Trip planning: gathering resources

Once you’ve got an idea for a trip, the next step is gathering resources. This research phase of trip planning is one of my favorite things to do. There are so many possibilities and it’s fun to imagine how each one might play out. It can be very hard to pick and choose, but this is the time to dream big and discover what magic you can make happen.

Step two: research

There are several ways to get information about your adventure destinations. Here are my top four:

1. Books

2. Maps

3. Word of mouth

4. Internet

We’ll take a look at each one of these categories of information in turn. Using all four will help you paint a better picture of what’s out there.

Books

The first thing I look to when planning an adventure is the library. It might be my home library, the public library or an Internet bookstore. Nothing replaces leafing through a hiking or travel guidebook to get an idea about a new place (or maybe a familiar one!). Unless you have a really clear idea of what you want to do, a guidebook is an excellent place to start.

Over the years I’ve accumulated a pretty comprehensive collection of local hiking guidebooks, plus a few from the distant places I’ve traveled:

What can you get in a book that you can’t get online? You get an overall sense of an area. You can see an overview map of where all the sights are located. You have an expert’s curated list of places to start with. You can see mileage, relative difficulty, driving time, elevation change and many other features of various places very quickly, without having to do multiple searches or waiting for individual pages to load online. Having a book is a great time saver. And you can take the book with you when you travel, so if you need to make a last minute change of plans or want to find something quickly nearby, you’ve got that information in your hands. And it works with or without access to WiFi!

Yes, books cost money. But you’d be surprised what you can find at the library or at a used bookstore. Shop online and search for used books, too. Think of it as an investment in your experience. Spend $20 now and save time later.

Maps

I love maps. There’s nothing like spreading out a map on the kitchen table and poring over every detail in search for something amazing or curious. A map gives you a visual reference of all the ideas that are bouncing around in your head. Once you have a list of hikes or points of interest you want to see, you can grab a map and a stack of post-it-notes and start to visualize your trip.

There are a few different types of maps that are useful in trip planning. The first is a state gazeteer.

This is your big-picture map. Use this in conjunction with Google maps to plan out a driving route for your next big road trip. This map might also indicate some points of interest that you’ll want to research in more detail. I’ve discovered some things I never would have known about just by looking at my route in the Gazeteer and searching for points of interest along the drive.

Next you might want a map that provides some more details. Forest Service and BLM overview maps are great tools for providing a little closer view of your area of interest. These will include all those little side roads you’ll need to navigate to get to out-of-the-way places. These maps may also reveal some special places you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

But they’re not hiking maps, so you’ll also need…

Hiking maps. These provide much better detail on a smaller scale. A hiking map will indicate locations of trailheads, ranger stations, points of interest, etc. They will have topographic lines so that you can get a better sense of the lay of  the land. You’ll see rivers, mountains, canyons, plains, forests, lakes, etc. This is the map you will want in your backpack when you set off on a hike. You can also use these maps to get ideas on how to link up peaks or plan backpacking trips.

National Geographic, Adventure Maps and Green Trails Maps produce excellent maps for those of us on the west coast. You may find other brands that cover different areas of the U.S. and the rest of the world.

If you’re  technologically inclined, you can also print your own maps from websites like CalTopo or National Geographic Maps. Personally, I prefer the larger area covered by the waterproof, foldable maps as opposed to a printout on standard letter paper. Your mileage may vary.

Word of mouth

Once you’ve scoured the books and maps that cover a given area, think about reaching out to people who are frequent visitors to that region. Ask your friends. Post a question to a regional hiking message board. Seek out adventurers on Instagram and send them a private message. People love sharing the places that are meaningful to them, within reason. Don’t go asking a local to out their secret hangout. They won’t take very kindly to you. And PLEASE don’t go asking a question that you could easily answer by doing a few minutes of research. It pains me to see the same questions asked over and over again by a person who has not spent any time studying the map or book first.

You’ll get MUCH better beta from people who can tell you’ve done your homework. They’ll be more willing to turn you on to less popular places if they’re confident you’re not a typical tourist. This is especially true of park rangers. They’re so used to dealing with terribly unprepared visitors that they’ll send you right to the best stuff if you demonstrate just a little bit of knowledge 🙂

Internet

I put the Internet last for a reason. Most people start here first. Maybe I’m an old curmudgeon, but maybe I’m on to something here. There is a wealth of information on the Internet. It is totally overwhelming to start your search here. When I began researching my Arizona trip I found a great website called hikeaz.com. But there’s just so much information on that site I couldn’t make any sense of it. I hadn’t wrapped my head around the geography of the state, so I had no clue where most of the hikes I found were located. And it just felt like information overload.

