skip to main content

When the Plan Changes, it Doesn’t Mean Failure…

For the last 11 months my husband and I have been training for a weekend backpacking trip.  It started with me trying to get back into shape and feel better about myself. We walked the steep neighborhood.  I did strength training.  We dusted-off old gear and purchased some new stuff. We read up on the trail we would be taking.

My husband had backpacked before, but I had not. I relied on him for what to purchase, rent, or do in regards to preparation.  This was a journey that was, in reality, 15 years in the dreaming.  We had purchased our backpacks from Mystery Ranch in Bozeman Montana in 2008, while on our honeymoon, with the intention of using them frequently over the years.  IMG 1614

As a lot of journeys go, our packs hung patiently waiting through 2 kids, 3 career changes, and 2 houses.  Over the last few months, Stuart and I have worked hard, changed our diet, and each respectively lost between 35-45 pounds.  We are each down 2-4 clothing sizes.  I am still not as strong as I was in my twenties, when I was hiking and rock climbing daily, but I am working on it.  I am committed to rebuilding the strength that I know my body possesses.  About 2 weeks before our trip, we started doing our hikes with weighted bags, we tried out our backpacks and refitted them to our current bodies that are better than they were, but nowhere near what was fitted in 2008.  A heavy loaded hike in our neighborhood gave us confidence in our abilities to continue this journey.

We enlisted friends to help us out with drop-off, and gear meet-ups at the halfway point.  My sister-in-law even drove 6 hours to spend the weekend with the kids while we took this journey.  The weather started looking questionable a few days beforehand, so we modified the outlook with some contingencies, in case we needed to change time frames so that we did not risk dangerous situations on ridgelines.


In short, we planned big, we planned small, we planned if things went bad. We were prepared for ANYTHING. I was so stoked.  If you know me, you know that I love adventure, and that I love being outdoors.  The plan was laid-out ahead of time and we also made sure to think about what we would do if things needed to change.  We had emergency supplies.  We had people with whom we could check-in, and people who could rescue us if needed.

The day started and we were strong and ready!  The excitement almost kept me from sleeping the night before.  As we pulled into the parking lot for drop off, the rain was coming just a little, but the weather forecast said it should clear up throughout the day, and rain more in the evening.  We double-checked our map and made plans to hike in at least 15 miles, possibly more to shorten the trip for the next day due to the potential thunderstorms coming on Sunday/Monday.  We updated the team, loaded-up, and headed out on our trip.

I was feeling a bit euphoric, this was something that I have been dreaming about doing for OVER a decade. 

Lot’s of work, preparation and heart went into this trip. If you had told me the year before that we would be doing this, I would have said that you did not know what you were talking about, since I knew how all of our other short day hikes had gone leading up to that. The family begrudgingly hiked with me over the years, and very rarely was it a thing that the WHOLE family was enjoying as we trekked along.  Yet, here we were! Albeit a slightly less than romantic weekend trip than it could have been due to the weather coming in, but we were still going. The weather around here can change so quickly that we had agreed that we would not cancel unless it was truly bad.

The morning progressed and each of us focused on the hike. It was a little slick, the beginning of the trail was through rhododendron and mountain laurel groves, and it was steep. 

Stuart was in front of me, as he started having trouble early on our hike. The steep incline and the weight of his pack were bigger factors that we had anticipated. I was having some discomfort with my pack as well, but attributed it to wearing a different top and having the pack hit spots that I wasn’t use too. The incline was hard work for me, but I kept focusing on what I had learned in my strength training about making sure to engage my posterior chain of muscles and not let my legs do all the work with my pack. I was hoping that my pack could have been lighter.  The goal was to have it weigh less than 30 lbs for me, and less than 40 for Stuart.  By the time we had everything in for the 3 day 2 nights trip both were weighing what felt like significantly more.  

To get to our desired campsite for the night we needed to be able to keep at least a 2 mile/hour pace, which should have been doable for us with the rate that we have been hiking for the past few months. Our GPS told us that we should be able to reach our destination by 1 pm. We knew that would change to a little further out in the day, but that was a good measure for starting out at 7:30 am.

