Sunday, March 27, 2011

lessons learned #2: planning

A plan doesn't have to be long and complicated, but there needs to be one if one's project is to appear comprehensible to oneself and to others. I heard, once, about a Western lady who was a Buddhist nun, who decided to do her own transcontinental walk. Her plan: just walk, and trust that the world would provide. While simple in the extreme, such a plan at least had the virtue of coherence.

For those of us with more complex objectives in mind, our planning has to incorporate the same level of clear-eyed coherence. The more detailed the objective, the more rigorous the planning.

I mentioned, in my previous post, how I had approached route planning at the beginning of my walk. This approach ended up falling largely by the wayside, especially after Portland, but even before I had hit Portland, I found myself either staying at cheap motels, or camping, or staying at people's residences. The whole notion of moving from religious establishment to religious establishment had gone out the window by Mile 200. I consider that evidence of bad planning.

A plan that entails interactions with other people needs to consider the intricacies of human psychology. This might not be as true in a military situation, which operates according to very clear chains of command and has little tolerance for individual tastes and scruples, but for the rest of us civvies, working together is often a process that involves a great deal of empathy, perceptivity, patience, and effort-- especially those latter two qualities. My idea of appearing at a church doorstep and saying, "Hi! I'd like to stay here for a day or so, talk over religion with you, then have you find another religious establishment to send me to!" was probably doomed to failure by its very nature: I hadn't really taken human psychology into account. People aren't always at their best when they face the unexpected, and my foisting myself on the unprepared was, I think, a case of very poor judgment on my part.

Better, then, to alert people to what you're doing well in advance, so that they have time to prepare for you. For me, and for this second attempt at a trans-American walk, this means setting up a definite route and making doubly sure that the people who will help me out can reliably help me. If I intrude on their vacation time, for example, things might get hairy. If I choose flaky helpers who promise much but deliver little, that can also be problematic. Many people have generous intentions; fewer people have the strength of character to follow through with those intentions. Finding that smaller, more selective crowd is one of my tasks for this walk.

There's large-scale planning and there's small-scale planning. Both are important. For my walk, large-scale planning will mean fleshing out the overall route as I connect the dots between cities. Small-scale planning will have to happen in tandem with this; the details of how I get from A to B are just as important as the larger mission of determining the locations of A and B.

This is where social networking comes in. I didn't make the best use of Facebook when I was on it, but I refuse to return to it given its security problems and its host of completely irrelevant doodads. Almost everything that can be done on Facebook can be done on a blog: the posting of pictures, the writing of short or long updates, etc. Just about anything else can be done through Twitter, which I've come to respect as a very stripped-down way to send word out in real time. Both blogging and tweeting can be done on any current smart phone, and I've got one of those, baby.

Acquiring loyal followers on Twitter, then, is a major priority. Without that instantaneous (and wonderfully decentralized) grapevine, much that should happen won't happen. Route planning will occur more quickly with followers who can chime in with immediate feedback, and I can also use Twitter much more easily than I can use a blog to update my location (and, possibly, my survival needs, should I find myself out in the heat with no water, as happened once in the high desert in 2008).

Along with the gross and fine aspects of route planning, there's the question of where to stay. My cash reserves during the 2008 walk, which included quite a bit of donated money from friends and interested parties, were depleted rather quickly because I chose not to opt for illegal rest stops, e.g., sleeping on someone's farmland or in a wooded area of uncertain ownership. This is, partly, what led me to stop at so many motels along the way, especially during the middle 350 miles in 2008: I hadn't arranged to be housed at anyone's residence, and I didn't want to knock on doors and impose. Planning to stay at specific places, this time around, will alleviate much of that financial burden. If I'm not at someone's house (or sleeping in someone's van or chase car!), I'll be camping-- preferably legally.

I'm not too worried about certain other aspects of the walk, such as weather. By choosing a southerly route, I hope to avoid serious snow in the winter and dangerous phenomena like tornadoes. I learned, last time around, that one can trudge quite a long distance in even the most miserable of conditions (rain and cold are the worst when combined), and that blisters, when they occur, can simply be "walked through" without major incident. Your feet can and will toughen up when exposed to such constant pounding.

What does worry me, however, is my knees. I injured myself in a fall early in the 2008 walk, somewhere around Mile 200. That means I walked nearly 400 miles with a steadily worsening knee, and that injury, though largely healed, hasn't healed completely. Some of this problem can be alleviated by losing weight before I start the walk; some of it can be alleviated by having a chase car (or several chase cars, each for a different stretch of the walk), so that I don't need to wear a heavy backpack.* Another alternative would be to jury-rig a set of wheels so that my pack could be pulled along like a cart (with a hands-free harness so I could swing my arms) during those times when I didn't feel like wearing it on my shoulders and hips.

Before I drift into a full digression, though, let me pull back and say that I've learned the value and necessity of good, detailed planning. Stepping out into the wilderness on a wing and a prayer is possible, maybe even coherent, but once your mission acquires more specific parameters, the need for thorough, detailed planning imposes itself. There's no way around it, and no way to succeed without it.

*I remember one person asking why my backpack was so heavy. It's because I had so much stuff to carry-- not just clothing and camping equipment, but also maps and various paraphernalia. Above all, there was the water I needed: in the high desert, I was consuming easily more than a gallon a day, just to stay hydrated. As someone who sweats a lot, I know how easy it is to fall into a thirsty state.


No comments: