Q&A with Matt Simmons

Q&A with Matt Simmons

With only a few days left until the official launch of "Outsider's Guide to Prince Rupert, 2nd edition," Chris Armstrong, owner of Muskeg Press, had a brief chat with the author, Matt Simmons (pictured above, in the middle of a hike).

They discussed what's new in the latest edition, how the book came to fruition, and the benefits of getting lost on a hike. Read the full interview below.

Chris Armstrong: Matt, you and I have known each other for a while. You used to be a columnist with the Prince Rupert Daily News, and you did a bit of writing for Muskeg News.

Matt Simmons: I did indeed. The Daily News was a lot of fun. I did a column for the Daily News called “The Outsider” which is where the whole thing got started, really.

CA: Well that’s an excellent segue. Let’s talk about that column and how it led to the book.

MS: Basically the column was once a week, providing a trip report of sorts for a local trail. I got to explore Prince Rupert on foot and then come up with some fun description of my – generally – misadventures. And that was then published along with my photos. And eventually I had enough of those that it felt like it should take a larger life and the book kind of fell into place from there.

CA: So it was just like magic, it just fell into place? Not a lot of work required on your end?

MS: No work whatsoever. I’d already gone out and done quite a number of hikes and written a bunch of material and taken photos and generally just had a grand old time doing it. And then once I decided I was going to do a book, I had to of course go and hike those trails that I’d already hiked all over again in order to get GPS data for mapping and pull all those pieces together to actually make a book that could be used by prospective trail users.

CA: It sounds to me like it was a labour of love.

MS: It was indeed a labour of love. I spent a lot of time out on the trails, and then taking that material and over the course of fall, winter…and I started pulling it together into an actual usable format.

CA: And that book was published in 2011?

MS: That’s right, yeah. April of 2011 we finally released the first edition. And it was very well-received. I had a lot of support from the community.

CA: Yes, and I’ve heard a lot about the book here. Actually, that’s why Muskeg Press is publishing it, because we know there’s such a big call for it. So why – if you don’t mind me asking – why did it go out of print in 2016?

MS: Basically I did everything myself the first round. I don’t even want to call it self publishing, but technically it was a self-published book. I essentially formed a publishing company to do it, and put it out. I printed around 1,000 copies, and I received some funding support from a couple of organizations, including the Prince Rupert Backcountry Society and a couple of others. But basically it was, as you say, a labour of love. And basically scraping by to make it a reality, and when every single copy had sold, that was that.

CA: And it went out of print in 2016?

MS: Yeah, almost to the day, in face, when we sold the last copy.

CA: Interesting, just like Shakespeare. He was born and died on the same day, apparently.

MS: Indeed. I love that the resurrection of this book and your business all came about sitting in a playground.

CA: That’s right! I was on a trip in Smithers, and – were we talking about something else and this sort of came up?

MS: I think so. It was just a random conversation about something I wanted to do, and you said you wanted to get Muskeg back up and running. And here we are.

CA: I'd like to talk about the form of the book. But before I do that, why don’t you tell me what’s new in the second edition?

MS: Well one of the new things is obviously the Rushbrook Trail, which has been completely re-done. The Kaien Island Trail Society and the Rotary Club were able to finally adjust the significant erosion issues along that trail. When the first edition came out, that trail was officially closed. People still used it – that’s why I put it in the book – but this time around it is…well, it’s a hot spot. People are walking there all the time. And it’s very accessible and a nice walk along the waterfront. And then actually for an article in Muskeg News, I was directed to go walk First Creek trail, which I hadn’t even done. And it wasn’t in the first book and it was exactly what I said on that trail – this should be in the book. So that’s in there now. And the one I’m really excited about is the Ballmer Ridge trail, which starts over by Ridley Island and connects up to the Mount Hays road through some amazing terrain. And you get to see some old World War Two forts while you’re at it. And Tall Trees, of course, was re-done. That one was taken on by a recreation society. So that was done with a budget and it was done extremely well. It had been there for forever, or for a very long time, but by the time I was hiking it for the first book…well, I called it the “Devil’s Club forest” because that’s pretty much what was in it. And now Tall Trees now goes up Mount Oldfield. Anyway, long story short, there is now a nice new trail where there was once a rough, rugged one.

CA: I have to say, I enjoyed reading all the new stuff, especially the essays. So the form the book basically takes is, you have the map, and then a description of the trail. For the most part, like two or three paragraphs, and then a recommendation on footwear as well. And then, every now and then, at seemingly random intervals, these really nice essays pop up. The maps and the descriptions – that’s an essential part of any guidebook, I would think. But why did you decide to put these nice essays in there as well? What did they mean, as far as this book goes?

MS: They serve a couple of purposes. One is, and this is in no way to diminish other trail guides, but I didn’t want it to be just descriptions and maps. I wanted it to be something that even if you don’t go out and hike all these trails, you would still enjoy this sort of armchair travel vibe. And they serve another purpose, which is: a trail description can only go so far. You can say, you know, Ballmer Trail is 3.7 kilometres, and it’s gonna get a bit gnarly as you climb up in elevation. To have an actual essay that describes, let’s say, getting lost. Or having a difficult time. Or finding this pond and the sunlight that you hit just at the right time. They give a more tangible connection to the actual experience of going out and hiking a really awesome trail.  

CA: It does. Now that you mention it, when I was reading it, I remember all those times where you did get lost. It’s almost like the humanness of doing these trails. Because humans have limitations, and some of that is getting fatigued and it’s like, this is really what happens when you’re on a trail.

MS: Yeah, totally. And it’s also that I love to write, and I love to read. And one of my favourite genres to read is travel adventure writing. The greatest travel adventure writing is not necessarily a successful trip. Or, it’s a successful trip at the end, but, you know, stuff happens along the way, and that’s fun to read. A fun book to read, and a good book to look at – interesting photos – and also a practical application of it. You know, grab the book, check out a trail, take it with you and actually experience it for yourself.

CA: Sounds like the total package, Matt. I think you’ve summed it up very neatly there, and I’m sure I’ll be including that in a press release somewhere. Is there anything else you’d like to say about the book?

MS: Just a huge, huge, huge thanks to all the people, like the locals who go out and make the trails, to the people who supported the book the first time around. And just generally the support of the Prince Rupert community. The outdoors scene there is really quite special. And when I first set up there, I was received with open arms, to pull a cliché out of the bag there. But people are just amazingly receptive to the idea, and gave me whatever I needed to make it happen, which was great. And I am still very, very, very grateful to all the people who supported it and continue to support it to this day.

The Outsider's Guide to Prince Rupert (2nd edition) will be officially launched on Sunday, Nov. 17 at Seahorse Trading Company in Prince Rupert. Matt will be on hand that day to sign copies of the book.