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Great guidebooks for those who love the outdoors

I have never met either Sue or Rich Freeman, but I consider them among my favorite people. We have corresponded occasionally over the years and they have given me excellent advice through their books on hiking, biking and paddling the trails and waterways of New York State.

The Freemans are the publishers of Footprint Press in Rochester. Some of their more than two dozen books should be on the shelves of anyone interested in the outdoors in Western New York. The books have names like "Take a Paddle, Western New York Quiet Water for Canoes and Kayaks," "Take Your Bike, Family Rides in New York's Finger Lakes Region," "Bruce Trail, An Adventure along the Niagara Escarpment," "Birding in Central and Western New York" and "Peak Experiences, Hiking the Highest Summits of New York." Each of these books has the couple's personal stamp on it.

Recently Sue posted an interesting summary of how they got started writing their guidebooks. It is a wonderful story of how two outdoors lovers were able to parlay their interest into their life work.

Here is how Sue begins their story: "In 1996, Rich and I had just completed hiking the Appalachian Trail. Clothes hung on our skinny bodies and our muscles ached after having spent six months hiking mountains. Yet, stopping cold-turkey was hard on our psyches. We were both jobless and looking for a new direction. On a whim, we decided to hike the trails that were being built by volunteer groups around Rochester, N.Y., and write a small guidebook.

"Of course, we had no experience doing this. Guidebook writing and publishing would be another new path for us. Rich's background was in photography and customer service. I had worked in blood banking, industrial engineering, project management, marketing and systems development. But, hiking we would go."

It is an indication of how fast equipment is changing when we realize that accurate GPS devices were not yet available when the Freemans started their project. They had to make hand-sketched maps and use a pedometer to measure distances as they plodded along those trails, all the while keeping detailed notes. When they returned home and wrote up their text, they often found discrepancies or missing information that required them to rehike trail sections. "At least," Sue says, "this process kept our bodies from seizing up."

Once they had their text and maps, they had to learn the publishing business. But finally, the first shipment of books was delivered. Again let Sue tell the story: "When the first version of 'Take A Hike' arrived from the printer -- two pallet loads of boxes to store in our basement -- we gasped when we opened the first box. We wanted a forest green background with terra-cotta colored lettering. What we received was a brilliant green cover with red letters shouting at us. What was a mistake on our part, turned out to be a blessing. The book certainly couldn't be ignored on a store shelf. By today's standards, the book and its maps were crude. But the information was accurate (for the most part). We had the right product, in the right place, at the right time and, with a lot of effort on our part, it sold well."

What I admire most about the Freemans is their work ethic. They constantly update their books. New trails are added and, sadly, old trails -- either destroyed by development or denied access by landowners -- are withdrawn. And their crude early equipment is now replaced by accurate GPS measurements and map publishing software.

But the books remain just as delightful as were those first efforts. Sue speaks of her copious notes; I find them unbelievably complete. I can imagine no better guidebooks.


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