Monday, March 25, 2013

What I Talk About When I Talk About Hiking (2)

As I wrote yesterday, I'm planning to shut down regular posts to Heavy Hiking around October.  I suppose I could take a "never complain, never explain" approach (which is what I've done so far), but why not put down a few things - it's my blog after all:

-I finally read "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running," by Haruki Murakami.  I don’t take Murakami as literally as his reviewers – or even his own declarations – that he was writing a “real” personal account of his running life and the accompanying life lessons.  I read it as a more playful sketch of the neuroses, fears, discipline, and small triumphs of amateur running.  I wanted to write about some of my long distance hiking experiences in that same way (but not as well, of course, because I'm not anywhere near writer that Murakami is).  However, I realized that this blog isn't the place for that kind of writing, and never was.  Which in turn reminded me that I made a mistake by not defining what Heavy Hiking was "about" at the outset.

So what was it about?  Well, in 2008 I decided to do some distance hiking again, with a nebulous five-year time frame ending when Will-J was old enough to start going on trips.  I quickly set up a spot to put some trip accounts.  It was never going to be a "personal" blog, but I ended up using it to stick up some other stuff like restaurant reviews, (briefly) documenting my rapidly-changing neighborhood, and (very occasionally) law.

This led to awkwardness.  First, Heavy Hiking wasn't secret (obviously), but I didn't talk about it much.  People I worked with/against knew it was there, didn't know if they were supposed to know about it, and (at least occasionally) wondered what I was doing.  This wondering connects with the principle in my profession that, at least openly, we're all either billing hours or networking 24/7 - the blog didn't fit in to that, and I've talked with other lawyers with the same problem.  If you're a lawyer with an interest in martial arts, for example, and start writing about martial arts online, there is a natural reaction among other lawyers that you're either unsuccessful or flaky (unless of course you were to link martial arts with your legal practice somehow, like doing pro-bono martial arts law).  If I were to keep a blog again, it would either hew closer to my work (as opposed to just occasional pictures of water structures) or be a record of a specific non-law project.  For example, I'm contemplating running another marathon when I turn forty, and I could picture writing a three-month account of trying to get fit enough to make it worth running a race with my newfound middle-aged aches and pains.

-I'm tempted to say that I would also try to have enough time to connect the blog to the community of people doing the same activity that I was doing (in this case long-distance hiking).  But that's what Twitter and 100 other things are for, and so why would I need to be putting up blog posts? (more on that below)

-Like I said, I occasionally - and naively - wrote about redevelopment in my neighborhood, and in doing so I narrowly avoided a worthless entanglement in a nasty issue.  Backing up, I'm amazed with how rapidly Northwest Denver is changing - I was riding to work every day watching new houses and developments practically spring from the ground.  Again, I was naive, and had no idea how strong some people's emotions are about those new houses and developments.  One of those new developments was near my home, and I ended up getting tangentially involved in the public review and comment process for that development.  That process turned ugly.  Suddenly I was part of a process where the angry/shouting folks knew where I lived, and maybe they might consider being angry/shouting at me.  It was a highly educational experience about how "things" work these days, but didn't exactly give me confidence to stretch the boundaries of what I post online.

-I'm probably the least-knowledgeable person to opine on this, but "the internet" has changed since I started writing in 2008.  Traffic at Heavy Hiking has shifted from mainly people looking to hike, for example, in Canyonlands, to mainly bots and aggregators.  I'm reminded of Lawrence Lessig's "Remix," where, after a cogent analysis of (and proposals for) the online copyright wars, he concludes that he's basically done with the topic, things aren't really going to change, and that he's moving on to different research.  In my mind there's a bright line - a line that will become more visible the more time passes - between the pre-2008 world and the post-2008 world (not necessarily worse, but different), online and otherwise.  In "Remix," Lessig was writing about the pre-2008 internet.  As a very smart person, however, he foresaw the post-2008 internet, and wasn't interested in writing about that internet.  To the extent that blogging was still cool or useful in 2008, it is even less so now (but Lessig still has a blog, so again, what do I know?).  Here's a fine blog post by another smart person about blogs in the post-2008 internet, which in turn links to other posts by other smart people.

-I mentioned this at the outset, but I started the blog with a limited time frame.  I was out on a short stretch of the Continental Divide Trail, saw a guy moving fast with a little pack, and realized I still wanted to be that guy.  I also knew that I didn't want to be away from my family for long periods of time, and that I'm too old and fussy to commit to really long trips (like the entire CDT).  After a few years, I realized that what I really wanted to do was to work up to hiking the rest of the Pacific Crest Trail.  As I get to that goal, (1) Will-J is old enough for my trips to become family trips instead (and so I won't be writing about them online much), and (2) my trips aren't going to be as interesting to other hikers (at least in my mind).  So it's all according to plan (I say to myself, retroactively).  And again, the blog would have been better if I had defined that plan and time frame at the outset.

-Obviously, writing about experiences as those experiences are occurring changes the nature of those experiences.  Smart person Rolf Potts explained this fairly well I thought in a recent podcast.  Lately I have been enjoying not writing about things, and letting the process simmer instead.  I spent a month on the PCT this summer without writing a word about/during the hike, for example.

-In the next few months, I'm going to write a few longer posts for the blog that will probably stray pretty far from original hiking focus, but be more carefully written than my usual posts.  Which leads to the "next" thing for me, which will hopefully involve more writing.  I don't as of yet have that thing very well defined, but one takeaway from the blog is to get what I'm doing better defined before I get going - we'll see how that goes.

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