Writerly Wednesday: The Hike



We stared up at the steep, chain-linked climb that began the six-hour trek to the top, at Kjerag, Norway.

Were we really doing this? 

A sick feeling settled in my stomach. I’d read about people getting stuck or lost on the trails at the plateau, which are sparsely marked with stones, and the chains, which aren’t always still attached to the rock faces we’d be climbing up. Or… the ever-present edge of the trail, which was a long way down to the fjord. What if we got lost and couldn’t find our way back before dark? 

“We don’t have to do the hike,” said Matt.


I shook my head. For some reason, I had to get to that boulder. The hike was long and beautiful in places. After a while, we got used to hefting ourselves up steep inclines by the chains. We rested in green valleys with sheep grazing in them and swore our way up the last crazy-steep set of rock faces until we reached the plateau, which was cold, silent, stunning.

I lined up to stand on the boulder. I got out of line. I lined up three times before I forced myself to step out on the narrow rock ledge, 3,228 feet above Lysefjorden anyway. The chain that used to help hikers leverage themselves out on the rock was broken, so I had to feel my way along the smooth ledge. Standing on the boulder with the wind whipping around me was intensely powerful, but not as much as what happened next.


Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As I turned to leave, I wobbled. My legs were unaccustomed to so much physical exertion. I looked down. And then I panicked.

I was stuck on the boulder. 

I had envisioned myself doing yoga poses like all of the people on Pinterest and Instagram, waving flippantly at the camera as if standing so high and vulnerable was no big deal. Instead, I felt the hot shame of tears streaming down my cheeks.

“Hey! It’s okay–grab my hand!” shouted a voice.

I looked and saw that the other hikers had formed a sort-of make-shift chain with their arms. With the help of a group of strangers that I will probably never see again, I was back on solid ground. We hugged.

It’s not About the Climb

At first, I felt embarrassed, but on the way down I saw hikers helping each other all along the way. Somehow, in my frenzy to make it to the top, I had missed this camaraderie of fellow travellers.

Writing takes you places within yourself. If a good writing process means making yourself vulnerable to get to those authentic places, it is equal parts about reaching out and asking for help when you get stuck.


Have you ever been stuck somewhere terrifying before?






Miracles and Mountains, Or Finding the Fantastic in the Ordinary


I was in the mountains when I first realized that miracles could exist.  Not in the biblical sense, the way I saw it, but in that visceral feeling you get when something is real and at the same time magical.

Our rental car on the ride up to Mt. Cook was a nice one.  One of those shiny, tank-like creations with the headlamps that look like cartoon shark eyes.  We’d been in the car for several hours, already and everywhere around us the fields had sunken into valleys so deep you had to crane your neck out the window to see the bottom.  Did I mention that we had forgotten our map in the previous night’s hotel room? Oh yeah, and (once again) we were feeling like we might have taken a wrong turn.

It started quietly at first, a flash of cotton speeding past my window.

I blinked. “Was that a bush?” I asked?

Except a moment later, two more muddy “bushes” sped past the other side of the car, their milk-coloured ears flicking, heads bobbing up and down as they ran.

Matt broke out into a laugh.  “They’re sheep!” he said, driving slower.

Sheep poured over the horizon, hundreds of them crowding up the nearby hills and in every direction of the road.

“It’s already two,” I said, trying to keep the nerves from jangling into my voice.

Matt turned off the engine.  Frowned.  “Hm,” he said.

“They’ll cancel our reservation!” I said.

Then he turned to me with one of his mischievous grins that got me hooked on him in the first place, opened the door and took off running down the road after the sheep.

“Move along little sheepies!” he hollered.  “Git! Git!”  He turned around to wave me out into the crowd, his wild, curly hair the only thing setting him apart from all of the wooly heads.

I laughed.  The spell was broken.

We did reach the mountains, eventually.  They were only around the next hillside, we soon learned.  Together, we looked up at Mt. Cook, stepping out of the car into the biting winter air.

It’s not like I hadn’t seen mountains before.  In Christchurch and the country that surrounds it the mountains rise out of the fields like silent spectators.  Can a mountain—or a herd of sheep—be a miracle?  Miracles, I think, are those ordinary moments that make you realize the wonders of the mundane.

This time, seeing the mountain was different.  It had the feeling of an end to a journey, the way Frodo must have imagined himself when he finally reached Mordor.   In a few short weeks, we would fly home and the future seemed uncertain.

“It seems far,” I said, as we headed down the boardwalk, the mountain looming icily before us.  I had to shield my eyes with my hand to see it clearly.

