Hi all-

I actually wrote this post over a year and a half ago, but it’s just been sitting in my “drafts” folder all this time. With the current state of the pandemic, planning for adventures has taken a back burner. However, it’s still nice to consider a future where distant travel and adventures can take place safely. I think that, even though I’m keeping my adventures close to home right now, the thoughts here are still valid. I hope you enjoy! 

A smoky sunset.
A smoke-filled sunset from the PNT.

When on trail one is met with situations that require immediate analysis and response – and the consequences are pretty immediate too.  Should I go over this downed tree or under it?  If I hop across this creek, is that stone going to shift under me, or will it give me a good landing? Can we make it another few miles, or is stopping here the better choice? Should I eat my snack now, or will I regret it later when I’m out of my allotted snacks?

Some decisions while hiking have consequences slightly farther in the future. Should I fill up at this stream or wait?  Forget to look at the water sources (or lack thereof)? You might run out of water.  Don’t hike enough miles today?  You’ll have to go farther tomorrow or run out of food and time.  However, if you push too far today, will your body hold up to do it again tomorrow? 

Preparing for adventures, whether for a day, weeks, months, or years involves looking into the future and trying to guess what your future self will want and need, and what your future self will be capable of.  With so many unknowns, it is enough to cause anyone analysis paralysis over the future.  Am I making good decisions now for my future self?

When you add another (or others) into the mix, it gets even more challenging.  The variables multiply – it becomes not only yourself who is left dealing with the consequences, but now someone else is too.  This isn’t a bad thing – with companions and shared experience comes a different sort of joy.  The positive consequences of a good decision can be celebrated, the negatives of poor decisions can be shared.

Two backpackers purifying water from a mountain stream.
A repeat picture. Check out the previous post: Losing the Trail and Finding Friends for more about group decision making and consequences!

Something learned from previous adventures is the ability to problem solve and make things work.  End up with a surprise additional 15 miles in a hiking section?  I guess we’ll just have to hike farther each day and consider that we might have to ration the mac n cheese (thank goodness we didn’t have to do that).  This whole section of trail is full of downed trees?  I guess we just won’t make it as many miles today as we hoped, and I’ll let my friends have a snack before telling them any more bad news.  The bus breaks down, the plane is delayed, the mosquitoes threaten to carry you away, the water source is dried up, the trail is on fire, the trail disappears, there’s weird noises in the woods, you end up with chafing somewhere you never expected – all sorts of challenges come up that must be dealt with.  While many you can take precautions for, there is still plenty of room for challenges to come that are out of your control.

A trail blocked by downed trees and brush
Sometime the trail might be full of brush and downed trees.

While this could cause crippling anxiety, one can also work towards accepting it.  I feel so fortunate to have had a healthy dose of adversity in my previous travels to learn that even if things don’t go as planned, they’ll work out one way or another.  Sometimes this means bailing out a side trail rather than continuing along the intended path – and embracing the new adventures that come your way.  Sometimes it means asking for and accepting help from strangers (it turns out most people are thrilled to be able to help).  Sometimes it means staying put for an extra day to rest.

Backpacker walking through a cedar forest.
Sometimes taking an alternate side trail brings a whole new type of magic to your adventure.

Frequently it comes with a healthy dose of forgiving yourself for past choices, especially if you were making the best ones (you thought) with the information at hand.

In this, preparing for adventures is analogous to making choices about anything in the future – when choosing an educational path, when choosing a career, choosing a partner – we are making choices for a person who does not yet exist.  While we can guess what our future selves want and need, we don’t even know this person yet. No wonder sometimes we wake up and find ourselves somewhere that we never expected based on our decisions in the past.

All we can do is make the best decisions with the information we have available to us, trust in our abilities to fly by the seat of our pants, thank our past-selves for the good decisions we’ve made, and forgive our past-selves for our transgressions (and learn from them).

But wait.   All this about past- and future-selves. What about our NOW-selves?

I think this is why I so enjoy when we finally lace up our boots, shoulder our packs, and start hiking.  The research and planning is done, the food and permits are in hand, all that is left is to walk and respond to what is currently at hand, trusting in our ability to figure out the challenges that will undoubtedly come.

A woman backpacking on a knife edge of a ridge.
Traveling cross country on one of the bushwhacks of the PNT.

But, do we need to go on wilderness adventures to do this?  No.  I find similar feelings when I lace up to go on a long trail run, when I go walk on the beach by Lake Superior, or by just going for a paddle.  When I do those things that I love it is easy to be immersed in the moment.

So, in short:  Yes, make the best choices you can for the future with the information that you have available today (and it is your job to seek it out, so you can make informed choices).  But, embrace the unknown, trust in your ability to figure it out, be kind to others, and especially, be kind to yourself.