overpreparation

I’ve spent much of the morning drinking coffee and planning first order approximations of a family vacation at the end of June. This means I have been able to pore through online maps of roads and campgrounds and trails and figure out which tent site is the best combination of close to the bathroom and not too close to the bathroom. I love this level of planning, or maybe I love maps and the possibilities that they present. When I was growing up, I was often in my dad’s office for a few minutes to a couple of hours every now and then. As a forest surveyor and in a day that pre-dated the widespread use of computers for such a trade, my dad shared a large office with three others, surrounded by drafting tables, colored pencils, and large maps. I’m not sure if this is where my love for maps came about or not, but now whenever I have anything from a large pdf file on a computer screen to an old, muddied (literally) scroll of a USGS quadrangle, I flash back to that office, boots drying in the corner and electric pencil sharpeners on spacious tables.

I think that maps are mostly fascinating to me because they represent possibility — somewhere I can go, set foot upon in a real, physical way — represented by contour lines and dotted paths. At the same time, I know that the map only tells part of the picture, where just a dull shade of green represents an expanse of redwood forest or a crowd of brown parallel lines represents the cliff above some route. Maps may also be just a manifestation of my desire to plan something. With the map in hand, I know where I’ll be going and where paths from there could lead.

There is no such a thing as being too prepared. At least I generally wouldn’t think so. I recently bought not only a map and a new pack for leading teachers through the desert, but also a bear canister. (Not for putting the renegade bear in, but for storing food to be protected from the bear.) Why a bear canister in the desert? Maybe it keeps the bears in the forest? It’s actually a great storage container for organizing (and not crushing) food for a group, doubling as a stool or small table. And, truth be told, I’ll use it again on backpacking trips. So I’m doubly prepared.

But I think that there is a potential risk of unforeseen consequences arising from the preparation itself. I had a warning of this as I discovered that in the entire house we were down to only a few more squares of toilet paper. How could this happen? We were so prepared: A trip to Costco provides us with 24 36 rolls of toilet paper, enough to prepare us for the long haul. Yet, with that preparation comes complacency. With each exhausted roll there is one to fill its place, and we don’t remember that there’s any need to resupply it until it is potentially too late. No amount of route planning and map printing will make up for a lacking supply of TP in the house.

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