Beyond Our Comfort Zones
The process of backpacking, and becoming a skilled backpacker is iterative. It involves experiences layered on top of experiences, and the gaps are full of mistakes and regrets. Sprinkled throughout those lessons are small victories and triumphant memories of trips where you remembered everything and were mostly comfortable the entire time.
I enjoy this process, and like most projects in my life, it is artistic. Artistic not in the sense of the product but the process. You must sit and try and make and try and fail and learn and work through a state-of-being to the point that you access a different life within yourself; an entirely new way of thinking and existing. When you reach that point, there is still so much to learn and hone and develop — and that work ahead of you doesn’t daunt you, it has become a part of why you enjoy this.
This project, The Ones Who Walk, has introduced numerous variables into my hike. The most prominent of these is technological difficulties, which I’ll explain more later in the post. The other is processing of the content that I am gathering.
A thru-hike of the AT is a project within itself. The trip involves hours of logistical planning before you leave and hours of planning, each day of the trip itself. Food re-supply, water sources, impending weather and physical care are all things a hiker thinks about throughout every single day. Adding this recording project on top of that has been a struggle, but one that I think is worth it. Nights like this, in a hotel room, warm, well-fed and in the company of family, I listen to the recordings I’ve gathered and I feel the impact of what I am attempting to share. I don’t regret this one bit.
After a day of hiking, and recording I try to spend time with my thoughts. Processing what I am recording is an integral part of my writing process. I have found that journaling is a huge effort after 6-8 hours of hiking, then setting up camp, tending to Sadie, cooking dinner and connecting with other hikers. I am constantly balancing between the desire to be present with my hike and to work for this project.
I’m happy with the balance I have struck, and proud of myself for that. As I was sorting through files this evening, I came across a conversation with Van Gogh and Toast [trail names]. The three of us were hiking and I flipped on the microphone to capture their thoughts on journaling, reading and the effort of sharing a hiking journey with others.
I don’t find this project infringing on my experience — because this journey is what I make of it. I have manifested this dream with the support of others and I get so much joy and satisfaction by sharing it through my writing and recordings.
That being said, I have encountered difficulties related to storage and transfer of the audio files. I’ll admit I didn’t test the process and hone it down as much as I could have before I left, but to some extent that would not have mattered.
You cannot recreate the trail at home. There is no way that I could have prepared for low-quality wi-fi, spotty cell service, the unpredictable relationships between various pieces of technology and their respective apps and programs.
I have finally found a set up that is working and I’m incredibly excited. It looks nothing like what I planned, but being flexible and managing expectations is how I work through things out here.
My original plan was to carry my handheld zoom H-1 microphone. This was a gift a few years ago and it’s made for a project like this: light, for recordings out in the field, high quality audio and a simple USB cord to transfer files (or microSD card). I really wanted to use this piece of equipment and thought I would bring and iPad along to deal with files. The iPad isn’t the lightest thing to bring, but it’s lighter than a laptop and with all the audio work and blogging I was planning I thought it would be great.
Turns out, iPads are in a war against USB cable devices and won’t cooperate. I tried USB adaptors that fit into the lightening port on apple products. I tried a powered USB converter. I tried a microSD card reader that had a lightening port stick. I ordered a wifi box that would allow wireless transfer of the files from thee USB cable. Nothing worked.
Finally I realized that I had to choose apple products or thee handheld microphone. Considering that the things I own are already apple, I decided to make them work, and had to ditch the handheld.
I’ve sacrificed audio quality a bit but I’ve been able to capture conversations and share them successfully.
I then purchased a zoom microphone for the iPhone. This goes into the lightning port jack at the end of thee phone and records directly onto the phone. This I thought, was great, I could definitely transfer files from the phone to the iPad much more easily.
The first town stop was Hiawassee, GA. The wi-fi quality was terrible and I wasn’t able to upload any files from the app on my phone to the iPad so I could incorporate them into the blog. [*I’ve used two apps before finding the best process, hence why some recording links take you to Soundcloud and others to Dropbox.] This felt like a failure, but I had a plan: wifi hotspot. I told my parents to bring it, hoping that a boosted wifi signal of my own would allow me to upload files.
By this time, over a week of the trail had gone by. I will say that progress feels slow out here because I can only test this process every few days. The weight [2.2 pounds] of the iPad was beginning to weigh on my mind each mountain I climbed.
By the time I got to her next town, Franklin, NC, I had brainstormed a new plan. Why do I need the iPad if the files are on my phone? I like the keyboard. I can’t write enough of my thoughts and entire blog articles from my phone. So I distilled my desire for a keyboard, with the efficiency of using my phone and in Fontana Dam, before entering the Smoky Mountain National Park, my parents brought me a iClever Bluetooth keyboard I ordered. It folds to the size of my phone and allows me to type entries on my phone. The wifi booster I got back in Franklin is also still with me and helps get files from my phone to the blog.
It’s been a process, but it’s working. I’ve got more content than time to process, so pieces will come slowly, but they are coming and I can’t wait to share.
I don’t feel discouraged by the obstacles I’ve encountered. I’m not regretful of the project I’ve taken on — I only feel pride in my work so far, my miles so far [238 miles], and excitement at the ways I am growing, changing and exploring.
During the first week of hiking, in Georgia, I met Justin. He’s behind me now, moving at his own pace, and I’m not sure if he’s gotten a trail name or if he’s even still hiking. He reminded me early on, through his story, that we don’t grow unless we push ourselves out of our comfort zones.