Secrets of an Escape Artist
By Tamia Nelson
August 22, 2006
So you're planning a trip, are you? Great!
Anticipation is one of life's simpler (and cheaper) pleasures. Whether it's just a
day away from the kids, a weekend
adventure, or a summer-long expedition, paddling excursions are always a
holiday from the everyday a chance to recharge your batteries, an
opportunity to get back in touch with the things in life that really matter, a time
to relax. Planning
is part of the fun. But there's a downside to anticipation, too. Worries can
multiply. Anxieties can build. And as the departure deadline looms, you can find
yourself running a race that even a rat would dread.
Sound familiar? Then you're in good company. Colin Fletcher wrote of bouts with
a mysterious ailment (he christened it "Fletcheritis") that threatened to scupper
several long-planned epic walks at the last minute. And writer John Steinbeck,
preparing to leave on the landlocked circumnavigation of America recounted in
Travels with Charley, noticed that his "warm bed and comfortable house grew
increasingly desirable" as D-Day approached, and lamented that "to give these up
for three months for the terrors of the uncomfortable and unknown seemed crazy."
Nor is the phenomenon confined to Big Trips. It can be
just as hard to get under way for a weekend as for a week or a month, for
that matter. Maybe it's because time constraints are much tighter and schedules
less flexible. Or maybe it's simply that local trips don't seem to be worth all the
bother, especially with Monday casting its long shadow back over the weekend.
Whatever the reason, it's not unusual for even the most gung-ho paddler's
enthusiasm to wane at the last minute. Breaking away can be mighty hard to do.
Why is this? I suppose inertia is the principal villain. I call this the "slog
factor." Unless you paddle for a living and not too many folks do a
trip is a break in your usual routine. This is both a blessing and a curse. The
blessing part is obvious. Paddling is recreation, right? Re-creation. Change
is good, in other words, for all the reasons I mentioned earlier and many more
besides. But the curse is part of the bargain, too. Change is, well, change, and
we're all creatures of habit. It takes energy and initiative to climb out of the
workaday rut, however pleasing the prospect beyond. Then again, some folks manage
to make it look easy. They're the ones who are standing at the door, jingling their
car keys, all packed and ready to go, while the rest of us are still rushing around
trying to remember where we put our life jackets and
wondering if we really wouldn't rather stay home and watch Deliverance,
OK. I know what I'd rather do, and I suspect we're all of one mind here. But
it's still no fun running around in circles. What's the early birds' secret, then?
I think it's embodied in the Principle of the Six Ps, summarized in the maxim that
Proper Planning Prevents Pi
Call it a full-dress version of the familiar injunction to "Be prepared," if you
want. Easier said than done, of course, especially for family trips, but almost
anything is possible with a little practice. Virtue is sometimes rewarded.
Organization and forethought yield a quick, stress-free getaway. And here's how to
Make a List
Lists are the foundation of all successful breakaways. Lists of gear. Food lists. To-do
lists. Emergency contact lists (aka "float plans").
Possessors of exceptionally retentive memories won't need to write their gear and
food lists down, but they're the exception. Most of us will find that there's no
substitute for paper and pencil, and even the masterminds will often discover uses
for a written list. A few hints: Involve your paddling partners. Show them your
list and ask them for suggestions about things to add, things to leave out, and
ways to save weight. If the kids are coming along, let them join in the fun, too.
Encourage them to draw up their own lists of personal gear. Whether you're planning
a family outing or a solo jaunt,
however, give yourself plenty of time. Good lists evolve. They can't be rushed.
Luckily, the process needn't be traumatic. The "Ten Essentials"
form the nucleus for all gear lists, and the lists you draw up for your first day
trips will grow to meet your needs as your paddling horizons expand. Big Trips just
require more of all consumable items. More food (and sometimes more water, too,
though at eight-pounds-plus a US gallon, you can't haul enough for more than a few
days). More insect
repellent. More toilet paper.
More of everything you use everyday, in short.
Evolution. That's the key. So save all your old gear lists, annotating them
while the memory of each trip is still fresh in your mind. Then consult these notes
when you plan your next trip. There's no better resource.
