Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Confessions of a JMT Bully

As a result of preparing for a 230 mile hike ( The John Muir Trail, the extra is due to our back-door permit obtaining tactics), I have been forced to confront a fact about myself that I am not particularly excited about. Yes, I am a JMT bully.

Yes, I admit it, I have been hounding my future hiking companions to make decisions already! It drives me nuts not to know how we are getting to the trail and how we are getting back from it, where our resupplies will be and how much time I need to ask for from work. Granted, it is four months away. But also granted, shuttles get full. Bosses schedule meetings. Even as I write this, it sounds ridiculous. Four months. A lifetime! Yep, I'm a JMT bully.

This experience has reminded me that there are two kinds of outdoor people: the ones who plan obsessively and the ones who show up on the day of, trusting all will go well. For a brief, regrettable time I dated one of the latter. While his go-with-the-flow tendencies smoothed out my rough edges, we spent a lot of time driving aimlessly through a foreign country without a place to sleep. We drove aimlessly a bunch more trying to figure out where to go, wasting a lot of time when we could have been hiking.

That's not to say that my approach is a lot better. Compulsive planners can be truly annoying. If you have everything nailed down, that eliminates the joy and surprise of taking a side trail, climbing an extra peak, or changing things mid-stream. We don't go into the woods to know what we are doing every minute of the day.

I like to think that I can embrace both worlds. Slowly my go-with-the-flow attitude has eroded over the years, due in part to moments of sheer terror and freezing and hunger due to not having planned enough. Running out of food on a backcountry patrol as a wilderness ranger. Bivvying in a rain-swept swamp. Pushing our tent back into the trees farther and farther as the tide grew closer and closer. But I can still find that seamless feeling as long as I have the bones of the trip figured out. You know. Important stuff. Like when we are starting. Like that I won't have to find myself hitchhiking down Highway 395.

The truth is, though, even obsessive planning can't eliminate every risk. You can still end up lost, mad, alone. For most of my twenties, I meandered through life, only planning for six months at a time. It was wild and glorious and lonely and terrifying. In the past three years my life has been much more circumscribed. I got married. I bought a house. I went to retirement training (can't plan much more than that). It has been sweet and suffocating and wonderful and terrifying.

Why I almost always prefer going solo is this: I can be my own neurotic self. I can over or underplan. I can eat cheese and tomatoes for dinner if I want. I can start hiking before six am. I can push myself through conditions where others would want to turn around, or I can bail out because it just isn't worth it on that day. Going on a trip--a really big trip--with people I don't really know is not easy. I tell myself it will be worth it because sometimes, alone, I want to share sunsets. I want someone else to have a memory so we can come back to it later, years later, when maybe such a long hike is out of the realm of possibility.

I've decided to stop my JMT bullying, though. It will be good for me to regain that carefree feeling of flying without a net for awhile. A little while. But come June, watch out.

What's your planning style? Do you like going it alone or do you prefer groups? Is there hope for a JMT bully?


  1. I'm sort of a combination of both. I've almost always gone with Hubby but he is so laid-back that he lets me change things around if I want to change our camping spot or something. All I have to do is keep him fed and he's happy (yeah, I realize it makes him sound like a dog). I don't know what kind of person I'd be if I went with someone else.

  2. That last photo is hilarious. My first thought was, "Oh, hell no."

    I'm a lack-of-planning type person who can force myself into better planning by necessity of survival. I also prefer to be a follower, and let others do the planning. Friends have expressed reluctance in inviting me on trips because they think I'm crazy and won't be happy unless we're out hiking or biking for 18 hours a day. I think my solo habits have led to fewer invitations from friends, which makes me sad. My friends in the Yukon basically said as much to me when we were planning our winter bike trip in Whitehorse — "You can come, but only if you agree to 50km or less per day." It's funny because the last thing I'd want to do is a group trip with an emphasis on huge physical challenges. That's just asking for mutiny/breakdowns/loss of friendship. And it's also another reason why I'd just rather go with the flow when out with a group, rather than try to lead based on my own whims.

  3. Even when I go on a group trip I plan it as though I'm alone, because I find that other people suck at planning and I hate getting stuck in a shit show that could have been avoided!

    One thing I don't like about group events is that people don't plan, so things have a tendency to fall apart at the last second, and just not happen at all. I hope your trip goes well though, so keep up the planning!

  4. Geargal Jill, that is so funny. I totally agree. That is what I am afraid of.

    Jill H, I can see why your friends think that! I have some that think that too of me even though I have given no reason for that. Come over here, we can do a non epic trip and you can go off and do more if you want. I'll save you a sandwich. :)

    Karen, you are so lucky to have your hubby. Can I borrow him? Just kidding. Mine will let me drag him once in a while but he prefers to ski. All the time. If he can't ski, he is riding his bike.

  5. Even though I don't hike, I think I probably over plan everything. Pretty sure my scout parents think I'm nuts for sure. Everything with scout trips involves paperwork. So I always fear not having the right stuff signed and in office or with us pesonally on the trip and suffering a lecture from the council officials or not having trip permit approved. Latest example they didn't have my First-Aid and CPR card on file and I was listed as the First-Aider. Trip permit not approved until I got that in equaled antsy parents.

    Then there are the creature comforts that I haven't learned to camp without. Maybe because I haven't done a lot of tent camping in years and have the luxury of taking stuff to our trailer and leaving it there all summer. Even though I have the trailer packed I still seem to have a car full of stuff for just a weekend away.

    Will I have enough clothes? Will I have the right clothes for the weather? Will I have enough food? Will I have enough chocolate and marshmellows for S'mores (oh crap I didn't check my supply of graham crackers, better take another box). If I go to the lake on this day will I also have time to do the other things I want to do as well?

    Ugh maybe I am nuts. Glad to know I'm not the only one though.

  6. Thanks for writing this. I am also a planner and an organizer who strives to be more go-with-the-flow for fear of coming across as annoying. And I am also in the middle of my planning-for-six-months-at-a-stretch, lonely, terrifying and exhilarating 20s. Finally, I also just got out of a relationship with someone who was much more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, and it, too, resulted in many indecisive nights spent wondering where we were going to sleep after the sun went down. Sometimes that worked out to our advantage and we discovered some fantastic secluded beach to pop a tent, but more often than not we wasted a lot of time that could have been better spent with a little bit of planning. I absolutely relate.

    It's also a relief to know that you spent your 20s much as I seem to be spending mine, and that you've managed to find some stability without losing your adventurous edge. Way to go!


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