Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Guest post by Ovidia Yu

Ovidia Yu was born in, lives in, and writes about Singapore. After a happy childhood spent reading, drawing comics and dramatizing stories, she dropped out of medical school because while medicine is fascinating, she didn’t want to be a doctor. Books: Aunty Lee’s Delights, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials, Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge 
Coming in April: Meddling and Murder (An Aunty Lee Mystery) 
Coming in June: The Frangipani Tree Mystery 

Ovidia Yu: 
Book Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

No, I’ve never been anywhere near the Pacific Crest Trail. This writing experiment was entirely thanks to a combination of reading Cheryl Strayed's Wild and discovering the Walking4Fun website where one of the walks offered is Pacific Crest Trail.

You see, I put on 3 to 5 pounds per book that pretty much stays on after the writing is finished. Before starting my fourth Aunty Lee book I wanted something to counteract the hours of sitting at the computer with rice crackers and Snickers for company.

I had a Fitbit, but it never did anything more than add to the guilt on days when neither my word count nor step count measured up.

So this time, I signed up for the Pacific Crest Trail on Walking4Fun. I linked my Fitbit and decided I would walk 10,000 steps a day, look up how far this got me (the website has roadmaps, satellite, hybrid and terrain images as well as photos showing where you are) and read the corresponding section in Wild.

At first this was purely to motivate me to get my target steps in each day. It worked too. I set a timer on the computer that reminded me to get up and move around every hour. Previously I’d used my breaks to check email and Facebook. Now I was taking the dogs for a quick walk around the block or hopping onto the rebounder.

And there were surprising benefits. Like when I got into the rhythm, I found my word count went up along with my step count. And after a few weeks I was reaching 10,000 steps most days, just by going for short head clearing walks during work breaks.

There were unexpected writing aids from Wild too. Cheryl Strayed describing stuff she had to dump from ‘Monster’, her massively heavy backpack, made it a little easier to cut the overload of research material (everything from psychological studies of competition between spouses based on birth hierarchy to the history of ghost sightings in different areas of Singapore) I had meant to cram into the book somehow. Because though fascinating it was weighing me and the book down.

Before starting out, she had intended to walk 14 miles or more daily, but found herself starting out at an average of a mile an hour—this reminded me of my struggle to match word count goals. And to keep going even when I fell short. And that it gets easier (it did!).

And reading about her walking on despite sore muscles, bleeding blisters and dead toe nails made it easier for me to keeping writing. Not only because it helps to remember how much worse things could be, but because I started to see writing this book as a physical journey I didn’t want to give up on.

Her feeling overwhelmed at the sight of mountains in the distance while thinking of the miles still to go could have been describing me looking at my bloated messy manuscript. But as she went on step by step, I typed on line by line. Sometimes skidding backwards, sometimes taking a half day time out. Because even when you know roughly where your plot outline is taking you, you still have to do the day by day, line by line trek through unexpected landslides, mud in your path and getting lost. And then do it again tomorrow. And tomorrow.

I came to see myself as a writer exploring my relationship with my new book. We didn’t always get along, but giving up wasn’t an option.

The book is finished but I haven’t finished the PCT. According to Walking4Fun, I’m currently on the stretch between South Lake Tahoe and Donner Pass, just under the halfway point on the total trail. Last night in the trail photos, there was a happy looking yellow jacket wasp that made me feel glad to be ‘there’ and unwilling to stop. I’m the same weight now as I was when I started and I would like to go on with the trail. Yet it feels strange to log my step count without a corresponding word count.

Maybe it’s time to start the next book.

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