When you’re a guidebook writer doing trail research for days on end in all kinds of weather, you sometimes wonder—is it all worth it? Sure, you get to learn a lot about the terrain yourself and see some amazing places. But the real reason you’re out there is to “guide” others. Even though all those potential users aren’t with you at the time, you’re constantly trying to see the area from their perspective, whatever that happens to be. You have to. You’ve got to be able to describe the region you’re in now so that someone else can come along later and have a good experience—a better than good experience. This is your job, and rarely do you get the feedback you really need to know for certain you’re doing it well. Sure, people will say, “I’ve got your book” or, “I really enjoyed reading about that hike to Perfect Point.” Retailers might say, “We love selling your book,” or ask, “Will you sign some copies? It helps sales.” All good stuff—but the fact is, although guidebooks are technically works of literature, they are actually better described as tools. What you really want to know is how the tool you produced is working. So it’s helpful to run into users in your natural habitat, so to speak. In the 25 years Milestone Press has been in business, we’ve never published guidebooks to just sit on the shelf. They’re meant to be used—on the roads, in the woods, and on trails of the southern Appalachians. They become dog-eared, cover-scuffed, beat-up adventure companions—and in many cases, inspirations for more adventure.
Danny Bernstein’s Hiking the Carolina Mountains
Just this week we heard from one of our hiking authors, Danny Bernstein. Danny spends a lot—a lot—of time on the trail,literally walking the talk. Over the weekend, while on an outing in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest, she ran into a couple from South Carolina. There they were with her first guidebook, Hiking the Carolina Mountains, in hand. If you know Danny, you know she is not a shy person. It didn’t take long for the couple to realize that they were in the presence of the author of their guidebook. Excitement ensued. Photos were taken (shown above!) and the book was autographed. They let Danny know they were on a quest to complete every single route in her book. That’s more than 56 hikes covering over 460 miles. Now that is feedback. Good book, good tool.
Jonah McDonald’s Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests
Not long before we heard from Danny, we got an email from another hike leader, Jonah McDonald, author of Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests. (If you think hiking and Atlanta don’t go in the same sentence, flip through the pages of Jonah’s book. Who’d have guessed there are so many great hiking trails in the metro area? Jonah did, and he’s done an excellent job letting everyone else know, too.) Jonah shared an image that made us smile: A photocopied and laminated map of the hiking trails in the woods at Mercer University, from his guidebook, was stapled to a tree at the trailhead. Evidently someone decided the description in his book was the best resource available for this hike. How’s that for an informal info kiosk? Again, proof positive of a good tool at work—not that we recommend doing this with Milestone Press books or any others. As Jonah put it at the time, “Our work lives beyond the book.”
Jim Parham’s Mountain Bike Trail Guides
Now we go back several years. Mountain bike trail guide author Jim Parham (that would be me), was riding on the Tsali Trails with his then young son. They live just down the road from that legendary destination, so spending time there was old hat for both of them. Just below collarbone hill, they stopped to chat with a couple of other trail users. After a few pleasantries were exchanged, one of the other riders asked, “Hey, are you Jim Parham?” Jim—not nearly so outgoing as say, Danny Bernstein or gregarious motorcycle author Hawk Hagebak—admitted that he was, indeed, Jim Parham. This was followed by much excitement on the mountain bikers’ part. They’d used his guides so much, they said, they recognized him from his author photo on the back of the book. Great feedback. Good tool. And as an extra for Jim, this inspired instant awe from son Sidney. “Dad, I didn’t know you were famous!”
Well, perhaps not famous in the wider world. But enough to know that all the work we do in writing and publishing good guidebooks, for those who love the outdoors, is worth it.
Jim Parham is the author of more than a dozen trail guidebooks for hikers and cyclists, and has drawn his signature maps for Milestone Press guides by other authors—including Danny Bernstein, Hawk Hagebak, and Jonah McDonald. His newest book, Wildflower Walks & Hikes: NC Mountains, will be published in April, 2018.