Call for trail journals!

Posted by: jmildner

Call for trail journals! - 02/23/16 12:25 PM

Hi everyone!

I am collecting trail journals from solo long distance hikers for a research study in the Princeton Social Neuroscience Lab. The study investigates the effects of different social conditions (from isolation to constant social connection) on the way people think about themselves and other people. The unique social experiences from solo hikers on a trail would be a valuable addition to this project. Of course there are a lot of blogs and posts available online, but those have often been written or edited after the fact. To gain better insights into the hiking experience, we would like to use copies of your original, unedited trail journals, notes, or even doodles.  Message me or email me at jmildner [at] princeton [dot] edu if you have materials like this and would like to submit them! I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

Judith Mildner
Graduate Student
Princeton Social Neuroscience Lab
Posted by: aimless

Re: Call for trail journals! - 02/23/16 01:19 PM

Some questions I would have:

Is this research project sponsored, and if so, who has sponsored it?

Is this research designed to test a hypothesis? If it is, what is the hypothesis being tested? If not, what is the intention for doing this research?

Will the materials be returned?

Posted by: jmildner

Re: Call for trail journals! - 02/23/16 02:25 PM

Thanks for your reply, aimless! Here is some more detailed info:

This project is funded by Princeton University, and there are no external grants or sponsors associated with it. Any materials you submit will only be seen by the research team, and no identifying information will be included in any reports we may publish. You can submit scans or pictures of your original materials, as long as they are not edited, so you don't have to part with your originals.

Let me give you a little bit more background about the study. Please note that you should not cherry pick what to submit based on this, I'd like to get whole notebooks/journals, not excerpts. This research is part of a larger study on the effects of social isolation. Through a set of experiments and text analyses, we are investigating how people's self concept, emotions, and social experiences (among other things) are affected by being isolated. Normally, when someone is isolated we would expect to see less frequent thoughts about the self and about other people, and less positive emotion because people typically need lots of social interaction. However, hikers are an interesting group because they choose to isolate themselves (to some extent) and it seems to be a rewarding experience for most. I am conducting this research to figure out what the role of social isolation and social interaction is in this experience.

Here's how we'll use your materials:
They will be processed for content and style using text analysis software. Since you probably experienced many different social settings on your hike (e.g. completely alone, camping with a group of people, running into others on the trail), we can compare the results from texts written in each of these settings to each other.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Call for trail journals! - 02/23/16 03:30 PM

There are tons of online trail journals on both and There is really no need to go looking further! Most of the ones I've read have been written from day-to-day and uploaded whenever the hiker has cell phone reception.

If you're looking at long distance trails only, please note that they are well-populated these days, so you will not find much social isolation! In fact, the best known of these trails now have the reputation of being "party trails"!

There's also the issue that a hiker trying to cover many miles per day in order to complete a long trail before the snow flies has very little time or energy for detailed journal entries.
Posted by: jmildner

Re: Call for trail journals! - 02/23/16 04:18 PM

Thanks for your input, OregonMouse! Let me explain why I decided to post here:

We are also in the process of gathering journals that were published online. However, it is not always possible to determine when they were written. Some people will write as they go and then upload when they can, while others write up their experiences from the last few days once they get a chance to upload, or write afterwards. This is often not made explicit in the text. I hope to get around that issue by contacting people directly, as I am doing now, and getting confirmation from them that what they are submitting was written as they went along. I might also reach people who did not want to publish their private journal online, but who would be ok with sharing it for this project. At least that's my rationale for posting here.

I'm not limiting the scope of this project to long distance trails necessarily. I welcome submissions from anyone, even if they experienced little to no isolation. I just want to get a good picture of people's thoughts and feelings during a hike. Since my focus is on social isolation, I picked the group that I thought would be most likely to experience some degree of isolation, or at least a lot of variation in the amount of social interactions. Do you have suggestions for other groups that might have more experiences like that?

The beauty of our analysis techniques is that we can actually control for length and level of detail, so journal entries of any length can help!
Posted by: BrianLe

Re: Call for trail journals! - 02/24/16 01:53 PM

"Some people will write as they go and then upload when they can, while others write up their experiences from the last few days once they get a chance to upload, or write afterwards."

I think that's exactly right, and my estimate is that the (high) majority don't write everything up "on the spot" --- it's been a long day, you're tired, you might jot down a few notes and then write more from it later. Or do so without notes at next trail stop.

For most of my long distance trips I've carried a folding blutooth keyboard. This allowed me to write up my entire entries the evening of the day described. When I later stopped using that --- in favor of a smartphone with a bigger screen (so typing 'on screen' wasn't as hard), I still wrote everything up in my tent at the end of the day.

Virtually all of my journals and journal entries are that way, and I explicitly (and successfully) fought the temptation to go back later to change anything, to "fix things up". I might in a couple of cases have gone back to fix an obvious spelling or grammar error, but that's it.

Because memory is so flakey. Writing even a day or two after the fact, things get muddled, we write some combination of what did happen, and how we felt about it and what we later heard about it, altered by whatever has happened to us in the interim. OTOH, words written that day really help bring everything back for me, put me mentally back in the journey.

So I think this approach is a good one, depending on exactly what's being done (of course)!

My journals are almost all at On the postholer site where there are multiple journals, they show up as links at the bottom of each entry.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Call for trail journals! - 02/26/16 05:40 PM

I do not think you will find much "isolation" in the trail journals. The long-distance hiking community is pretty social, rarely out of contact with each other and other hikers along the trail,for more than a few days. The CDT will offer the best chance of a little bit of isolation. The PCT and AT are pretty busy and crowded.
Posted by: jmildner

Re: Call for trail journals! - 02/27/16 10:40 AM

@Brian: Awesome, thanks!

@wandering_daisy: Thanks for the tip! I'll keep that in mind. I'm not just interested in long periods of isolation, shorter periods of 6 hours or more can be helpful too.
Posted by: aimless

Re: Call for trail journals! - 02/27/16 01:16 PM

How important is it to you that you be able to see the original surface of the journal, rather than just analyzing the words?

I have a journal from a 16 day hike in 2014. I did not leave the trail during that hike because I resupplied using cached food. It written in a very small notebook, covering approx. 90-95 small pages. That's a lot of scanning and more trouble than I care to take.

However, I have an accurate transcription, created by reading the journal aloud into MS Word via Dragon NaturallySpeaking and then manually correcting the inevitable transcription errors. Other than that it is not 'cleaned up' or edited. There was no need of that. I was a tech writer and I write in complete and grammatical sentences unless I specifically choose not to. I talk that way, too. It drives people nuts. grin

That transcription would be easy to send on to you, if it is acceptable.
Posted by: jmildner

Re: Call for trail journals! - 03/01/16 10:56 AM

Hi aimless,
That sounds great! I'd love to get that transcription from you.
Posted by: aimless

Re: Call for trail journals! - 03/01/16 05:40 PM