With your final gear, food, and to-do lists in hand, you're already edging
toward the door, but you're not quite there. Now you have to pack. And efficient
packing is a lot easier for
The Organization Man
Or woman, of course. This is where a lot of us fall down. Shoving your gear into
a dark corner of the garage or worse yet, a dank corner of the basement
won't make it any easier for you to get under way the next time. Instead,
keep your stuff in plain view, somewhere that's both well lit and well ventilated.
A place for
everything, and everything in its place, as my grandfather used to say. And be
sure to make any necessary repairs as soon as possible after you get home from a
trip. Don't fall into the trap of putting them off till tomorrow. As Janis Joplin
once observed, "tomorrow never comes." She knew what she was talking about. If you
don't want departure deadlines to become dreadlines, don't put gear away on
the shelf until you've verified that it's clean, dry, and ready to go.
Consumables are another potential fetter. There's nothing like the prospect of a
frantic dash into town to buy food or repair items to
make the notion of weekend TV look attractive. Wal-Mart® can afford to embrace
just-in-time inventory management, but unless you live next door to a large
outfitter you probably can't. The moral of the story? Avoid the Friday rush at the
HyperMart. Keep generous inventories of staple foods and stove fuel on
hand throughout the paddling season, along with such important extras as water disinfection
medications, batteries, and duct tape. You
won't find these items in stock in every backcountry convenience store, after all.
Check use-by dates, too, rotating your reserves so that you use the older stores
first. Time-consuming? Yes. A bit. But worth it. And there's a bonus. Your camping
stores will double as disaster supplies no small matter in an increasingly
We've got our foot on the threshold now. There's only one thing left to do
before we can head out
Take it from a veteran of far too many midnight scrambles it pays to get
the packing done early. A day or two of lead time is enough for a weekend trip.
(Cold food is the exception here. Keep it in the fridge till you're ready to
leave.) A week in advance isn't too long for an expedition. One thing's for sure,
anyway. Having your boat already lashed on the
rack and everything loaded makes D-Day a much more relaxed (and enjoyable)
affair. To avoid tempting larcenous passersby, however, it's wise to lock both boat
and car securely. The only thing worse than a flurry of last-minute packing is the
sickening realization that your boat has fallen prey to a modern-day pirate
during the night!
Expeditions involve further complications, but aside from river permits and
similar administrative hurdles, they're no different for a paddling trip than for
any other long vacation: cleaning out the refrigerator, making certain that your
car is in top shape, arranging for someone to pick up the mail and keep the lawn in
check, taking Fido or Fluffy to the kennel, and so forth. Whether you'll be gone
all summer or only for a day, though, don't forget to leave a copy of your float plan with a
trusted friend or relative. That could be the most important thing you do.
Now it's the night before you're scheduled to leave. You check you list once
more, put out your traveling clothes, make sure your keys and wallet are where you
can find them, and lay out the breakfast things. Then it's time to get some sleep.
It's been a lot of work getting ready, but you'll reap your reward when the big day
arrives. You'll be the cool and collected one for a change, the quiet eye in
the storm created by your less well-prepared companions' frenzied scrambles. Don't
gloat, though. You don't want to catch Nemesis' eye, do
And when the trip is over? What then? Do you just dump your dirty gear and
garbage in the garage and sit down at the kitchen table to go through your mail?
Not if you're smart, you don't. The day you get back from one trip is the best time
to begin preparations for the next. To make things easier, make your last day on
the road a short one. You'll need to buy food for supper (and tomorrow's
breakfast), pick up Fido and Fluffy, unload your car, and unpack your gear. None of
these jobs will be easier after sixteen hours on the road. You'll also want to make
a detailed list of everything requiring repair or replacement. So start getting
things ready for your next trip right now today, not tomorrow. Because
tomorrow never comes. It's always today.
For too many paddlers, D-Day departure day is a day to dread. But
deadlines don't have to be dreadlines, and breaking away doesn't have to be a
chore. It can be easy. The secret? Proper planning prevents piddling-poor
performance. That's a fail-safe recipe for making a quick getaway. Just ask any
Copyright © 2006 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights