Monday, September 16, 2019

Travelogues and Tiny Trailer Travel

Howell Station Campground, Lake Red Rock, Iowa
Funnily enough, it is four years ago that I wrote a blog article entitled "All Writing Is Travelogue"--and I mean exactly four years ago. The article was published on September 16, 2015, and today, September 16, 2019, I was thinking about travelogue writing and referenced this article. Auspicious or quirky or just random, but I'll go with the flow.

In a week I'll be heading out with my tiny travel trailer on what my wife and I call "scouting missions," where I head out solo to find new campgrounds for us to visit together. When we camp together, my wife needs good cellphone receptivity so that she can use the phone's hotspot to set up her online mobile office for her business. My scouting missions are the search for beautiful camp spots that include a strong phone signal.

I'm planning in a week to leave for a couple of weeks, touring northeast Iowa and specifically scouting out state parks that will fit our family's recreation and business needs. In my earlier article about travelogue, I begin with the following premise: "When writers put down words, they take readers on a journey. In this sense, all writing falls into the 'travelogue' genre, the chronicle of a journey, first the writer's journey of discovery and then the reader's." Four years later, I have no problems with that premise, although I might add that the journeys writers and readers take can have a focus. "How-to" articles have an intellectual and practical focus. Biographical and geographical articles can have a social focus. All writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, has to provide emotional connection to the individual. Writing in some way has to be transformative.

In my "All Writing Is Travelogue" article, I reference a travel blog, The Travel Writing Life, written by a woman, Laurie Gough. It's ironic that her blog is now shut down or "parked" and no longer accessible. I remember, though, Gough's descriptive passages of her travels, and thank her for her inspiration. I hope she is doing well. One article from her blog delineated points for good travelogue writing.

Travel Writing Tips

  1. Focus on interesting, different, and special qualities. "Usually this will be a combination of the place and the people."
  2. Concrete details: "not 'fruit' but 'rotting pomegranates.'"
  3. "Stay true to who you are." Let the readers find out as you go along.
  4. Open your senses to the small things: oil-burning lamps, newly cut timber, cricket chirps . . .
  5. Characterization: "How human beings are acting on this planet never fails to enliven a story."
  6. Find the good, even in the lousy.
  7. Backstory: history, facts, past events.
  8. "Read your work aloud to yourself."
  9. Tone/mood:"Take in as much of a place as you can."
I need to take these tips to heart, and thank you again, Laurie Gough. I spent a little less than a week at the campground in the photo above, and wrote the article "Howell Station Tiny Trailer Basecamp" for my travel trailer blog, Green Goddess Glamping. I think the writing tips listed above are good to remember and to consciously apply.

A beautiful meadow setting at Howell Station
In my Howell Station article, I believe I provided backstory about the lake and Pella, Iowa. I think I missed the "tone/mood" a bit because it was, at least for me, an interesting experience to be camping below Lake Red Rock Dam. The campground is a beautiful meadow with soft morning and evening light, deciduous trees, walnuts, oak, and maple, providing shade during the afternoon. I could have captured that mood better.

Des Moines River at Howell Station Campground
The Des Moines River flows past the campground, adding its liquid background growl to the setting. However, there was always a quiet background awareness of all that water above me, behind the dam. Lake Red Rock is Iowa's largest lake, with over 15,000 acres of water. Maybe it's just me, but if I put my attention on it, I could kind of feel that mass of water lurking over me. Luckily, the five nights at the campground provided a chance for me to get used to the three-dimensionality of the landscape.

I believe I could have spent more effort adding more sense detail and description for both my basecamp experience and for my bike day rides. I added some, but more conscious application of this aspect of writing should always be part of my revising process. I included some bits about me--"staying true to me"--such as when I got lost. I could have added more characterization since I had some good interactions with a variety of people. 

I enjoyed my bike ride to Pella, although I found this fellow not much of a conversationalist. 
I'm looking forward to my tour of state parks. Northeast Iowa is an area missed by glaciers, so the terrain is different than my local area. Also, some of the parks will be on the mighty Mississippi River and should provide some spectacular panoramas. We'll see how the trip and the writing goes, but it should be a bit cooler and more pleasant--the weather, that is. Below are links for the state parks I plan to visit. I will be flexible, but I plan to spend two nights at each park. If a park is really spectacular, I will spend longer; if underwhelming, I can just do an overnighter. I feel no compulsion to have a plan and to stick to it point for point. 
Rivers, lakes, hills, caves, and the amenities of the state parks. I should have some good times. Most of the campgrounds will have modern facilities, but Wildcat Den is a primitive site, so I will have my first experience of camping off the grid with the Green Goddess--my "hard-sided tent." I have a week's work now to get my garden tucked away for the winter and to prepare for my trip. Traveling solo, I should have many opportunities to focus on the details of travelogue writing. I'm writing this now at dawn from my home, and the fields are covered with fog, dyed pale shades of pink and gray by the rising sun. It's a beautiful world, and I'm looking forward to chronicling my adventure.
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