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Keep an Activity Journal

Yes, this is a journal. Photo by Mary Reed.

Kenn Howard has hiked 1,000 miles in a year and he can prove it. He has the log of every hike and walk he has taken since 1988, literally thousands of entries.

Why a log? “I have no idea why I started it,” says Kenn. “In 1998 I got a girlfriend and the 50 Hikes in Western Pennsylvania guidebook and just started keeping track. The hiking lasted, the girlfriend didn’t.”

Pauline Taylor-Raiff, a long-time member of Pittsburgh’s Venture Outdoors trip leader council, shares Kenn’s appreciation. “My whole journal brings back memories,” she says, “thoughts about the participants, the flora, the trail – even more so than looking at a photo.”

Maybe you’ve thought about keeping a log of your outdoor activities. Here are a few proven tips.

Make it easy. As a trip leader for Venture Outdoors and other organizations, Kenn hikes two or three times per week, so efficiency in recording the details is important. Kenn records the date, location, total mileage, who else was on the hike and a basic route description – he often writes it in less than five minutes in the evening after the outing.

Make it fun. Pauline takes another approach. She spends three or four hours per entry, recording details about the route, pressing leaves and flowers, or drawing images of the plants she saw in a large-format journal. Once the hike is over, Pauline researches plant lore and local history, adding information to her journal over a few weeks.

Keep it where it’s easy to find. Kenn keeps his log in a word-processing document right on the desktop of his computer. Pauline keeps her log books on a desk in her living room. “My logs are quite the memento now. Having visitors at home comment on them is very rewarding,” she says.

Review your log regularly. The act of writing helps us remember events better, but so does reviewing it now and again. Pauline still remembers many of her entries: a field at Laurel Hill State Park filled with bluets that from a distance she thought was a huge, blue parking lot; or the name “boo-ghosty” that a woman gave to sassafrass trees because she thought the three-lobed leaves looked like ghosts.

Kenn’s activity log provides him with a lasting sense of accomplishment. It lets him boast of the year (2005) when he hiked or walked every single day.

Use your log for different things. “When I started as a trip leader,” explains Pauline, “I was a good hiking leader but I did not have the natural history background to be a good overall trip leader.” The log helped Pauline teach herself; now she uses her logs to train new trip leaders. “And, I admit, it was fun learning to draw again,” she says.

Kenn loves to remind people of trips they’ve done together. (My first hike with him? September 22, 1998 at Oil Creek State Park.) And every year, his log doubles as a guest list: In February he throws a party for all of the people he has hiked with during the previous year.

Track whatever you do. It can be hikes, bike rides, kayak paddles, rock climbs, training walks. The key is to write it down each time. You may not match Kenn’s 1,000 mile year, but your log will be a great reminder of your outside adventures and a reason you will want to plan more.