Monday, October 17, 2011

Found: Characters on the trail

View from Harney Peak Lookout
In September, Hubby and I hiked our way up to Harney Peak in Custer, South Dakota. This was our second trip together. Hubby has hiked it many times.

The first time I went up, I didn't know what to expect. I recall going downhill a lot as we made our way up to what is the highest mountain top in the Black Hills at 7,242 feet.

It's worth the trek to get to the Harney Peak Lookout Tower.

I'm a wimp of a hiker. So, I spend a lot of time stopping to take pictures of trees and trails. It's a ruse really. I use this as an opportunity to catch my breath.

We met a few interesting people on the hike. I'm a people watcher. I love thinking about ways to place real people as characters in stories.

Here are a few notes I made from this hike:
  • A couple — who had stories to share about aging parents. The woman said she and her siblings ask her 80-year-old father to call when he travels. He forgets sometimes, because he's not used to being accountable to his children. Her mom knows how to operate the OnStar button in the car.
  • A youth group — This group included a duo dressed as a mustard and ketchup bottle. The adult chaperones seemed apologetic as they lined the trail during a break. I thought the adults were brave to motivate the kids to hike up to the peak. I wondered why the boys were dressed like mustard and ketchup. Did they lose a bet?
  • A family of five — A set of grandparents made the trip up with their adult children and a small granddaughter in a backpack. These young parents seemed brave to me for backpacking with their daughter. I refused to carry my 26-pound son on the six-mile round trip hike.
  • Riders — Many people ride to the peak on their horses. I didn't talk to any of them, unless you count what I said while stepping around horse poop. I'm sure the horse height adds to the adventure.
  • Two overweight men — They were sweating like crazy and had tiny water bottles. I offered them my tip to stop and take pictures. The first time I talked to them, they joked about needing CPR. Near the top, one suggested I watch the local news to see if they were taken down in body bags. One said the hike to Harney Peak was on his bucket list. I'm sure they savored their time on the top.
  • The Lookout — This building is just a shell now, but once served as a fire lookout for the region. While no one does it today, I imagine it was a full day's work to haul supplies to the top.
This lookout was built in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. 

For the record, I never heard any reports of injuries that day, so I believe those men survived the trip.

Where do you find characters for stories or story ideas?


  1. Wow! What a great post! Sounds like a fun trip, and what a lot of characters you've found. I do the same thing - see people on a bus and make up stories for them, or wonder about the logistics of how something was built and why, and whether it has a secret history (or could have!) I need to get better about remembering specific details, though, to make my characters more authentic and believable.

  2. There are characters everywhere - if we take the time to look. Fabulous post, Stacy.

  3. Usually my characters are found right here in my head ... and then they start taking on the personalities (and sometimes the names!) of people I know. (But I will deny that, of course.)

  4. @Susanna-I used to love visiting the airport to see people. I love to people watch.
    @Karen - I made notes on this back in September and loved you blog over at Krissy Brady's blog about family and friends.
    @Beth - I think it's great that the characters arrive in your head. We all need a little help from our friends, too. I found a few "fun names" while addressing 50th anniversary party invites over the summer. I love collecting names, too.

  5. A surefire sign of a writer is seeking out people's stories but also imagining where you could place them in a novel!

    We're going to be at Custer SP the week after next, but with two little kids and a father-in-law with lung problems, I doubt we'll be hiking any peaks. Still, looks like a gorgeous hike!

  6. @Julie - the views are different than your Italian hikes, but very nice. If you are in Custer around Halloween, they have a Halloween Hike on Oct. 28 for kids. It's supposed to be a mile. Might be fun. (My in-laws volunteer at the park and were talking it up during a recent visit). I could people watch all day at Mount Rushmore too.

  7. Too funny about the ketchup and mustard bottle! That's is a story to write for sure.

  8. I love that you were actively looking for character ideas on the hike! And your horse poop comment made me laugh. :)


  9. wow, what an amazing view. And all those potential ideas! So worth the hike.

  10. Enjoyed your blog very much. I'm a whimp at hiking. But, I chuckled at your people watching. You gave more info about the people, than the hike itself and what you experienced. Hope you had a great time! The views look breathtaking. You are a good at photography.

  11. I bet those ketchup and mustard boys brought hotdogs with them. You need supplies on a hike after all lol.

  12. @Janet - My love of mustard might make me omit the ketchup.
    @Debbie - glad I made you laugh.
    @Lynda - The view is always worth the hike. The story ideas - a bonus.
    @ Patricia - I'm a wimp too. That's why I didn't go into the hike too much. I'm a bit out of shape, but did better at the elevation this go round since I've been living in CO.
    @Catherine - Hotdogs. Yes. I should have fact-checked that one. lol.


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