After I did my book and map research and created a list of hikes that I was interested in, then hikeaz.com became a useful resource. Save yourself the trouble and read the books first!

I’ve got a personal list of favorite websites to do adventure planning research and I’ll share some of them here. Know that most of the best websites are regional or activity-based. So if you want to plan a mountain biking trip in Utah, then find a mountain biking resource or a Utah travel resource online. There are few national databases but they’re not particularly good at any one thing. Search around and when you find a valuable resource, bookmark it.

General adventure planning:

Outdoor Project: Full disclosure, I contribute content to this website so I am a little partial to using it. The database keeps growing and growing, and the site catalogues a wide array of adventure types: skiing, rafting, hiking, biking, hot springs, etc. You can search by specific location, activity type and region.

Hiking and climbing:

Mountain Project: This climbing-focused resource provides route information for rock and alpine climbing around the world. They also have an app that you can use to download and store route information on your phone.

Summit Post: If you want to get to the top of a mountain via hiking or climbing, this is your website. Search for a summit or an area. Get background information, driving directions, route beta and recent trip reports. Plus there’s a forum that is divided by geographic region so you can post your questions for the locals there. An excellent resource.

Super Topo: Another rock climbing guide, Super Topo has print guidebooks in addition to online beta. There are descriptions, reviews, photos and some free downloadable guides.

Pacific Northwest:

NWHikers.net: A very active forum for local hikers, this website is geared mostly towards trails and routes in the state of Washington. A great place to look for recent trip reports and to ask questions related to hiking in the northwest.

Oregonhikers.org: What began as a website for Portland area hikers to share information, the new Oregonhikers.org contains information about hiking areas across the state. Trip reports, trail information and updates from local hikers make this a great resource for hiking in Oregon.

Washington Trails Association: This comprehensive website includes hike descriptions, recent trail reports, hiking-related blog posts and more. Join the WTA on trail maintenance trips and group hikes, too!

Other online resources:

Many people live on social media so this is a great place to connect with others who like to adventure, too. Go to Instagram and search for hashtags that interest you, and try to be specific: #hiking #oregon #oregonhikers #mounthood etc. Follow the people who are doing the fun things you want to be doing and watch their feed! Send them messages if you have a question about something they’ve just posted, or if you think they might be an expert in an area you want to learn more about. Most people are happy to share their knowledge (especially if you’ve done some research first!)

Facebook groups can also be a great source of brainpower and updates on recent trail/road conditions. Search for a group that suits your needs. For example, before I road-tripped down to Southern California I joined a group of California hikers. There I was able to connect with some folks to learn more about what to expect on my trip. I then shared my trip reports after I returned from my adventure. Remember to give a little back instead of just asking questions and taking information. It’s just good karma.

Go forth and gather!

Trip research can be very time-intensive. But it’s an essential part of the trip planning process. First, it will help you devise a plan that meets your wants and needs while sticking to your parameters. Second, it will help you optimize your time so you’re not stuck figuring everything out on the fly. And third it will get you REALLY EXCITED about the adventure you’re about to undertake! Now you’re ready to make a trip outline. Happy trip planning 🙂

Trip planning: the idea

To me, planning a trip is an exciting adventure. The possibilities are endless. I’ve learned that not many other people feel this way so I would like to share a series of posts that walk through the trip planning process in hopes of clarifying what it’s all about and inspiring others to tackle this monumental task themselves.

Right now I’m in the middle of planning a road trip that will span at least 2 weeks. Not a small undertaking, but not a huge deal either. People hit the road for months at a time. But it’s been a couple of years since my last road trip and there’s a lot of ground I want to cover. It’s best to think about these things in stages, so this blog will come out in stages. First things first…

Road trip, anyone?

Step one: the idea

Any specific details must spring from an initial idea. A thought. A possibility. Perhaps you have some vacation time you have to use before a certain date. Or you want to visit a relative in a different geographic location. Or perhaps catch a particular season or weather condition. There’s always a seed. And your job is to determine where best to plant that seed.

