There are a number of attitudes I have seen in kayakers that can either serve or endanger them. Sticking to the itinerary is the one I will address in this months reflections. After directing UCSB Adventure Programs for 25 years I know the value of an itinerary. A well-planned itinerary allows an individual and/or the group to accomplish its goals in the time allotted for the trip. With time being so precious, making the most of it is a reasonable desire.
I get concerned when one tries to stick to the itinerary at nearly all costs. An itinerary is only a plan. Yet, it is amazing how sticking to the itinerary often interferes with a good time and even ones safety. I, like many others, am a very task oriented person. I freely admit time and keeping to a schedule are important to me. On the other side of the coin there are those who seem to care less about time. They just seem to go with the flow. Rather than discuss the merits of one type over another, lets look at examples of sticking to and not sticking to an itinerary.
There is an invaluable book in print that reviews a number of accidents and the lessons to be learned from others mistakes. The book is called "Deep Trouble" written by Matt Broze and George Gronseth. I am a firm believer of reviewing the actions and outcomes of others for learning purposes and in this book that is what Matt and George has done. There were lessons to be learned from each of the accidents reviewed. After reading the book I realized there was something missing. This is not meant as a criticism of the fine work done by the authors. Their focus was to review the individual accidents. What I would have liked to see, was an overall review of all the accidents to see if there were common threads. Since it was not included I made my own list as I suggest you do on your own. One of the common threads to tragedy was sticking to the itinerary. If the victims never left the beach or tried to reach a planned destination (changed their itinerary) they would have avoided the situation.
I understand the realities of life. We have to pay the bills, have commitments to our family and our careers.If it is the last day of the trip we may feel the need to get out on time because we have to be at work the next day or meet up with the family. However, this self-imposed pressure is not a good basis for making decisions when conditions are questionable. I have yet to see the following written on a headstone, "I wish I spent more time at work." I have also found some folks seem to get in a hurry to get to the take-out when the end is near. Please read USKs article "Back to the Barn" for more information on this topic. If it is critical for someone to be back at work then they should plan for possible bad weather days by not planning to be back at work the day after the trip is over.
When conditions are not favorable for paddling it may be worth it to sit it out on shore. Knowing that weather and paddling conditions are dynamic a good itinerary needs to allow for changes. These changes are not only reserved for bad conditions. If you have exceptional conditions you may be able to take advantage of paddling in areas you cannot normally access such as sea caves. If so the time you take to go caving will take time away from another part of your itinerary. A suggestion for keeping ready for a dynamic itinerary is listing all of the possible things that can get done but state there is never enough time to do them all. Indicate the group will fit in as many as conditions and circumstances allow.
One of the reasons a group may try to keep to the itinerary can be due to the expectations that were set in the advertising and/ or dialog along the trip. Please see USK article "What do you want from a trip?" for more about expectations. If there is a favorite campsite that is being promoted the group and the leader are going to try to make that campsite. Perhaps there are hot springs at the campground. The desire to be soaking in those hot springs may force the group to push harder and longer than advised and end up in trouble because of fatigue and nightfall. With this in mind I found it important to give my staff and me the most flexibility as possible by advertising that itineraries can change at the last minute due to any number of reasons. These reasons can include, but are not limited to weather, environmental conditions, acts of God, group abilities, governmental restrictions and sudden emergencies.
Knowing that the outdoors is a dynamic and sometimes unpredictable environment I plan extra food for any outing. When it was backpacking the extra food consisted of packets of hot chocolate and Cup-of-Soups because of the reduced weight. In a kayak I can carry something more substantial. If I have to stay put a few days longer I will have some meals to keep me satisfied while I weather out the conditions warm & dry in my tent. A good book makes the time go by more quickly.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I believe outings (especially group outings) should have a planned itinerary. The itinerary should be reasonable and flexible. Have a plan with alternatives and the ability to add more alternatives. I always like to consider the concept of "Doing nothing is a planned action." Someone in the group may say "we cannot just stay here and do nothing." In the case of leaving a secure camp to head into risky conditions because it is on the itinerary, this perceived "doing nothing" is actually a very wise action of staying in a secure area until conditions improve.
An outdoor adventure has a different meaning to everyone. One of the important parts of my definition is returning home to remember the adventure and look forward to planning my next one. The operative portion is "returning home."
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