I vividly remember writing my “first book” when I was 10. It was about tentacled sea creatures turning people into blood thirsty zombies. Very on brand. There was a chase scene with characters clinging to gutters outside a second floor window, exactly how I planned to escape my bathroom when tentacle-zombies did, in fact, arrive.
I typed the story on our massive Gateway computer (remember when technology was marketed with cow print?) and printed several copies. I cut and pasted the pages into a blank hardcover book my mom bought at a craft store. The deeply underwhelming claw marks I drew on the cover convinced me not to illustrate further.
I would lay in bed at night, staring at the book. It didn’t matter that it looked sloppy as hell (way too much glue) and made not a lick of sense. I was mesmerized that I made this thing. I turned an idea into something I could touch. I vowed to my child self that I’d write a “real book” one day.
After too many start-stops over too many years, I’m finally making it happen.
I’m writing a book.
A quick recap for those new to the blog: in 2016, I moved across the country for my husband’s PhD program, only to discover multiple infidelities and emotional manipulations. Divorce soon followed, completely shocking my system. I felt my inner flame–the essential whatever that makes me me–flickering out.
Turns out there’s no better time to dream big than when your waking life feels like a nightmare. With zero backpacking or camping experience, I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail; 2200 miles of transformative steps in 5.5 months. My body finished tattered and bruised, but my flame burned brighter than ever.
I used my AT momentum and hunger for the wilderness to pursue a job tour directing in Alaska. This in turn led to my current house sitting gig in Fairbanks, providing the personal space and bandwidth to write about the AT. It all has a full circle feeling.
Each chapter of the book will focus on a major insight I gained from leveraging a shitty situation into the most profoundly positive undertaking of my life. The style will be part travelogue, part motivational nudge to open yourself to adventure. It’s a fun challenge cherry picking which AT and Alaska stories best illuminate my thoughts.
One of my major driving factors is being a vocal advocate for the queer hiking and outdoors community. Our perspectives are too sparsely represented, on-trail and in publication. Growing up, popular culture and society taught that me gay men could be a couple things: victims; haunted by the specter of death; jester-like, dimensionless accessories, at best. Rarely did I see openly queer people accomplishing heroic feats.
Representation matters. When you don’t see yourself represented in a variety of spaces–due to your gender, sexuality, skin color, body shape, socioeconomic status, etc–a lack of creative foresight can burrow into you. Until recently, I assumed wilderness adventures were for other people; people who didn’t act, sound, or exist like me.
I hope to spark momentum in anyone who feels like an outsider to their ambition. Much as I adore thru hiking, it certainly isn’t a dream for everyone*. Whatever your personal Katahdin looks like, you deserve to summit it.
I will post updates about my process along the way. I’m currently reading some books on developing healthy writing habits and introductions to the self-publishing world, a route I’m likely to take. I have a loose outline in place. Next up, I’ll complete a mind mapping (brainstorming) exercise to flesh out each chapter.
Some topics I feel particularly energized about this week: the surprising psychological advantages of being a novice, diving headfirst into new communities, turning my inner judgey-asshole voice into a cheerleader, and letting go of pain in light of growth.
Thanks for reading! Enjoy winter while it lasts.
Follow me on Instagram @Jaketreks for photos of my winter in Alaska.
*Prospective hikers will surely pick up some useful tips, though this will not be the main focus of my writing. Many step-by-step accounts of the AT already exist. I read AWOL on the Appalachian Trail in preparation and found his technical prose quite helpful in conceptualizing what a thru hike entails.