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?