Last year I hiked the John Muir Trail in 16 days, backpacked on the Olympic Peninsula with my wife and four kids (all of whom are under 7 years of age), canoed the Bowron Lakes with my wife and two youngest kids (both under 3), and filled in the gaps with countless fishing, hiking and other outdoor adventures.
Let's be clear, we're an average family. I work a typical job, we live on a single income and I suffer severely from procrastination. The kids still complain when they are hungry/tired/grumpy... and so do I for that matter. And yet, somehow we have been able get outdoors, have adventures and make memories. How? Because we plan, set goals and strategize to make it happen.
Day-Dreams Don't Make Memories
It wasn't always this way. By nature, I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of guy. It shocked me to realize that I was already 31, and that although I've been blessed with some pretty awesome adventures in life so far, I had a lot of things that I still wanted to do. I've had a lot of big ideas in my life: to make a cedar strip canoe or kayak, go on a fly-in fishing trip, build a log cabin, canoe the Bowron Lakes circuit, snorkel in Hawaii, go on a family kayaking trip from Alaska to Vancouver, spend a week in the woods with only a knife and an ax, tour New Zealand, hike Stewart Island, visit Patagonia, and hike the John Muir Trail. Verily little of that had happened by my 30th birthday, but something had changed from 30-31 that was making a difference. I started listening to my wife.
I'd rather wait until Friday to plan the weekend's adventures, while she prefers (read: needs) plenty of warning. If I didn't have her, I'd probably spend my weekends on the computer talking about adventure. It was my wife who started helping me to plan for weekends, holidays and adventures. It was my wife who said, "If you don't hike the John Muir Trail now, you'll never do it," (and who then took care of our four kids while I went hiking for two weeks.)
One night my wife returned home after an evening out with friends with an idea. She came back talking about a "30 before 30" list... or in our case 40 before 40. What big goals did we want to achieve by the time we were 40? and more importantly, how would we achieve them? It was time to stop dreaming and start setting goals.
Setting goals and preparing to meet them
In 2012, we set concrete goals and we planned for the challenges that those goals would present us. We started to make big plans. Plans that most people thought we were crazy to dream about, let alone do. Take 4 young children into the "dangerous" back woods? Spend a week canoeing with a 1 and 3 year-old in an even remoter environment? It all worked, because we set goals, planned to complete them and then we did it... and will continue to do it.
On a car trip, we started writing down our own goals on what we want to achieve before we're forty. Whether it was building that kayak, or running 10k before summer, paying off the mortgage, or retiring, however big or small those goals were, we wrote them down... editing would happen later. Those goals would help us set, short, medium and long term plans for upcoming years. The goals we don't set, most likely won't get met.
No, we were rarely ever ready for those adventures when we set the goals. It took a year of planning to hike the John Muir Trail. I went on a Wilderness First Aid course just to feel more comfortable in the back country with kids. We spent weeks making sure we had every piece of kit necessary for a remote canoe-portage trip. I always pack our Spot Messenger (and extra batteries). If we're not sure how to do something we consider it a challenge to tackle, not a road block that makes it impossible.
Filling up the Calendar
Because 2013 was such a huge success, we now sit down at the beginning of the year with pen, paper, a calendar and our evolving 40-before-40 list. Next, we plot out stat holidays, long weekends, how many days holiday we have, and how many days we can afford to take off as unpaid vacation.
Then, we look at what are our goals/priorities. We are actively involved with our church, so 1 weeks' vacation goes to attending a camp. After that week is penned in, we write down a list of things we'd like to do based on our goals, the kids' current interests and our family's abilities, and what we'd need to achieve those goals. With all of those factors in hand, we see what we can fit in. Unfortunately, the 2000+ km family kayaking trip will have to wait until the kids are older (we've put it off for 6 or 7 years). Instead, we're planning a 3-day family canoe trip, a bicycling trip and at least one weekend backpacking. We're filling in the other Saturdays with group trips, day hikes and bike trips to help train for the big adventures.
And then, we pen the activities in. That may seem obvious, but it's crucial for us. Don't just say, "This summer I want..." or, "maybe we can go away on this weekend," say, "On August 1st we're going backpacking for 3 days, at this park."
Budgeting for Gear
Once we have our year's activities, we'll spend our next few weeks planning what gear we'd need for the adventure(s). What do we have? What do we need? How much will it cost? Do we buy or rent? For example, although I wanted to buy a new canoe last summer, I had to settle with renting an 18 ½ footer for our Bowron Lakes adventure. That said, now that we know we'll be canoeing more, we've budgeted for a tripping canoe.
Knowing well in advance of your adventure what you'll need to acquire makes it much easier (and more economical) to get a hold of what you want. You're not in a rush to purchase, so you can research what's out there and wait for a good deal.
To avoid spend too much time looking, I've set up a bunch of email notifications for the Sierra Trading Post which let me know when certain brands or types of gear come in stock.
Now, Get out and do it
There was a long time when I dreamed about big adventures and big accomplishments and didn't do much. When I realized that dreaming didn't make things happen, I started setting goals, making plans and strategizing on how to make them happen... and surprise, surprise, they started happening.
I'm 31 years old; I'm a normal family guy. I've already summited a peak over 6000 meters tall, hiked the John Muir trail, stepped back in time along the Incan Trail in Bolivia, canoed the Bowron Lak
Fill Your Life With Outdoor Adventure, Not Dreams
By Paul Osborn
March 10, 2014
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