Matt jogged ahead, then stopped to peer at Mt. Cook himself.  “We can make it,” he said.

I smiled.  I didn’t know for sure if we could–make it, that is–but I took off down the empty path anyway.  “Maybe so,” I said.  “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Snapshots of Wisdom: Pythons, Spiders & the Uphill Climb

Photo by: Chen Siyuan

A couple of years ago, I was camping in the Australian Outback.  (You might have heard about my encounter with a python.  Spoiler alert: I totally won).  When I was there, my husband and I ended up doing a lot of hikes.

Fact: I strongly dislike hiking.

Fact: A sign at the beginning of the trail that claims to be a “moderate” hike is totally bluffing.

I can recall one hike where, amidst the poisonous neon blue spiders and the miles of searing hot sand, I was getting particularly tired of the uphill climb.  We had been hiking for a few hours now and as the unforgiving sun seared into the backs of our necks, I huffed and puffed my way through the rocky wasteland.  Might I add that we were totally and irrevocably lost?

“There’s no end!” I whined.  “We’re just going to be stuck out here forever!”

The husband was equally unimpressed, but ever the optimistic soul that he is, he insisted that we push on.  “The trail has to end sometime,” he said.  To which I replied “Yeah, when a crocodile has eaten us.”

Without a hint of irony, my husband said “In this part we’re more likely to die of heat exhaustion, I think.”

After some deliberation and a lot of backtracking, we did eventually find our way out of the sandy wasteland.  What we found was a pretty awesome sight:

Ubir, Australia

Ubir, Australia

Every once in a while, when I am knee deep in stories that don’t want to come together, I have to remind myself that all of the best adventures happen when we go a little further, step outside of our comfort zone and work hard to dig deeper.  It’s only when we force ourselves to keep going that we are rewarded.

Lost at Sea, or How to Make Plot More Exciting

Surfing at Sumner Beach, NZ

I don’t know about you, but I like to avoid being uncomfortable.  I like being in control of everything.  So when my New Zealand roomies suggested that we go surfing a few Christmases ago, I could think of all kinds of reasons to stay out of the water.  What’s that you say? Sharks and jellyfish and undertows? To say “oh my” would be an enormous under statement.  But when I watched them out there, skimming along the sun-dappled waves, I felt a tug of curiosity that led me to a board rental truck.  Before I knew it, I was floating in the icy water with a board attached to my foot and feeling a little bit like a package of shrink-wrapped fish in those briny wet suits surfers wear.

Paddling out into the waters was fun; the moment when I turned my board around and felt the swell of waves rush up underneath me was scary.  Blinking back the burning salt water, I rushed towards the beach face-first.  There was still the matter of standing up.  Shakily, I attempted to pop up onto the board like everyone else, but instead slipped under the waves.  For a few seconds, I was tugged side to side as I clawed my way back to the surface, the leafy hills and colourful houses shrunken and far away.

I was thinking about this moment the other day when I found out something that made me realize I’m not always going to be in control.  It wasn’t a horrible moment.  Nobody is dying here.  But it was a moment of discomfort. Because everything eventually circles back around to writing for me, I began to think of something that I have been starting to realize: writing a story can be uncomfortable in a similar way.  To make readers feel the excitement as if it is really happening to them, we have to feel it first when we are writing.  This doesn’t always happen when we “begin with the end in mind.” Instead, we have to focus on getting lost in our writing—drifting towards ideas we didn’t plan.

Like washing ashore after a bout of being trapped underwater, when you reach that moment where you land on an exciting plot twist it feels like warm sunshine, sand and a cool breath of fresh air.  Yes, it is scary not to know where you are going, but it makes for some damn good suspense, doesn’t it?  It’s okay to be uncomfortable.  It’s just the way life—and writing—happens.  But it’s not so bad.  Let yourself get swept off in the drift and see where it takes you.  I can’t promise you won’t get swept under the waves, but I guarantee it will be one wild ride.

The Road Not Taken: Plotting Excitement

Foot Path in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The roads in Iceland look more like winding, gravel foot paths than, well, roads.  Amidst the moon-like lava rock there are plenty of places to wander off the track and fall into a hole (or something like that); this is why they tell you to stay on the main roads and don’t go off the path.   So when we began driving around the outskirts of Reykjavik, we were being careful, but also we didn’t really expect to get into trouble in the city.


