What It Takes to Research and Write 500 Hikes for WTA
WTA's hiking guide content manager, Anna Roth, just finished writing her 500th hike. She reflects on highs, lows and what she's learned.
Earlier this year, a colleague asked me how many hikes in WTA's hiking guide I'd written. I wasn't sure. I realized I'd never counted. When I did, I was stunned to see the answer: 500 entries in the four years I've been managing the hiking guide.
Of course, my job is to update and improve the hiking guide. But a lot of my day-to-day work is small updates.
I evaluate and post corrections submitted by hikers and trip reporters. I work with land managers to ensure the information about the trails they manage is accurate, and I keep alerts current during wildfire and washout seasons. These small steps are instrumental to it being a useful tool for hikers, but in any given week, I make many more small corrections than I write new trail guides.
I also spend a lot of time editing new trail entries by our team of volunteer Hiking Guide Correspondents. They are my boots, eyes and brain when I can't be on trail, and I'm lucky to have them. They hike, research and write; I edit and post their submissions. (Collectively, this team of 30 people has written 832 hikes since I've been managing them. On a weekly basis, I publish many more of their write-ups on the site than I publish my own.)
Fact-checking and cross-referencing the correspondents, trip reports and user submissions is so important to me that the 500 original entries I have written surprised me. When did I have time for that?
I only take a few weeks each year dedicated solely to research and hike write-ups. Managing a database is primarily an office job, after all, and heading out into the field for five days means the daily updates get backlogged quickly. So I only plan a few weeks a year to immerse myself in my own trail research.
Each research trip (one per quarter) consists of five days of hiking and writing. On those trips, I'm gathering updated information for hikes all over Washington, and helping improve WTA's hiking guide, which so many hikers rely on year-round.
Despite all that time researching, it wasn't until I found that answer for my coworker that I realized how many experiences of the last five years of my life were directly connected to those research trips. I've made memories. I've faced challenges, disappointments, and accomplished things I didn't expect to.
I've learned to sleep in my car (a much drier option than tent camping when you're in a five-day torrential rainstorm). I've had a character-building tick encounter (though I'm still really scared of them). I've overworked my body and raced the sun to the trailhead (more than once). I've been grumpy when a carefully-planned route disappoints. This has also happened more than once.
Though I'm usually alone on these trips, I've also hiked with coworkers and other friends. I've spent five days researching close-to-town trails, and I've hiked more miles and elevation in one day than I thought I could. I've even gotten to do life-list loops. I've revisited old favorites, checked off childhood dream hikes, and discovered new beauty near my hometown. And by this point, I've been to every corner of the state.
Believe it or not, I'm still learning how long planning an efficient, mileage-maximizing trip takes (always more than one day). Rougher-than-expected Forest Service roads still slow me down when I'm underway, but more often it's overestimating how fast I can hike. My next trip will be sometime this winter, and I'll use what I've learned so far to plan another exciting, educational and inspiring trip.
And here's one more thing I've learned. Maintaining WTA's hiking guide is, in fact, just like hiking. Editing my correspondents' scrupulously researched contributions? That's a walk in the park. Researching other updates takes a little more research and the 10 essentials of hiking guide editing (a plagiarism checker, several sources to confirm the data's correct ... you get the idea).
Researching and writing my own hikes — that's more like a backpacking trip. It takes a detailed itinerary, careful packing, time for breaks, and a good stretch once in a while. I've also learned it's important to stop and take stock as you go.
Because you might look up and realize, "Hey, I've walked 500 miles."