I knew I wanted to craft a trip around the completion of the hikes for the Hike366 Project. At the time I started planning, my finish date was April 13*. That was my seed: a date. Then I could ask myself the following questions in order to pick a location:

1.  Is there good hiking in mid-April?

2. Is it an area I haven’t been to?

3. Is it driving distance from my home?

4. Are the roads/trailheads accessible in April?

5. Is there a variety of things to do and see around this location?

These questions helped me narrow down the infinite possibilities into a much more manageable number of choices. 1: it would definitely have to be an excellent hiking area. 2: I love novelty, so I’d like to find a place that was new to me. 3: I didn’t want to have to fly anywhere and I enjoy long road trips, so this idea narrowed down my choices to the western half of the U.S. 4: April is a tough month to plan for in certain locations due to snowpack, so it would have to be somewhere warm. 5: I’d be on the road with my husband, and although he likes hiking, he would prefer to mix it up with a variety of activities. There would ideally be places to see along the way as well as a number of interesting things to do besides hiking.

With those questions in mind, I quickly ruled out places like all of the Sierra and Cascades mountains, most of the state of Washington and Oregon. Within driving range included Idaho, Southern California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Our last road trip took us through a few of those states and I’d just driven to Southern California in the spring. That easily brought me to Arizona: a place that I knew very little about and would have ideal hiking conditions in early spring. It felt a little far away, but once I started mapping it out, Arizona became much more plausible in my mind.

You can cover a lot of ground hiking in Arizona. There’s the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. There’s the northern half with its snowy peaks and the southern half with towering Saguaro cactus. There are slot canyons, mesas, mountains, desert, tribal lands and national parks. Like Oregon there are wide open spaces and busy cities. There was a lot to choose from. One quick glance at hikeaz.com opened the door to thousands of possibilities.

Not all decisions are this clear.

Here I had to ask myself another set of questions. Your questions might differ based on what’s important to you. Here’s my list:

1. Can I get away from the crowds?

2. Does it provide different scenery than the desert I live in?

3. Does it have unique and interesting natural features?

4. Can I camp nearby?

5. Is it within a reasonable driving distance?

The distance came up again because I was already stretching the length of the drive time to get to Arizona. I decided that while southern Arizona looked incredible, it was simply too far away. I’d be driving past plenty of things that met my criteria on my way there. So I decided on Northern Arizona, the part OUTSIDE Grand Canyon National Park. I’d been there once, a long time ago, for a day. All I remember is the stench of urine and the throngs of people. Now I know there are parts of the Grand Canyon where you can get away from all that but I had the feeling that Arizona had more in store for me. I did a little digging around online, using Google searches, scanning Instagram feeds and reading hiking websites. Yeah, Northern Arizona was going to meet my needs and suit my values.

In Summary

Planning a trip is a fun activity that does not need to intimidate you. It will help your actual trip go more smoothly, feel more meaningful and be more memorable than if you left it all to chance.

You’ll need a seed before you begin to brainstorm. That seed may be: time frame, location or activity type.

Once you have your seed then determine a list of questions that can help you narrow down the possibilities. Think logistics: amount of time you have, your budget, your interests, etc.

Then once you have a shortlist of places to go, make your decision based on your interests and values. You might need to do a little preliminary research online to get to “know” your options a little better. Choose the option that feels right and then you’re ready for step 2!

I would love to hear your ideas for upcoming trips. Please feel free to share in the comments section, or ask some questions related to the trip planning process. There are a few more installments in this series to come, so stay tuned!

 

*I’d later find out, when reviewing my trip data, that in fact May 10 would be my last day. Ooops! I’d already got myself invested in the Arizona trip that I did not change my intention to go there. That just means I get to plan another adventure in May.

 

Ready for step 2? Learn more about gathering resources.

Thanksgiving rituals

For the past eight years, I’ve been participating in my own Thanksgiving tradition. Not surprisingly, it’s centered around hiking.

In 2009, I embarked on my first backcountry Thanksgiving. I was thousands of miles from home, with no intention of flying on one of the busiest travel days in the country. I was recently single, overwhelmed with work, and ready for some “me-time.” So I loaded a heavy pack with overnight supplies, Thanksgiving dinner, and some adult beverages. Off I went. I had no idea that year after year I’d be eagerly looking forward to doing it again.

