Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XLVIII

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I see myself as a spontaneous person, but do hold myself to planning a few key things each year. I recognize that some of the things I want in my life do require planning. One of those commitments is an annual backpacking trip with a group of girlfriends. The increasingly impossible permitting systems for wilderness areas mandates having a plan. For these few things, I agree to pull out a piece of my identity I shelved years ago - the planner.

And, even with advance planning, I fail.

Last year we backpacked the Ohlone trail. A 28 mile point-to-point trail that runs through four regional parks within an hour of my house. While the permit can be a hurdle, it was not for that trip. One call. No issues. I later realized, with sweat beating down my face on a 110 degree June day, why the permit process came with such ease. June is not a popular time to hike a trail with few trees. We bailed a few miles short of our end destination. Someone was graceful enough to pick up 4 hitchhikers and to help us escape the heat.

Even without the heat, I had planned to exit, leaving my trail mates to continue on without me. It was time to pull the eject button. My knees had beat me into submission. I hadn’t set out for a point-to-point hike in years. My body had been less reliable in the years since shattering my ankle. I had collected a history of bailed adventures since my injury. Each one came with more ease and less shame than the ones prior. I was adapting. The Ohlone trail felt like a low stakes way to re-engage with a point-to-point hike. I trusted I could call a Lyft given its proximity to civilization.

It felt good to bail as a group, albeit for different reasons.

Despite failing, I dove back into planning for this year’s adventure.

In mid-September, we headed for the Lost Coast. It is a 25 mile point-to-point trail in Northern California. Far more remote. No Lyfts. And I upped the ante in other ways as well.  The required planning was more than I had ever taken on. The trail hugs the ocean and the tide schedule dictates everything. With no previous knowledge of how to read tide tables, I had a lot to learn. Several sections of the trail are passable only at low tide.

I mocked up an initial itinerary and sent it to my trail mates. I received a revised schedule in reply. "We can't hike that many miles on the sand in such a tight window." I met my humility, trusted her knowledge and invited help in the planning. In fact, I resigned from planning and halted my research until the night before our trip. I did a last minute search for a few trail tales and immediately wished I had not. All came with warnings.

The following morning, the depth of remoteness hit me. The opportunity to hail a taxi disappeared. The risk of backtracking and adding miles in wrestling with the tide schedules was palpable. And the terrain was unfamiliar. I  had never hiked on the sand in my life, let alone for 25 miles. I knew it would be a challenge. It turns out that not all sand is alike. The trail varied from hard sand to soft sand. From baseball sized rocks to football sized rocks and on to teeny tiny pebbles.

When I strapped on my backpack at the trailhead, preparing to hit the trail, I surprised myself. I was not asking myself “IF” I could make it to the other side, but rather “HOW.” I had every reason to question “IF” I could make it. This year I simply refused to plan for the “IF” scenario.

When we give ourselves the option to question “IF” something is possible, we will find a way out. An exit plan. There will always be evidence that the stretch is too much.

When we remove the exit plan, we dig within ourselves to find a reserve of resources. It is there waiting for us if we commit to the challenge ahead.

Where are you holding a question of "IF?" I challenge you to drop it.

*Thank our second evening’s sunset for the included photo