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My Banned Book Story or I’ll be coming ’round the mountain no matter what

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I published what may be the only banned trail guide in history. It’s called Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail Encircling Mount Rainier.

It’s a very detailed guide, and it came about quite by accident. After hiking sections of the trail, I was thoroughly convinced that the mileage signs were incorrect. So in 1965, I bought a surveyor’s measuring wheel and pushed it around the mountain (over 100 miles of really rugged wilderness) to see what the correct mileage was. I was right; the signs were wrong. I recorded what each sign said, and what the actual mileage was according to the measuring wheel.

So many people were interested in my notes that I did the trail again, making far more detailed observations and reference descriptions. Then I interspersed those with tidbits about the history, Indian lore, geology, mining, all known water sources, campsites, and anything I thought would be of use to first-time hikers there (such as where to expect to see the mountain goats and meet the bears).

In 1967, I sent the book off to Seattle Mountaineers, which accepted it for publication. Suddenly, I found myself in the middle of a huge controversy. The new environmental movement was gathering a lot of steam at the time, and in the ensuing battle within the Mountaineers Club about whether to publish trail guides, my book became a casualty, along with several others. Back came my unpublished tome.

I put the manuscript in my file cabinet, only to take it out occasionally to make copies for people who wanted to hike the trail. There it sat for 20 years.

Rebirth of a Book

Then, in the late 1980s, I had a chance meeting with a young outdoorswoman who also loved Mount Rainier. As we sat looking at the beauty of the mountain, I told her about my “almost” book. When she heard the subject, the woman insisted that the book must be published, that it was still vitally needed. I told her that I was no longer up to pushing the wheel around the mountain, and she offered to do it. So the next summer, she re-measured the trail (which has had virtually no changes since it’s under snow nine months of the year). The mileage signs were still wrong and contact with the National Parks Service led me to believe that correct signs were still not high on their priority list.

I rechecked all the research, got the manuscript revised, and again shipped it off to Mountaineers (which had long since resumed publishing trail guides). It came back again. The Mountaineers were now concentrating on guidebooks to exotic places. They didn’t think there was enough interest in Mount Rainier, the treasure in their own backyard.

This time I didn’t take their rejection lying down. I shipped the manuscript off to another outdoor publisher. He agreed to publish it, but under the condition that I do all the marketing, promotion, and leg work. It dawned on me that all he was doing was putting up the money, and I could do that myself.

A few months later, the book’s 224 formatted pages were off my computer and in print. The unit cost for the first run of 3,000 copies was about $1.25 per book and my troubles were finally over, or so I thought.

Shocked by the Shut-Out

It was then that I discovered I had committed the unpardonable sin. I had dared to criticize the National Park Service and say their signs were wrong. They don’t take criticism lightly. They also don’t fight fair. They banned my book from being

sold not only at Mount Rainier National Park but also at the other 125 book outlets run by the local National Parks and Forest Service group. There went what I had hoped would be my biggest sales outlets.

My choice was either to come up with an alternative marketing strategy, or to have a garage full of books for the rest of my life. What I did was figure out how to intercept the park visitors before they got to the park. I called on every conceivable place a tourist would stop–gas stations, grocery stores, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, gift shops, every retail establishment on every road to the park–and put the book in on consignment.

I also worked every other angle I could think of, placing it with distributors,

libraries, bookstores, the Internet, and whoever would take it.


How Well It All Worked

The good news is, I have never lost a dime on consignment sales. The mom-and-pop operations love having a pretty book to sell, and they all still pay faithfully as each book is sold. The bad news is, I have had two distributors go bankrupt on me, keeping lots of books and a lot of my money.

I’m now in my 13th year of publishing that book, and I have two more–The Big Fact Book about Mount Rainier, which came out in 1966 and is still in print; and How to Dispose of Your Stuff — Heavenly Uses for Earthly Goods (a book about how to find the perfect home for every conceivable thing a person might own) which will be out this summer.

Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail is in its fifth printing and still going strong. Thanks partly to a recommendation in Backpacker magazine, it is now considered the bible of the Wonderland Trail. And the book’s popularity seems to increase the longer it’s out. This really amazes me, because only about 200 people per summer hike the entire trail. There must be a lot of armchair hikers out there, because to date I’ve sold more than 15,000 books!

Yes, the book’s still banned. And yes, many of the trail signs are still wrong (although a few have been corrected). But with my book, hikers know exactly where they are and how far they’ve gone. It’s been 38 years since I first pushed the measuring wheel and I intend to keep the book in print until Mount Rainier blows.
Bette Filley, who has been a professional writer since 1955, holds more than 50 state, regional, and national awards for writing. She is currently Vice-President of Seattle Free Lances, Seattle’s oldest professional writers’ organization.

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