Traditions are often thought of as ancient rituals. But they all had to start somewhere. I wasn’t happy with the usual Thanksgiving traditions so I unconsciously created my own. Now I can’t imagine Thanksgiving without a long, quiet weekend away from civilization.

Join me in recounting these fantastic escapes:

2009: Willamette Pass Winter Getaway

2010: Second Annual Thanksgiving Snowshoe Adventure

2011: Thanksgiving at Willamette Pass

2012: A Very Backcountry Thanksgiving

2013: Thanksgiving at Maiden Peak

2014: Sixth Annual Woodsy Thanksgiving Retreat

2015: Hart Mountain Thanksgiving

2016: Thanksgiving Off the Beaten Path

2017: ???

This year I’ve got a plan. You’ll find out about it after I return. Another element to the Thanksgiving ritual is not having access to the Internet. I call it #optoffline. Even better than going outside is actually being there. Forget about sharing and hashtagging and seeing what other people are up to. Be there. Smell the air. Feel the wind. Listen to birds. See the views. And only after your experience is over, decide if and when you’d like to share about it.

Don’t worry, I’ll have plenty of turkey…

Managing hiking photos

To me, Hike366 is a visual project. Each hike is inextricably linked to the images captured in the field. The Instagram feed is populated with photographs that tell a story. Without a photo, there’s nothing to snag the attention of the potential reader.

This is why keeping my photos organized and easily accessible has been an important part of this project. As I dig deep into the journals, I also open up the folder associated with each hike. It’s interesting to go back and look at hikes from 2005 and have only 2 or 3 photos in the folder (versus 60 or more in some of the more recent trips!). Not all the photos are very good, either. And for a few hikes, I never saved files to my hard drive. They are sitting on the servers of a long-defunct online photo storage company. Ooops.

So then I face a decision point: do I “re-do” the hike dates that I have no photos (or no good photos)? Or do I proceed with a poor quality image? No image?

The answer, of course, is “it depends.” If I have no photo, I’m compelled to go on another hike on that date.  If I have bad photos, I think they still tell a story. I’m more likely to re-do a hike date for which I already have a lot of similar records for, like Smith Rock or Marys Peak.

Photo organization

My system for organizing photos is simple:

There’s a hiking folder under “Pictures,” because, of course. The “366 Days of Hiking” album contains one photo from each featured hike of the project, but we’ll get to that later. The bulk of my photos are arranged geographically, then by date. So, under the “Oregon 2017” folder you can see a few hikes: Ankeny, Badlands (twice), Bailey, Baker Beach, etc. The numbers after the hike location are the date. Therefore, at a glance I can see that I hiked Ankeny on June 3, 2017.

I also like naming my photos whenever possible. This makes it much easier for me to search for things. If I want a picture of dune grass, for example, I can just go to the Pictures folder and search for “dune grass” and see what comes up. That saves me the trouble of going back to my hike spreadsheet and finding a hike that might have involved some dunes. And, if I can’t come up with a name for a photo then it’s probably one that I can delete. It’s not compelling enough to keep. This is an easy way to purge old photos without thinking too hard.

Photographic interference

I wonder if, as taking photos becomes easier and easier, that the act of photography while out on a hike detracts from the hike experience. Now, when I visit popular places I can barely find a person who’s not staring at the view through their phone or iPad. These people are not professional photographers. They’re just snapping a ton of terrible pictures that will live forever on their devices, on their home computers, in the cloud.

I have been caught up in this too, but I try to remain cognizant of this behavior. I do try to take photos of things like signposts, trail junctions, notable features and viewpoints to help me reconstruct the hike for trip reports and journaling projects. If I see something really cool I’ll take a picture. But I’ve always tried to hike first and snap photos later. Leave the photography to the pros; live the experience instead.

Here’s some food for thought from the BBC: Are You Taking too Many Pictures?

Meanwhile, tons of physical space and energy are being used for keeping these photos “saved,” most of which will never be looked at again. That’s a topic for another day!

This project has caused me to re-evaluate the contents of all of my photo albums. I’m saving the photos that matter, and deleting the ones that don’t. It’s been a digital purging of sorts. As I discover the photos that are meaningful to me it has been easier to identify those that can safely go.

And you, lovely reader, will be spared most of the photos so you’re left with just one image per story. Try this with the last hike you went on. See how challenging it can be to only choose one. Which one will it be? Why? What does that photo communicate to your viewers? To you? Have fun and let me know what challenges you come across!

