The Art of Planning a Big Trip
Part 6: Friends and Lovers
by Farwell Forrest
As the water rises in the rivers near my house, so too does the flow
of boat and gear catalogs through my post office box. Not a week now
passes without my receiving half a dozen or more, and I doubt that I'm
These catalogs are wonderful things to look at. Glossy photos.
Evocative text. Yet another generation of miracle fabrics and engineered
materials. Progress given tangible form.
I have to admit that I'm a hard sell. My newest boat is ten years
old, and much of my gear has seen several decades of use. I even have
canvas packs. Still, I love to browse through the catalogs. Like old
maps and the dusty volumes on the back shelves of good libraries,
catalogs, too, give birth to pleasant dreams of far horizons.
Of course, all catalogs lie. No surprise there. So do maps and books,
at least now and again. Happily, the lies retailed in catalogs are
always comforting, and usually benignrather like the excusable
exaggerations and small embellishments of a skilled story-teller.
There's one exception, however. Pull any catalog off the pile on your
desk. Now look at the faces of the people in the glossy pictures.
They're all smiling, aren't they? There's not a grimace or a scowl to be
seen anywhere, let alone the ugly, convulsive rictus of real rage. Not
only are the catalog folks impossibly clean and improbably good-looking
(you're right, I'm jealous), but they're all having the time of their
lives, and they're nevernever!angry at their companions.
If only this were true. Unfortunately, even canoeists and kayakers
are still human. On day trips and whitewater outings, most of us can
keep our tempers under control most of the timethough not
all of the time, certainly. Tamia and I have had more than a few
heated exchanges from the opposite ends of a canoe. They usually begin
with something like this: "Whaddaya you mean you didn't see that rock?"
Or, in what Tamia likes to think of as a high, ironical tone, "It may
have escaped your notice, my dear, but the river is over there.
this is what geologists call a gravel bar."
Happily, such storms usually blow over as quickly as they blew up,
and few people quit the river at the end of a day's run feeling anything
more unpleasant than sore muscles. Big Trips are different. On Big
Trips, you push harder, and the cost of mistakes is
highersometimes much higher. Nor do you leave your companions
behind at the riverbank put-in when the sun goes down. Fatigue, the need
to keep to a set schedule, even fearall these play their part, as
do insects and bad weather. Old friends can fast become new enemies, and
lovers can quickly learn to hate.
Examples abound. Eric Sevareid and Walter Port were schoolboy pals
who, in 1930, found themselves alone on the Gods River with winter
coming on and an unknown number of miles still to go to York Factory.
Exhausted and close to despair, they started quarrelling, and then began
to fight in earnest. One terrible morning, each awoke determined to kill
the other. Neither succeeded, but not because they suddenly came to
their senses. They were simply too weak to finish each other off.
Such stories aren't confined to the dim, historic past. A few years
ago, a friend and his wife signed on with a rafting company for a Grand
Canyon float trip. The trip was everything the brochures promised.
State-of-the-art gear. Expert guides. Wonderful food. The trouble lay
elsewhere. Among the other folks on the trip was a politician from a
western state, a man once mentioned as a possible presidential
candidate. He had a larger-than-life ego, and a voice to match. He was
patronizing, sarcastic and snide. He delighted in telling people off.
His son, who accompanied him on the float trip, was even worse. So
poisonous did the atmosphere become, that by trip's end hardly anyone
was speaking to anyone else.
Tamia and I have our own share of such tales, of course, but these
will have to wait for another time. What's important, after all, is to
avoid this sort of thing in the first place. That's what planning is all
about. As the many cautionary tales illustrate all too well, John McPhee
was right: "When trouble comes on a canoe trip, it comes from the
inside, from fast-growing hatreds among the friends who started."
You don't want this to happen. What can you do? First, when you sit
down to plan a Big Trip, choose your companions carefully. Travel with
people you know well, folks whose company you enjoy and whose judgement
you've learned to trust. In a boat or on a tripor in life, for
that mattera sense of humor and an even temper are every bit as
important as technical competence. Not that skill is ever unimportant,
though. A long wilderness trip is no place for the complete novice.
Experience and skill each contribute to good judgement, and there's no
simply no substitute for that.
Next, once you've gotten your group together, be sure that everyone
knows what to expect, and make certain that you agree about the pace of
the trip. If half of you want to take it easy, while the other half want
to push hard, arguments are inevitable. It makes no difference if you
travel fast or slow, but it is essential that you all travel together.
Lastly, leave the children at home. No, I'm not putting down
those folks who take their kids with them on wilderness holidays. I wish
there were more like them, in fact. The "children" I'm talking about can
be any age from six to sixty, and they're easy to spot. They're selfish,
whiny, and bad-tempered. They're never happy, and they're always bored.
They're not without virtues, of course. Some of them are superlative
paddlers, and many of them have nothing but the best (and newest) gear.
No matter. Play the rivers with them on the weekends, by all means, but
when you head out on your Big Trip, leave these children behind.
That's all there is to it. A few simple rules. A little luck. And,
then, who knows? You may come back from your Big Trip looking
just like the folks in the catalogsall smiles and happy memories.
The success of a trip isn't determined by the number of miles travelled
or the number of rapids run, after all. It's truest measure is good
friends grown even closer, and lovers yet more deeply in love. Who could
ask for more?
© Verloren Hoop Productions 1999
It's time to take a break from planning, though it's a subject
we'll return to often in future columns. Next week, Tamia will offer a
few words of advice to folks who are shopping for a boat for the first
time. In the meantime, we'd like to hear from you. Send your comments
and questions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (No
attachments, audio clips or family snaps, please!) We won't promise that
we'll answer each letter, but we can promise that we'll read every
oneand we will. 'Nuff said.