Editing Mary Badass
"deepest river coming up. Some say waist deep. Some say can go down and find shallower place maybe. Cross tomorrow or next day. More cold rain" —Satellite message from Mary, received Sunday morning, August 22, 2021
One of the first things I do when I wake up in France is to see what messages have come in overnight from the other side of the Atlantic. Most days, there is a satellite message from Mary Anderson, sent from her campsite on the Continental Divide Trail, eight time zones away. If she is camped in a place that has Wifi or cell service, there might also be an email—or thirty! One day I downloaded over fifty gorgeous photos, each attached to a separate email, and turned them into a video using iMovie, which I then posted to this blog. The video was accompanied by one of Mary's wonderful lists summarizing the last 100 or so miles of trail.
Last week, Mary was in Yellowstone, within Wifi range. It was rainy and cold, and owing to a shortage of backcountry permits, she was waiting for her next campsite on the CDT to open up so she could resume her hike. To pass the time, she was forced to hitch (which she hates) around the park to see the sights.
When I realized she was within range, I called her cell phone and crossed my fingers that it would be switched on. Lo and behold, she answered. We talked for a bit, and she said, "Do you want to see Old Faithful?" Yes! Thus began a spontaneous 40-minute video-call walking tour of mudholes and geysers.
What a gift, to be able to visit Yellowstone with a friend when you're over 5,000 miles away.
By the time she reached Yellowstone, Mary had been on the trail for nearly three months. She had thought the park would be easy compared to other parts of the trail, but it turned out she was wrong. Temps were below 30 degrees F. at night. Her clothes were wet. She was lonely. She was unsure of the trail ahead—information was scarce—but she knew there was a scary river crossing coming up. She was within 300 miles of South Pass, Wyoming, where her trail ends, and the end of her CDT hike is not something she looks forward to.
To be Mary's editor is to worry, constantly. Because she herself is a hard worker, it is also a lot of work. Before setting out last May, Mary made the decision to post once a day. I was skeptical, to say the least. Few people can manage that pace under the best of circumstances, and she would be spending most of the next four months in the backcountry, her only reliable means of communication a Garmin device that delivers 160-character messages.
"Once a day? Are you sure?" I asked. She was sure.
They don't call her Mary Badass for nuthin'.
How it works: Mary writes a lot in her head, as she's hiking across mountain ranges and climbing over blowdowns. When she isn't too tired or in danger of using up her battery, she writes down her thoughts on a little iPad that Korongo Books purchased for her back in April. Every few days, when she reaches a resupply place or a campground that has Wifi, she sends me a batch of blog posts and photos, which I post for her.
The system isn't perfect. By the time Mary's post about Yellowstone gets published, she will have left the park far behind. We call it the pony-express method of blogging. In fact, Mary barely had time to learn how to use the iPad before she headed west, and for a 65-year-old weaver/farmer/teleskier/backpacker who is way more acquainted with looms, chainsaws, and compasses than she is with computers, the iPad is a challenge. Of course, I know there are easier ways to send and receive photos than as an avalanche of email attachments, but that's how Mary does it, and it works, and I am NOT gonna mess things up by suggesting she learn a new method while hiking 15 miles a day on the most rugged of the Triple Crown trails. What, are you kidding?
Keeping up with Mary isn't easy. Taking her, um, rather poorly typed emails (she can barely see the little screen) and turning them into blog posts means correcting the spelling, selecting a photo, writing a title, uploading everything to the webstie, scheduling the post to go live, and then sharing it via social media. I probably spend at least an hour a day editing Mary's portion of the Korongo blog. But this is what editors do. We support writers on their journeys. The work is a privilege and a pleasure.
This morning I clicked on the link to Mary's Garmin account, typed the following message, and hit "Send":
"Thinking of you this morning as you head toward river crossing. Wishing you sun, warmth, and a smooth landing. Much love, Madame T."