Build the Plan vs. Test the Plan – Part 3, by T.R.

(Continued from Part 2.)

Some background: I still work almost full time, but portions of the year are full throttle 60+ hour weeks and other blocks are much lighter, with my husband retired from the military. We wanted a vacation in terms of scenery and wildlife and we wanted to test our plans across a number of elements.

To appropriately field test our plans with a degree of stress testing that would replicate a certain amount of tension present in real threat condition whilst isolating certain elements one at a time to calibrate parts of our plan in a systematic way, we tried to set a few parameters that would shape the testing conditions: 1. Pack the car and get out of dodge quickly, with the hope to leave in less than 4-6 hours; 2. Be on the road with gasoline services to get as far as possible and then artificially cut ourselves off from stores, gas and retail purchase power for some period of time. 3. Deal with weather/climate and test shelter, security/safety, water, food, health/fitness and personal fulfillment (wildlife, nature and reading) for a 30 consecutive day period of time.

For those of us without 30 days in a row available (which was us for most of our lives working until very recently), one could test Colorado (or like location) as one 10-day chunk of time and then Wyoming as a separate 20-day test of time. In the past, when we did not have these large consecutive blocks of time, we would avoid restocking for our 2nd vacation week and see how well we did running down on leftovers. That wasn’t really much fun in terms of enjoying our vacation nor did those part camping outings really have enough documentation and controls (e.g. inventory of what we brought, field notes of what worked and what didn’t) to be a true mastery of our goals.

However, building on last summer’s camping trip to the Everglades which was a completely different climate of hot, humid and wetlands vs. this summer with mountains and colder temperatures was a good variation. In retrospect, we were thrilled at our test location(s) – we saw wildlife, nature, met amazing people at a few national parks and we also went far backcountry with surprisingly few people but that’s not the topic of this essay.

So here goes… We park our truck out front of the garage and go to bed. We agree that the next morning we will pack the vehicle and then let it sit — allowing us a cushion of a couple days to set up a mail hold and tell our grown kids how to reach out, check in with my parents etc. and for my husband to sort out a few gear related questions as well as cleaning out the fridge and cutting the grass.

An Unrealistic Time Goal

We expected to complete vehicle packing by lunch time; on that account, as a preview, we failed miserably mostly because in our previous lens (e.g. camping) we were planning on returning to our house whilst in this more realistic test, for simulation purposes, we were not (necessarily) returning to our house. That one criterion made packing very different from anything in the past. Adding to that, this trip plan was double or triple the length of time of previous trips and farther West than past trips with cold climate and a place my husband had not visited before. If the situation had been stressful, that would have likely made decision harder.

The next morning, my husband heads for the garage and I walk downstairs to the basement where much of our gear is fully stocked along with Bill’s Bags (those great dry bags mentioned in the novel Patriots), Cabela’s dry duffels and stuff sacks, plenty of food stocks and our camping gear and backpacking gear, cots, water jugs and the like. Our internal frame packs are hanging neatly on hooks airing out from miscellaneous Boy Scout trips of the past with a few mothballs hanging in mesh bags along the rafters, separate racks for canned food stuffs or trunks of food sorted into categories and a separate rack for non-edible and non-wearable gear.

We had a gasket-sealed trunk of hiking only gear. The “hiking trunk” held leg gaiters, metal crampons from winter trips here and there, extra wool socks, a zip lock bag of extra boot laces, headlamps and spare batteries, whetstone and knife oil in a small wooden box from my Dad but this was mixed in with random camping gear (not particularly useful since it was overly time consuming to organize and pick out useful items from discarded gear).

Grabbing Some Grub

A large rack of food in a rotation for freshness reasons (a mix of regular food with backpacking food) stands in the coldest and driest corner of the lower level next to a root cellar. Our food is organized in groupings of like items based on rack heights or can heights rather than organized in sets of meals that go together. Some humor here. Already, my mind starts wandering looking at 10# cans of Mountain House Breakfast Skillet (my husband’s favorite) vs. Peanut Butter and Jelly which I hadn’t eaten in a long time and which also sounded good. We keep a nice stock of dry just-add-water pancake sacks and a few cans of steel cut oatmeal. Tins of anchovies and tuna fish were mixed in with other proteins. I started thinking of steel cut oatmeal and brown sugar (vs pancakes) and went back up to the kitchen to toss the brown sugar on the “go pile” for the oatmeal.

We had a loaf of wheat bread and a stack of tortilla wraps in the kitchen pantry, I took both as we had agreed that we would not, per se, “go shopping at Costco” right before our field test. Realizing that we were timing this on a stop watch from my iPhone, I took an assortment of canned goods and backpacking food and then grabbed my “Cook kit” ammo can that was pre-packed from last summer’s camping trip to the Everglades (already packed with a multifuel stove and filled, funnel, spare filled fuel bottle, flint, extra matches in a Rx bottle and then in a zip lock bag, cooking kit of utensils/bowls/plates/small pot/pot lid and small saucepan plus spares with a scrubby, dish soap and a dishtowel to keep things from rattling inside).

Which Sleeping Bags?

I got mentally sidetracked trying to decide whether to bring the medium weight warm sleeping bags which compress smaller or the long versions for colder weather or the lighter versions for backpacking. Should I bring heavier folding cots (which allow under-the-cot tent storage and keep things neater, drier and more organized) or Lightspeed self-inflating air mattresses which were much lighter (but if the tent took in any moisture offered less temperature protection) or just a foam bedroll that we toss on the truck bed in a flat format that was slightly better than a yoga mat but would actually work for backpacking vs. car camping ? This was harder than oatmeal vs. pancakes as a decision point, indeed.

Next to one of our canned good racks, we had a stack of squeaky clean blue plastic buckets left over from the neighbor’s pool chlorine tablets which every time he throws them out, I squirrel them away. Should I bring 0,1 or 2 of these stacked buckets? Then I remember… we store large sacks of rice in the same type of bucket so maybe I need one less bucket? Some humor at my expense. Several hours later, I had barely managed to start a large pile of objects that would ultimately need to go in a pack or dry bag, let alone sorted and organized into any semblance of order that my husband could actually pack into the car. Obviously, in a real crisis, I would have made choices quicker however, the point of this exercise was to make great choices fast, not average choices slowly.

Grade: D- or F

Our self-assessment “dry run” grade of just packing the truck/minivan was a grade of  D- or F. Understanding that we had plenty of time to get ready for what was really a vacation with advance notice, it took us basically 2+ days to pack the car in a manner that offered a systematic approach towards packed items getting to a precise level of decision making such that we took the items we wanted and left items which either would not fit into the car or were not needed.

This was a great lesson and parallels the books Lights Out and Patriots at several junctures. Despite having camped for 40 years, packing the truck knowing (e.g. pretending) that I was perhaps not returning with the constraint of living with what I packed and only that for an extended period of time – and being limited to not purchasing more – was quite a lesson. Yes, I’m sure there are many readers who are well beyond this state of readiness, but I would argue that are some folks are worse off than us by far. The more people who read this and get prepared, then the less chaos for the rest of us to address.

(To be continued in Part 4.)