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    Post-Trip Thoughts about my journaling system    Towns to Bounce a Laptop


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My Journal System

I went electronic for my journal. Many PCT hikers who keep journals hand-write them and then mail them to be transcribed. Transcription is not a task I'd ask of any of my friends.

Instead, here's my setup: Palm m125Palm folding keyboard

  • Palm m125 handheld (Why?)  
  • Palm folding keyboard
  • A laptop in my bounce box.

I would unfold the keyboard, slip the Palm on the back, and type away. Each day I would create a Palm memo (or two). When I would get to my laptop, I'd sync with my Palm which would put my memos into Outlook. Then I'd breifly edit and spellcheck my posts, add them to Dreamweaver and send the files to my site.

I made sil-nylon bags with blue closed-cell foam liners for my Palm and my keyboard to protect them from moisture, dust, and shock on the trail. When it started getting wetter, I put the whole works (silnylon bags, foam and devices) into a big Ziplok for added protection. I think it was a good idea.

I had originally thought I'd have a variation of this arrangement with someone off trail using Blogger. I'm glad I didn't because it would have been too much trouble, I think. Plus, I look at Tangent's use of Blogger for a PCT journal. (His hike months are the same as mine. Look at his Archive and chose any month from 4/02-9/02.) It's too hard to get the dates straight with Blogger.
Tangent says he'd use if he did it again. I haven't looked at it yet, but Tangent's way more up on this stuff than I am.

Post-Trip Thoughts

Using the Palm Day-to-Day

It's romantic (at least to me) to think of stopping for a break and writing down my thoughts. It did not happen much on my PCT thru-hike. I don't know if it was because of the setup time of the Palm and keyboard, or because all I wanted to do on my breaks was, uh, take a break.

I'd journal at night, often at dusk or after dark. Many people journaled at this time, headlamps aglow. I found it more enjoyable to use the backlight of the Palm and keep my headlamp off. I think it used less battery juice too, but I did not test it out. Using only the backlight assumes you can touchtype.

If you are thinking you can journal with only the stylus, think again. Writing all I had to write with Graffiti would have been nearly impossible. I know that Palm is coming out with models that have the whole screen area backlit, but if you have a Palm that doesn't have that feature, it's nearly impossible to write in the dark, so you have to use headlamp battery.

If you think you won't be journaling in the dark on a thru-hike, you will. I don't know anyone who used prime hiking hours for any amount of journaling. You're hiking...remember?

I always had a backup set of batteries (2 AAA) reserved for my Palm. I also had three spare AAA for my headlamp. The headlamp batteries were also a backup backup for my Palm. I used my spares for the Palm many times on the trip and used my original alkaline batteries for my Black Diamond Moonbeam (?) 'till the end.
I used rechargeable AAA NiMH (700 mAh) for the Palm, and bounced a charger. It worked well. Alkalines certainly last longer, but two sets of the NiMH (I forget what the real name is -Nickel Hydride??) were fine for the intervals between my bounce box. NiMH don't hold a charge well.


My Palm died right as I hit Oregon. I think it was because I dropped it in Ashland, but it wasn't a bad drop. I didn't lose any data at that point, but I'd just sent my laptop on, so I had no data until I next saw my laptop. No phone numbers. No keyboard capabilities. I was journaling by hand AND carrying the extra weight -about a pound. Died is not the right word though. It did a hard reset.

I got everything back in order then had to do a hard reset again, this time on the trail. I lost data that was not backed up: 4 days of journaling. That really sucked, and, again, I was carrying a pound of dead weight.

The keyboard started acting up too, putting an X in front of every A. Very annoying.

Palm was great though. They replaced both the Palm and the keyboard for free. I did an advanced exchange for the Palm, so that cost me around $25. Once I had my Palm, the keyboard, and my laptop, which was at White Pass in Washingtion, all was well with my journalling system, and I had no more problems.

One issue to be aware of is that the keyboard software can not be installed onto the Palm through a backup card. It has to be installed through a sync. Palm said it might be able to be restored from a backup card, but to not rely on it. I had only a 16MB MMC data card, not a full backup card. Simply copying the keyboard application from the card to the Palm did not work.

