Yip, I admit it, I’m a control freak. I love planning and I love making to-do lists. And the recent month-long trip to New Zealand was no exception – I had a detailed calendar of our movements, a spreadsheet, and an A4-page to-do list to make sure all logistics and bookings were sorted.
It worked like a dream. I was so organised. I knew where we had to be and when, my parents knew our whereabouts and what days we were in for dinner, and it largely worked at keeping the boyfriend in line and on time (no mean feat that last one I can tell you!).
However, there was one thing I hadn’t factored in during my planning extravaganza…
…And that was, the New Zealand weather.
And it really blew my plan out of the water.
I was supposed to have climbed three volcanoes while in New Zealand as part of my #40by40 quest to climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40. But poor visibility and high winds put paid to climbing Mt Ngauruhoe, while a spectacularly wet weather bomb scuppered our attempt to summit Mt Taranaki. It was only Rangitoto and her pohutukawa-covered slopes that saw the bottom of our tramping boots.
The problem was I didn’t have any spare days up my sleeve to reattempt the climbs. I had crammed so much into our month in Kiwi-land and organised it to the nth degree that there was no leeway, no flexibility – and I’d completely discounted the weather as having any influence on my grand volcano-climbing plan (it’s not like we were talking about England here).
How naive I was. (And yet ironically I was well kitted out for wet weather, complete with waterproof clothes, dry bags and a backpack cover).
But this nasty injection of weather chaos screwing up my plans was something of a wake-up call. Apart from the need to take weather into account (a very important take-home message), this experience also emphasised the need to build flexibility into plans, to make them less rigid. Basically, I was flitting around the country like a blue-arsed fly and what I really needed to do was take a chill pill.
In hindsight, when I think about it, anyone aiming to climb a mountain would be wise to pencil in a few extra days so that they increase their chances of optimum climbing conditions and therefore success. Why I didn’t apply this thinking when I was planning the trip to New Zealand, I have no idea.
Furthermore, the over planning (and the additional headache it gave me) essentially striped some of the fun from the trip because I was so busy thinking what was next and when we needed to be there by rather than enjoying the moment. In many ways, it also meant my sense of failure at not climbing these volcanoes was greater – I’d put so much effort into planning, with the intention being it would ensure success, that when the result I had planned for didn’t occur (and for a reason I hadn’t given full consideration to) it was a bit of a punch in the gut.
Of course, it’s not the end of the world. As Sally the hut warden said in regards to Mt Ngauruhoe: “The volcano will always be there.” And that is true, although it doesn’t lessen the sting.
What I’ve learnt is that planning, particularly for an adventure, is important, but it needs to be taken with a dollop of flexibility, as well as factoring in things that might happen outside of your control (such as the weather). Flexibility also opens up possibilities, ushers in serendipity and allows for creative solutions and decision making.
Flexible planning may not have guaranteed that an extra two volcanoes made it onto my list but it would have taken some of the pressure off and given me some much-needed breathing space.