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How to Hike Like a Trail Guide Author

Guidebook author Tami Asars hikes to write about it. Here's what she can teach us about hiking with intention, detail, and purpose.

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There she was, hiking up another steep hill in the North Cascades, tired feet dragging and rain running under her shirt sleeves. As more reasonable hikers were sleeping in or going out to brunch on a cold October morning in Washington’s rainy western Cascade mountains, Tami Asars was out on the trail. Not just for fun—she had a deadline to meet.

As the author of several hiking guidebooks, including the acclaimed Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Washington and Fall Color Hikes: Washington, Asars’s livelihood is based on providing other hikers invaluable information about hiking trails. Many people dream of getting paid to hike, and although Asars wouldn’t trade her job for anything, she says it’s not entirely a walk in the park.

Writing a hiking guidebook takes attention to detail, concentration, and dedication to the trail. Learning to hike like a guidebook author is a valuable skill that can teach the rest of us amateur hikers how to enjoy a trail even more. To hike like Asars is to embrace every stream crossing, every larch tree glittering on a chilly fall day, every vantagepoint and every deep valley.

Hike with Purpose

When Asars hikes with the intention to share trail knowledge with her readers, she feels purpose in every step. Having an altruistic reason to hit the trails gives her the inspiration to get out in the wild no matter how yucky the weather is, how tired her legs are, or what time of year it is.

“Like threads on a blanket, my career was woven into my being, no matter what adventures good or bad it offered, and I was grateful for them all,” she says.

Exploring why you are going on a specific hike or digging into the meta questions like “Why do I like to hike?” can make you feel more connected to the trail and excited to get out the door.

Find Focus

When hiking is your job, it’s hard to separate work from pleasure. “When I hike for work, I’m thinking of everything I do from the prospect of another person doing it,” Asars says.

Although hiking in the early stages of writing a guidebook takes some spontaneity and freedom away, Asars finds that it helps her find focus and clarity. She prefers to hike alone when concentrating on writing, finding that she gets too distracted by friendly banter when a hiking buddy is nearby. Hiking solo and with fewer distractions allows her to notice things like what exactly she is seeing from a vantage point, or where each water source is located.

“If you’re visiting with someone, you’re not paying attention,” Asars says. There is certainly nothing wrong with hiking with others yet hiking solo or in silence can provide a meditative experience that may give deeper meaning to hiking.

Pay Attention to the Details

“Unlike hiking for leisure, hiking for work used a different reader-focused mindset,” Asars says. “I paid much closer attention to details, such as stony or root-filled trail-tread, junctions, challenging obstacles, steep sections, grueling downhills, viewpoints, creek crossings, and other key features I’d need to describe the trail.”

Not only can paying attention to small details on a trail make you feel more connected to nature, but it can also prevent you from suffering when you’re tired, bored, or feeling regular aches and pains. Developing a sense of awe in the little things, noticing features that you might normally ignore, or thinking about a trail as how you would describe it to someone can help pass the time when you need it most.

See the Trail as if it Were Your First Time

If Asars travels to a new hiking destination, she prefers to hike for pleasure rather than for work. However, she is able to find joy out of trail repetition when she’s working on a new guidebook. She likes repeating a trail that she has done many times with the intention of writing about it as if she knows nothing about it.

While working on her latest book, Fall Color Hikes: Washington, Asars repeated hikes she had done many times, with the fresh perspective of hiking to find beautiful, autumnal things in nature and to share those seasonal details with others. Instead of taking familiar trails for granted, which is easy to do, hiking them at a specific time of year gave Asars the pleasure of seeing the trails from the eyes of someone who had never been there before.

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