Today, we use the word “trailblazer” figuratively as in, “Henry Ford was a trailblazer in the automotive industry who ushered in the age of the assembly line”, to denote somebody who led the way and set the path for those who came after them.
Historically, however, trailblazing was a real occupation wherein the trailblazers would literally lead the way, hiking routes across unexplored terrain and setting “blazes” to mark their path. These blazes were typically painted onto trees, but were also carvings (axe or knife cuts) or affixed markers intended to safely guide the people who followed behind them.
Today, the art of trailblazing lives on in national and state parks around the world where park rangers and planners use blazes and other markers to create safe trails for visitors. As a general rule, the more blazes you find, the safer the route is (the route being heavily marked for inexperienced hikers), and the fewer blazes you find, the more challenging the hike is since it ventures off into areas where more experienced hikers travel.
Image courtesy of Aktron / Wikimedia Commons.
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