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"Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”

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I mentioned over breakfast last Friday that there was an outside chance that I might not be able to attend a planned family gathering in July, 2017. Because, I added, in February 2017 I intended to hike in the woods for a couple of months - and that I had been planning the trip since March, 2016. (That pre-dated the scheduling of the family event by at least four months.) I told them that I had created a blog to let interested folks follow my adventure. I backed up in the narrative to note that I had requested Scamper’s approval to hike the AT which my planning showed would be finished in mid-June. But, I continued, there were a number of factors that might delay the end date: injury, weather, fatigue, or my estimated 7 zero days might be inadequate.

The look from one extended family member on the opposite side of the table conveyed outright anger. “Who are you going to hike with?” came the first question. Myself, I replied without adding that many hikers hike alone – together. The second question was more accusatory – “You said it was only a couple of months”. True, I thought, I did convey the timeframe in that manner. It was clear that my intentional understatement escaped the listener’s notice. And then suddenly I realized that the look of anger was not my imagination; there would be no cordial, friendly, inquisitive discussion of the planned 121 days of hiking at 18 miles hiked per day, plus a mere 7 rest days, or why I wanted to hike the AT. Having reached my unfortunate conclusion, it was obvious that the tone of the questions suggested I was intentionally being evasive!

“How are you getting back?” was next interrogative. I offered that that aspect of planning was problematic. I said that Scamper wanted to drive up to join me near the end of the hike and that we would travel home together. I observed that that might not be a good use of her time and I wasn’t sure that sitting in a car for a multi-day drive home was a good idea after all that hiking. Scamper added that she was adamant she wanted to meet me in Maine otherwise she might never see the state! Clearly, I resumed, we have not worked out all the details (primarily because we were also the principle planners for the referenced family gathering which happens to be the listener’s 50th wedding anniversary. I agree; that detail was essential to fully appreciate their response.)

Then another question was fired across the table; “Why didn’t you tell us about the hike when we told you about our anniversary plans?” I didn’t get to answer that question – which was just as well. Had I done so, I might have suggested that the listener’s resume planning their own 50th anniversary and that they coordinate with their offspring to fund it. (Back in July when we first learned of the pending celebration, Scamper and I offered to plan the event soup-to-nuts – after having contacted the listener’s offspring who had not previously been part of any planning for the event.) So I didn’t try to force a response to the last question. For a typically rare moment, I bit my tongue. Frankly, I sat there, stunned!

In retrospect, I probably should have simply announced that I would enter the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain in February. Such a simple statement would let them in on the planning; which is posited by some as a good means for a hiker to stay ahead of the mental challenges associated with hiking the AT. In a manner of speaking it forces a hiker’s hand – further committing the hiker to the plan. Had I simply made my announcement and let them inquire about the scheduled end date, maybe I would have heard them urging that I advance my (already early) departure date, or hustle along faster, or hike longer each day, or maybe take fewer breaks, or even fly to their 50th and return to the Trail for the balance of the hike. But nope, I had played my typical understatement card. Oh, well.

And that takes me to a remark about my AT plans that I previously shared with some family and friends; my plan is useless. It is a paraphrase of a quote attributed to General Eisenhower – chief planner of the invasion of Normandy in June, 1944. He noted that “plans are useless” because they generally do not last beyond the moment of implementation when facts replace assumptions! General Eisenhower then added, “but planning is indispensable”. Both elements of his remarks have proven true in this instance. My “worthless” plan was to let them know what I was doing – so that there would be no surprises in July. My “indispensable” planning will now firm up my early departure date, pace of hiking, resupply locations and distances from the trail, rest days and pack weight!

And maybe, just maybe, in the future I will avoid understatements and stick to facts.

Sorry, I was just joking with that last statement – I can’t possibly change my style at this late date.

Updated 11-29-2016 at 08:59 by MadRanger

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