. For some, this has happened many times over a period of several years. New and surprising ideas and connections have been made, while old connections have been strengthened. And it seems there is always a new and different way to present a long-held idea.
Just to make it clear: I’m not suggesting any solitary genius here. While I almost always hike alone, there is no doubt that most of the ideas I ponder have come from others, and to me that makes the process a conversation (with me as the sole arbiter). Sometimes I debate a new take on a long-held idea, but often it’s something that I recently read or discussed with others.
That is also why the brief walk from the station after reading an interesting book can feel more productive than the nearly three weeks I spent walking the Pennine Way. Sure, the Way was great for thinking about long-lost Roman Britain or the endless moorland, but I found there was much less thought about the meaning of life than I expected. Why? So much of each day was spent walking or planning the walk that there was little time left for encountering new ideas.
I have no idea whether this approach will work for everyone, but I am fairly certain that I am a better blogger and a better person because of time spent hiking. Sometimes, yes, it feels like the hiking is aimless or overly indulgent, a distraction from getting something serious done. But in my heart of hearts I know how important it is for my physical and mental health. Even if the ideas never see the light of day, they give me clarity on how I should approach the world. And that affects everyone around me (hopefully for good).
Of course, it’s not a magic bullet, and the whole process can be frustrating. I consistently find that I can express the same concept in ten different ways while out hiking, and yet still be completely lost for words when I sit down at my computer to type it out properly. It’s almost as if the words have a deep-seated need to roam free and melt away the instant they look like being trapped. Unfortunately, no amount of hiking can save me the hours spent trying to nail down the elusive idea that sounded so simple out in the open.
But if anything is the “secret recipe” that makes this blog what it is, it has to be my frequent solitary hiking.