Expectations are high, that moment of no return, your headed out. It is one way in and one way out, miles need to be covered, elements endured, and the end goal has no exceptions. But is your expectation the same as your adventure bud’s? Are your ideas aligned? Do you want the same out of the trip as they? Do you ask these questions during planning? We plan logistics, mileage, days, gear, and food. Yet, how many times have you discussed the goals of the individual?
You send out a group text that reads, “ITS ON, LET THE TRIP PLANNING BEGIN.” The next series of texts roll in with aligning of dates, checking in with your significant other, coordination to and from, and a few sights you may see while out. Then as time inches closer, you begin discussing gear and food. Then you discuss that some more. About a week out, you realize you need more gear and start hitting up your personal gearhead at backcountry.com and convince them to ship everything overnight for free (yes you can do this, don't tell anyone.) You send pics of the new pack and whatever that thing you thought you need but will never use.
Departure day comes with anticipation and the high of the unknown is in full effect. The nervousness kicks in and you are stepping into the point of no return. You have planned for months, have every detail outlined, and now it is just that age old saying, one foot in front of the other. Everyone is full of energy, invincible, talking of what lies ahead, and knowing nothing can get in our way. This is "Day One" in a nut shell
The first few steps into the wild the groups ultimate goal is aligned, there is a start point and an end point, daily mileage goal, approximate camp locations. Why does it matter anyway, we are all in this together and that’s is all you need, right? Well no... Not exactly…
Wide awake I begin to break my camp, it was the 2nd night of a 3 night trip and we still had a ways to go. With many miles and a few major obstacles a head of us I knew we needed to get on the water to make our destination. I had work in a few days and could not miss it. This was my first problem. I was in my head. We had a long way to go and I had no flexibility in time. I knew we had to make certain amount of mileage for me to be able to complete the trip. We had to get on the water, waste no time, and paddle. My idea and the group’s idea where the same with the exception of when to start and when to end each day. I wanted to get on the water and go, they liked the morning to be relaxed and feel alive with that freedom of today. Though not one way or the other was wrong, it was just misaligned. We never discussed it, there was no plan. So there should be no expectation. Right??? But there was, it was my expectation, and mine only. It was never discussed so it was never aligned.
There are always differences to the path that we discuss in the planning stages. Though the ultimate goal may be aligned with the group, it is the individual’s goal that are the most important. I like to call these “the hidden dimension or micro goal.” These are the individual goals of each team member that may not be inline with our own. There is the guy that wants to climb that peak on day 3, the person that want to spend a day fishing, or one that wants to put in a PR (personal Record) mileage day, or just a lazy day to work on their bushcraft skills. There is nothing wrong with these things, but they are the hidden dimension. These are the things that propel a team to accomplishment, fulfillment, or even failure.
Though in my situation it worked out to make the trip that much more pleasurable for me, and I am better because of it. I learned a lot about myself on that trip but It doesn’t always work that way. We must be open and honest with how we feel, our abilities, and speak of our micro goals. If we do not it can make ourselves or others feel left out, demoralized, exhausted, or just completely unsatisfied.
So what do you do? How do you do this? What questions should we ask? How accommodating should we be? I don’t have the ultimate answer for you but I have a few things that might help make a great trip better and build a stronger bond with your friends along the way.
What activities do you want to pursue?
On our river trips, Mike is a diehard fisherman, he always wants one more cast no matter how many there were before it. On the other hand, I want to explore as many miles as I can. Don’t get me wrong, I looooove fishing, but not the way Mike loves fishing. I know when we plan a river trip we each take this into consideration. I am typically the logistic guy. I will plan a long hard day (me the mile man) to get to a good camp site that has a big productive fishing area (Mike the die hard). We fish along the way yet keep a pace of our aligned goal. It is a give and take.
Know when to split up
Not in the sense that you leave your buddy unsolisited in the bottom of a canyon, which i am sure people want to do to me sometimes. I mean, split up in a positive and communicated way to pursue each micro goal with the ultimate goal intact. When out paddling I am known to paddle just to paddle, not a problem if you know me, though it could be if you have never been on a trip with me. Mike understands this and he knows I will be waiting at the next hazard staying put until he arrives. He will hang back slowly working his way towards me fishing the nooks and crannies of each passing rock. This works well for us as a team. I stop explore, fish a little, take pictures, and he will fish till we need to move on. If we are behind schedule he will pick up an push on to that next honey hole. This works well in a river where the hazards are done together and flat water are done individually. They are like solo trips with a team. If things seem out of place I will double back with no issue and move on if things are fine.
Hone in on the camp fire chat.
This is where you need to put lots of focus. This is where feelings come into play. If your buddy is sitting at the end of a hard day hike talking about blisters, heart rate, dehydration, or even illness, this is when we scale back tomorrows hard day or utilize a built in rest day to improve our health, scout, or do that thing we wanted to do. There are times and places to push people beyond their limit (future blog post) but for this conversation it’s a time to focus in and listen.
We were on a 7-day river trip when a fellow team member ran into a series of misfortune. A near miss in a rapid, daily mileage that was hard, bad water, and multiple portages that resulted in a leaky boat. Time was not on our side so we pushed him beyond his limits. In retrospect, an extra day to regroup, a solid repair to the kayak, and time to regain some confidence would have resulted in the same outcome to the common goal but a happier group of campers.
More is not always merrier when it comes to wilderness travel. The more people the more hidden dimensions (micro goals.) We sometimes too often invite everyone and their dog for multiple reasons. We do it to bring down cost, don’t want to leave a friend out, share the weight, or just to introduce friends to your passion. Though it is the most fun to share an experience, it is not always fun when goals become misaligned. I personally feel that even numbers are best. This allows for safe travels on a “no man goes alone policy” if there is an emergency. Odd numbers work but the individual micro goal becomes even more important as there could be some things that can’t be pursued such as rock climbing with a bunch of fishermen, Fishing with a bunch of through hikers, lounging around on a time limited mileage pursuit. Though having friends along make for a rich and fun experience It is always an option to leave your buddies at home and take on the underutilized solo trip.
In the end, an extended stay in the back country is a fulfilling endeavor that takes knowledge, skill, and a lot of communication. We see the destination as the goal, but deep inside we find our own goals. They are different for each person, the are special, and they our our own. Communicate these in your planning, plan for them as a team, and be okay to set them aside for the ultimate goal.
- Daniel Underbrink