Keeping hiking records

When I first began keeping records of my hiking adventures in 2005, I bought a hardcover blank book. In this journal I recorded stories from the trail, usually written just after the hike was over. I immediately chose a format that went something like this:

  • Date
  • Name of hike
  • Trails included
  • Mileage/ elevation gain/ start and end time
  • List of wildlife seen and heard
  • Long description of the hike

That first book is filled with a year of adventures dating from June, 2005 to July 2006. It is mostly because I kept these notes that I can go back in time and recount the places I’ve been.

The other useful information I gathered on each of these hikes is my photos. I have folders on my computer that area organized by year, location and hike date. So, if I want to see what I was up to in 2011 I can choose the folder “Oregon 2011” or “Washington 2011” or if I got further afield I can choose “Other States.” Combining the written data and the visual information I can often paint a pretty good picture of what happened on that day.

The wayback machine: 2005, Mt. Carrigain NH.

For the Hike366 project, I’m compiling data from these sources to find connecting threads, themes and learning experiences from the past decade plus of hiking. The first step is going back and publishing a blog for each of the 366 hikes. It turns out I have already written and published these right after the hike was completed. But there are many stories that are trapped inside the hard cover of my journal.

If you dig around on jessb.org (my other site) you will find that the older entries are filling in. I’m going back to 2005 to start from there, working my way forward chronologically. It is a tedious task but something that will help me organize the 366 in a meaningful way.

In addition to this raw data, I have two spreadsheets: one for all hikes and one for this project. My hike spreadsheet is the master list of every hike I’ve ever done (mostly) and I try to be as accurate and succinct as possible. My columns are:

  • Date
  • Hike Name
  • State
  • Time
  • Elevation gain
  • Distance
  • Elevation gain/distance ratio
  • Speed (distance/time)
  • Notes*
  • GPS point

There are two more columns: “Trip” and “Overnight.” I put a “1” in the cell on the first hike on each trip. So, for example, if I take a 3-day roadtrip and do 5 hikes during that time, that counts as 1 trip. For the “overnight” column I put a “1” in the cell for the first hike on any trip where I’m backpacking in. (Car camping doesn’t count). By totaling the 1’s at the end of the year I can tally up how many general trips I took and how many backpacking trips I took.

*A note on the notes column. I keep this short on purpose. I do not allow myself to use multiple lines. Typical entries include whether I was solo or with a group, the weather, trail conditions, any unusual occurrences or the purpose of the trip. Longer write-ups can be done in a notebook or on my website.

Keeping these records has been useful for helping me set goals, learn more about my patterns, appreciate the variety of places I’ve traveled and get this project put together! I sometimes enjoy just sitting down and scrolling through years past to see what kinds of things I was up to. Once I start flipping through old photo albums on my computer…well, many an hour has passed doing that!

Since the advent of cellphone cameras and seemingly endless digital storage it has become easier to keep track of hiking adventures. But I really enjoy the journaling aspect of tracking hikes as well. Many of those journal entries will never make it to public view, but having those journals to dust off and read every couple years is priceless.

The inception of hike366

I wasn’t always a year-round hiker.

I remember very specifically the day that it occurred to me that hiking wasn’t just a summer activity. I was out on the trail with a fellow hiker that I’d met through a New England hiking forum. We were huffing and puffing up a mountain and I asked him, “so how do you learn to hike in the winter time?”

He gave me the best and simplest advice: “you just keep hiking through the fall and pay attention to the changes that happen around you.”

Duh.

From that day forward I felt empowered to learn new things by putting myself out there. In the months and years that followed, I sought out new friends and mentors who would accompany me through those tough fall and winter days in the White Mountains. I learned from my companions, and through trial and error, what equipment I needed, how to plan for seasonal challenges, and when to turn around and try again another day. Hiking became a thing that I did, not just on occasional bluebird days in the summer, but in every kind of weather imaginable. At any time of year.

As I accumulated more and more hikes I became proficient in dealing with rain, snow, wind, cold, heat and everything in between. I logged hikes in every month of the year in different parts of the country (and a few outside the country). So when I was posed with the question: have you hiked on every calendar date of the year, I figured that I had.

And when I learned that I had not, well, that was a challenge I just had to accept.