If I had to do it again, and could change only one thing, it would be getting a backup card. When I was hiking the Sierra and had almost a months' worth of exciting journal entries, I was very anxious about losing the data. I sighed a big sigh of relief in Tuolumne Meadows as my sync finished. A backup card would have relieved all my anxiety. Note that a plain ol' MMC card can copy applications, but not data files. The special backup card is the only thingI know of that can back up files, like addresses and journals, in the field.

Stroller had a Palm VII, a gift from his Mom. It features wireless email, etc. He got signal a lot of placed I was hiking with him. It was pretty cool. I didn't need to be in touch that much (neither did he), but wireless access was fun and cool. On Mt. Whitney, I typed an email to my Dad on my Palm with the keyboard, sent the email to Stroller via infrared, and he sent it out right there. The day hikers were further impressed. He did lose all his data after a dunking, but the hardware recovered.

Since I've been back, I found Man & Machine's Palm keyboard. It's waterproof, 2 oz, and flexible. I would seriously consider this unit.

Manual Journaling

I journaled manually for all of Oregon and a quarter of Washington. It was not that bad in the field, but it increased my time in front of the laptop once I got into town. See next section.

Maintaining a Web Site from the Trail

I spent a lot of time in town stops working on my web site. At first it was fun to proclaim that World Headquarters was up and running. Then it just got be a chore.
It was great to have everybody following along and being up-to-date, but I paid a price. I'd stay up late, I was always be rushing (usually to get the laptop into the mail to its next destination), and I caught some flack from other hikers about not getting away from it all.

I don't think I'd bounce a laptop again, or at least not as frequently. Aside from the stress it created in town, I spent a lot on postage and insurance. (My assessment on best towns to bounce to.) I think I would have someone in the wired world doing the work for me. If I did bounce my laptop infrequently, it would be to do my own touch up work on the site, to back up my data, and to have the luxury of having a World Headquarters a few times on the trail.

I'm not technically savvy enough to set up a system that can recieve emails and post them to a site, but that seems like it would be ideal. Let me know if you want to develop this (or know of an existing system). I have feedback on features I'd like to see.

Why I chose the Palm I did

I had a Palm III, and 2MB of storage wasn't enough. In looking at replacing it, I wanted to retain the replaceable, rather than rechargeable, battery feature so that I know I'd always have juice.
I looked at the Handspring Visors, but was not convinced of the quality.
Looking at the selections of Palms available when I made my decision (late 2001), the Palm m125 was the logical choice.

If I was doing it now, I'd look at rechargeable batteries and getting a small, light charger, like those at Aurora

Color screens=exhausted batteries


Blogger is a great technology if you can be at a computer every day. If you're on the trail, and you have two people posting, it can be messy. Blogger does have, according to Tangent, big security issues.

The basic idea is good: use Blogger from any computer with Internet access, like a library.

Towns to Bounce a Laptop

It's hard to tell from the Town Guide what towns might be laptop friendly. Here's some help.
*** -Best
**   -OK
*     -Skip

BEST-PO nearby, so carrying the box isn't a huge problem. Cheap hotels that have phone lines.
OK -PO not great or not good accomodations.
Skip -It's too hard here. A lot of hotels, at least in 2002, didn't have phone lines at all.

Warner Springs ***
Idyllwild **
Big Bear City*** (if you stay at the Firehouse and if they let you grab a phone line)
Wrightwood* (unless you find a room with a phone line)
Agua Dulce***
Kennedy Meadows*
Independence* (unless you find a room with a phone line)
Tuolumne Meadows*
Kennedy Meadows North at Sonora Pass*
Echo Lake Resort*
Truckee near Donner Pass**(I don't know where the PO is in relation to cheap hotels)(Pooh Corner may make it a ***-ask them.)
South Lake Tahoe***(Well... I don't know where the PO is, but this is a good place to take many days off, so having the laptop would be good.)
Sierra City*
Belden* (but Quincy***)
Old Station*
Burney Falls State Park*
Dunsmuir*** (Shasta***)
Seiad Valley*
Ashland***(Unless you stay at the hostel, then *)
Crater Lake*
Shelter Cove*
Sisters (?) (Look into phone situation at hotels. Town is small enough.)
Eugene** (Cheap hotels far away by foot from PO)
Ollalie Lake Guard Station*
Cascade Locks***
White Pass*
Snoqualime Pass***

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