You know what, I have a walking trip coming up fast and I’m struggling with my planning for it. Not struggling to come up with a plan – not by a long chalk. My struggle is with my trying not to plan it.
In exactly two weeks time, assuming things go ok work-wise, and that the weather forecast isn’t absurdly horrible, I should be packing my rucksack for a trip to the Lakes. I know them quite well when I consider how infrequently I go there and how far away I live. So well do I know it now that creating routes and stringing them together into multi-day trips isn’t really a problem. Indeed the main challenge is wading through all the possible options that spring to mind to narrow it down to a definite plan.
As someone who makes his living out of planning and executing projects, it would be unthinkable to embark on a multi-day walking trip without some sort of plan. Usually it’s essential as I’m under constraints of route or accommodation availability, and usually in the case of my annual South West Coast Path walk, it’s both. Having something fixed around which to form the rest of the plan is often a big help, and the way I plan most walks is to look for the least flexible part of the picture and plan everything else around that. This might be a public transport connection, a date, a place that must be visited or which I deem critical to the purpose of the walk, but most often it’s simply limited accommodation availability. This has been the case with all four of the SWCP chunks that I’ve done in the last four years. Every year when I sit down to start planning that walk, images of Kimmeridge, Portland and the South Hams float into my mind and I immediately try to home in on the most desolate part of the next stage of the walk to identify this year’s problem. This year was no exception and indeed I had multiple accommodation issues to deal with, but more about that in a post soon.
So when I don’t have a problem to solve and around which I can build the rest of a plan, I feel a little bit lost.
My upcoming Lakes trip is all about wild camping, so I have big flexibility in my overnight stops and don’t need to be tied to particular places. And with a trip of only 4 nights now, I don’t need to be thinking about breaking up a whole week, as per my original intention. I want to be able to make it all up as I go along, my only constraint being the need to be back at the appropriate station on the right day to get the train home. And with all this flexibility and myriad of possible walks in front of me, I’m stuck. Not in trying to form a plan, but in deliberately trying to avoid having too much of a plan. The joy of wild camping is the ability to adapt to conditions and to alter your plans on the hoof. Great. Yet my mind and 15 years of professional life as a project manager is rebelling at the thought of having no plan.
I partly blame increased confidence in what I’m seeking to do. It was all great to start with – as a complete novice at wild camping I was going to have my first camp somewhere just out of sight of civilisation, but close enough that I could run home to mummy if it all got too much. And I would be making sure I was camping somewhere I’d walked before to add an additional comfort factor. I would then crank up the experience each day culminating in one or two camps in terra incognita. Because the trip was to be a whole week, I was going to break it into two parts and have a night under a proper roof halfway through. In effect it was like two half trips – one to get used to the idea in more familiar territory and the other to explore new ground.
My biggest fear with the whole wild camping thing was water. Starting out with visions of drinking brown sludge drawn from a murky pool with a dead sheep in it, my confidence soared when my new Travel Tap arrived, and all of a sudden it felt doable. The two other big psychological hurdles – pooing in a hole and the likelihood of axe murderers targeting me in the night – never really took hold. It all felt feasible now. Break the overall problem into its components and deal with each and of course it’s possible. Hey, that’s what I get paid to do – take something that seems too big or complex to do, and cut it up in a way that it can be done.
Monica’s arrival helped too. Now I had a tent I could believe in.
I analysed my plan and decided I was being far too cautious, and moreover was getting away from the spirit of what I was seeking to achieve – enjoying the freedom to walk where and as much as I liked. This could be important on my coast to coast walk where the big attraction of wild camping the majority of it would be the ability to adjust my route and adapt to conditions (of me and of the weather), as well as avoid wasteful detours back to the real world for overnight stops. So I resolved to drop my plan for this training trip and make it up as I went along.
I then made the mistake of writing all those posts about my Favourite Fells, and into my head popped loads of places I wanted to revisit. Many of them represent special moments in my walking career, and many others are places I’ve not been for quite a long time. And so, plans started to sneak back. I’ve tried to tell myself that I’m not planning, I’m just researching, but to no avail – I have a 4½ day circuit of Langdale all planned down to the minutest detail.
This route works out at 46 miles and 15,500ft of ascent which isn’t much different from what I’d probably do on a similar length trip staying in proper accommodation each night, and hence including walk-in and walk-out distance and height gain. So that at least makes it sound feasible, and with earlier starts and later finishes each day there’s no issue with time. I think this proves that by staying in the hills and avoiding detours for overnight stays, I can cover a long walk more efficiently which is going to be important for the C2C, where I need to shave a couple of days off my original estimate.
So, it certainly looks as though I’ve failed to avoid having a plan for this trip, but on reflection, all isn’t quite as it seems. Firstly the route takes in pretty much all of the summits, and having bagged almost all of them before, there’s no actual need to do this. So I can choose to miss tops out when I’m in the field. Secondly, I can drop down into Langdale on any day if I need some valley time, or even a pub meal. Hell, I could even scrap the walk and head out of the area by bus if I wanted. I could similarly drop into Borrowdale mid-way. So it’s good and flexible for escape or adapting to conditions.
I’ve also got options if it goes really well and I want to adapt the walk and reach out a bit further. Eskdale is in reach, as are the western fells, and I could even ditch the planned route and head off northwards. Provided I end up on a bus route that gets me back to the station, I’ll be golden. And finally, I planned this route based on the tops, but there’s so many special places that don’t lie exactly on that route. I can easily adapt it to take in somewhere that I have a sudden whim to visit.
This trip isn’t about peakbagging, be they Wainwrights or Nuttalls, but it wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t pick off at least one. And there are some stragglers convenient to the route – Lingmoor Fell and Rosthwaite Fell being the most obvious. If I stick to the route as mapped out, that’s 3 Wainwrights and 6 Nuttalls added to my score – not huge but they need to be picked off at some point.
So, ok despite all my best efforts to avoid having too much of a plan, I’ve got one, but it’s adaptable and consists mostly of terrain I’ve visited before. So there’s no pressure to stick to it, and I’m trying to look at it as proving the feasibility of the trip, and as a source of ideas to take with me. I’ll go armed with maps that cover the area, but without the route itself marked. But what I will take is a list of tarns and tops I’ve not yet visited which I can refer to and make decisions on the go.
The aim is to keep it spontaneous. It’s just disturbing how much effort has to go into planning to be spontaneous!