It had been a few hours already when we saw the lighthouse in the distance.  Letting our curiosity be our guides, we started driving towards it.  It was a pretty drive—the water was on our left and the puffins were out fishing.  In the distance, was an island with unusual looking houses on it.  Transfixed by the mystery of the lighthouse, we wound along various roads, trying to find a way to the pier where it stood.  And slowly there started to be some unusual sights for a road: suddenly we were much closer to the water than we had been and now instead of grass on one side there was grass on two sides.  A team of soccer players jogged by.  One of them gave us a strange look, which I think roughly translates into “look at those morons on the walking path.” A moment later, we saw a sign depicting a car with a big red “X” through it followed by a little stick person walking.

Being that we were in the middle of a park, there was no place to go but forwards.  So we did.  We got a lot of weird looks, but we laughed like crazy when we finally got back to the road.  That’s the thing with straying from the path.  Sometimes, you have to step away from your plans—or outline—and follow that mystery, because you never know what great story will emerge from the adventure. Sometimes, the best discoveries when writing come from following the unexpected twists in our imaginations.

Paranoia, Planes and the Bigger Picture

Hawaii from the Air

Airplanes freak me out.  It’s not that I think they are going to drop out of the air or even that they might explode; it’s more like a building certainty that SOMETHING will go wrong as soon as I am locked away in the cabin.  There is no rational evidence behind these fears at all.  It’s just a paranoia of mine (of which I have many).  Bleary-eyed and cold from the jarring trip through security, I am always searching for some sort of sign that will tell me “Lauren, get off the plane.  It’s going to implode when you buckle your seatbelt.”  But, of course, that never happens.

Instead, I find my seat and begin eating mints like a crazy person, because this is calming.  When the engines rev up for take off, I can’t help but close my eyes.  Are the wings still in tact?  Is that a new kind of whirring I hear?  Possibility is the enemy of paranoia at times like this.  Teeth clenched, hands clamped to the armrests I can barely breathe.  Inevitably, the plane always takes off.  Sure, there are lots of horrible things that could happen, but they never do.  It is only when we are rising upwards that I find my courage to look down at my departure and take in the sights below.

Thinking about the views from an airplane got me thinking about my habits as a writer.  Often, when I am stuck on a piece, I close the file—I might print it out first—but then I put it away.  There doesn’t seem to be much closure in this act of “filing,” so why do I do it?  I used to tell myself that it was so I could start a new project.  Recently, I’ve been thinking that instead of simply putting away stagnant thoughts, I need to try and finish them.  I guess you could say it’s a little bit like opening my eyes in those last moments of ascent: if you keep your eyes closed for the whole time you miss the bigger picture.  And if I am going to write truthfully, I will have to see first what the work has become before I can see where it will go next.

Roadblocks: Or that Time I Ran Over a Python

Cave painting at Ubir, Australia

Let me tell you a little something about roadblocks: they aren’t really like writers’ block, although I guess you could count that as one.  Roadblocks can take any shape—in your mind or elsewhere.  Right now, I have hit a road block with my writing.

…Did I ever tell you about the time that I hit a python?  It was just after dusk, and we were rambling along the red dirt road from Ubir, where we had just watched the sunset.  If you’ve ever been to the Australian Outback, you probably have some idea of what the terrain is like: flat, red and full of creepy crawlies.  You are not supposed to go night driving in a rental caravan, say the rangers.  Being young, foolish and eager to soak up as much sights as we could, we went driving at night.  The roads were quiet for a long time before we heard the noise:


It could have been a speed bump.  Peering out of the window, I blinked.  Speed bumps don’t writhe around.  Nor are they a pale, creamy white with yellow spots.  Or maybe they are in some places, but I’ve never heard a speed bump hiss.

Turning back to my husband, the driver, I said “That wasn’t a speed bump.”

“Oh,” he said.  “So what was it?”

“A snake.”

In comparison to other roadblocks, a snake is an unlikely one to encounter, but encounter it we did.  The thing about roadblocks is this: most of the time, they are in your head.

Five Ways to Get Around a Roadblock:

  1. Get a writing buddy who keeps you accountable: for me it is my cat, Salem, who bites my feet when I stop typing.  True story! (Or sometimes my husband, who bribes me with food).
  2. Meditate
  3. Do Yoga
  4. Record yourself talking: maybe you are a secret genius and you will surprise yourself with what you hear.
  5. Take a shower: things getting kind of chilly in the brain department? Take a warm shower.  At the very least, you’ll smell nice and fresh.

So what did I do with my roadblock? Maybe the PETA people won’t like this very much, but we just kept on driving.  After all, when there is an angry snake outside your car, do you really want to go outside?  Or do you tell yourself “I’ll do better next time” and keep on driving?