By the second hour, we started having discussions about changing the location for camp, as it was harder going than Stuart had planned. He was struggling a lot more with his pack than I was. Stuart had sustained some serious back injuries and had to have spinal fusion in 2007, which had ended his backpacking in the first place.  He was getting a pain in his back just under his shoulder blades from muscles that had not had to carry weight like that in a very long time, and was having to pause often on the trail to shift his load and rest.  Watching the struggle for me was hard, I knew he was working as hard as he could, and felt bad that he was slowing us down.  I just kept trying to encourage him with reminders that we had no actual constraints on us as to when we got anywhere.  Slow was fine, it did not hurt my feelings.

IMG 1621The first leg of the journey was only the warm up to the really steep leg up Pilot Mountain, I was a little concerned about later in the day. It was hard to watch Stuart push himself on this early leg, and know that it was clearly harder on him than either of us had planned for. He refused to let me take some of his weight onto my pack, all I could do was keep encouraging him to walk at his own pace, and not worry about me. I had nowhere else I wanted to be.

The pain in his back got bad enough by 9:30 that we started looking at where we could bail out, and started to make plans for what we would do.  Changing plans so drastically so early in the day was not something that we had expected. We thought that if we had to bail it would be for weather, or at worst a bee sting… not ability. That felt hard. 

It was hard for me, because I felt like I could do it, but I knew that he couldn’t. I was disappointed, but did not want him to be more upset by my feelings. I would rather end the trip safely, than endure the trip with pending injury and the concern of injury was getting to be more of a reality than a possibility. 

On the GPS it looked like we needed to hike another 2.5 miles up before we could get to a road for pick up, and even that seemed like a big deal. We sent a message through our emergency device that we would need to be picked up, and gathered ourselves for a few minutes and continued up through the mountain laurel grove. 

After 20 minutes we found ourselves on a Forest Service road that led back to our original starting point.  We also actually had cell signal and changed our pick up point with our friend Tera. We took off our packs and rested here for about 30 minutes, and double checked the map and made plans to head back to the parking lot.  We only made it 3 miles.

The hike back was hard, I was disappointed to call it so early, but I was relieved that Stuart had been able to be honest with himself and his needs. I would rather put off the trip, than be miserable for the whole thing, or deal with an injury that could set us back on our physical goals for months to years.  Back injuries are nothing to sneeze at.

The hardest part for me on our walk back, and for the rest of the day was internalizing my disappointment, and pouring out my support and encouragement for Stuart. We both knew in our hearts that we had made the right decision to bail. 

We spent the rest of the day being deliberate in continuing our movement, and choosing to do things that would redeem the day. We invested in each other with time, and had a great day. It was not the easiest day, but we did make the effort to make the best of our disappointment.  In short, our plan did not fail, and we did not fail, but we did have to be open to change… a plan that changes, is not a plan that fails, it is a plan that allows for modification.

Thinking through this story makes me think about all the preparation and planning that families go through in hopes of having a successful, enjoyable, and peaceful birth. Planning, preparing, learning, and training are so important to the end goal of childbirth. However, a birth that does not go to plan is not a failed birth, it just means that we need to tap into our grace for ourselves, and each other and allow for modifications. It means clear communication between you and your care team, and joint decision making. It means being able to voice your thoughts, concerns and and allowing others in the team to do the same so that everyone can be on the same page and supporting each other through the changes.

Plans are important, but they should never be something we cling to without regard to unexpected circumstances. Plans are there so that we have a goal, and people around us can support us well. Plans should always include space for grace and change.

You can download a fillable birth plan with a guide here, and papas. I know that it can be difficult to watch the one you love work through a plan, even when that plan works out beautifully. Come join other fathers around the campfire at Kooshlie Care for Daddy Debrief, share your story if you would like, or just build new relationships with other papa’s who are working through this new role of daddy and husband as you are.