I’ve always been a planner.
At age 4, you could find me bossing my father around a meticulously planned tea party — the water (you don’t give a 4-year-old real tea) was always served at the perfect temperature to my carefully curated guest list of stuffed dogs and plastic ponies.
Throughout high school, I was the girl you could always trust to have gum, tissues, a pen, what have you, in her purse — always prepared for any situation. I quickly became good at being the group organizer.
I’ve always hated not knowing the who, what, where or when of a group outing (maybe I should have guessed earlier on that I’d be a journalist). Jumping into weekend plans with only a vague idea of the departure time and who’s going to be driving has always seemed generally insane to me.
For a long time in college and the years immediately following when I first moved to Alaska, I would either pester my friends for said information, or make those decisions myself and shoot it off in a group text.
Like I said, I’m a planner.
That said, a strange thing has started happening to me when it comes to taking trips or going on outdoor adventures around the Kenai Peninsula. More and more of late, I’ve started neglecting certain details, either not thinking of them or not bothering to do too much research. I’ve opted to not pack for all the possible outcomes I normally would, choosing to fill the space instead with a book or playing cards.
I think what’s happening is that I’ve been on enough Alaska adventures by now to know, at least subconsciously, that they are never, ever going to go the way I plan them.
So, my brain is subtly telling me, I think: Why waste all that energy planning when it’s all going to take a big left turn anyway?
One such left turn occurred on a recent camping trip to Seward with a friend. Our objective — spend two nights at the public use cabin at Tonsina Point in the Caines Head State Recreation Area just outside Seward on Resurrection Bay. See some wildlife, do some hiking, press pause on the relentless grind of the work week. Pretty simple, right?
Our first sign that things would not be going to plan was the ongoing downpour that greeted us in Seward, followed us out to Lowell Point and kept us company during the entire hike to the cabin. To be fair, we could hardly be mad at the weather — it was Seward, after all. And the hike was a short two miles.
The second complication arose as a result, ironically, of my previous planning for the trip. Relatively little information could be found online as to how much fuel was needed for the Nordic stove inside the cabin.
My best estimates for two days and two nights based on the amount used by one family who wrote a review had us (and by us, I mean my friend) hauling in way more diesel than we would actually need or indeed manage to use.
This resulted in a two-mile hike that lasted much longer than it should have, pushing our arrival at the cabin past the sunset. Squinting through the rain with the help of our headlamps, we eventually found the structure tucked just back from the shore and set to work drying out the contents of our packs.
Dehydrated chicken and rice had never tasted so good.
Another wrench in the operation was discovered when it came to light that neither my friend nor I had remembered to buy cheese to melt on top of those gourmet dehydrated meals. A travesty to be sure, but we soldiered on.
The second day, in a way we never could have planned for, was beautiful. A peaceful sunrise cast alpenglow onto the snow-topped mountains across Resurrection Bay, and cloudless skies allowed the sun to shine down on our hike that day. A friend of mine who lives there even remarked later that weekend that rarely is the weatherman so wrong about Seward.
This unexpected fair weather twist was placed in the “positives” column for the trip.
The morning we were set to leave, Seward was back to her old tricks. On the trail that made its way from the Lowell Point trail head parking lot down several hundred feet of elevation to the beach, rain on top of more rain transformed the quaint trickles of water cutting across the trail into small rushing rivers to be hopped over.
One section of trail in particular, which Saturday had been a small creek to wade through, had turned into a tricky, fast moving impediment that required careful fording and about 10 extra minutes to get past.
Unlike the day before, we saw no locals out walking or jogging on the Tonsina Creek trail that day. The locals were smart and had thought better of it.
I reached my car at the end of the trip soaked through and shivering. And yet, nothing in my mind at that point was telling me the trip had been bad or a failure. Had it been smooth sailing all the way? No. Had it all gone to plan? Absolutely not.
What I realized is that, as Alaskans, we were prepared to be unprepared for at least part of the camping trip. We almost expected some things to go wrong. So, when things went a little off kilter, we weren’t disappointed. We weren’t thrown totally off guard.
As Alaskans, we come to expect the unexpected and are at least prepared enough to deal with challenges as they arise. We have a knack for making the best of them.
Multiple-day downpours or a late arrival in the dark or completely overestimating how much fuel needed to be carried in couldn’t ruin the fun, because Alaskans, in their tenacious, determined, slightly unhinged way, find fun in the roads less taken and in the plans gone awry.
My only advice for your future adventure planning? If you see a block of cheese, pack it.