We all agree having a goal provides meaning and motivation to one’s life. We also likely agree there is joy to be had in the journey, that how we reach our goal, the destination, is just as important as the achievement. In the process, we prepare for our destination but do we prepare for the journey?
My recent experience reminded me of just how important it is to prepare for the journey as much as the destination.
A Hell of a Ride
Earlier this month, I ran the Two Bays Trail Run, across the Mornington Peninsula, from Dromana to Cape Schank. Some elements of my journey taught me some valuable lessons you might find interesting and helpful too.
Because of family commitments, I left alone on the Friday morning before. Since it’s an easy ten hours from Sydney to Melbourne and I didn’t need much luggage, I decided to ride my motorcycle. It turned out to be anything but an easy ride!
As I packed, I had in mind first what clothing and equipment I needed for the run itself. Getting this right was my top priority. The 28 km run was my goal after all, the destination So shorts, a shirt, a water bladder, Tailwind, a hat, sunscreen, etc. All into a backpack I would carry on the run. Check.
Of next importance was any other clothing and equipment I would need for the weekend itself. I was staying with relatives of my wife, who live relatively close to the event’s course. I would need to be sociable over the weekend. A nice shirt, jeans, shorts, toiletries, all into waterproof bags and into the saddlebags.
Why waterproof bags, you might be wondering? That is a good question, one I asked even myself at the time. I did not check the forecast for the weekend’s weather, since I would run the event regardless. The only weather-related concern I had was whether the bushfires raging throughout New South Wales and Victoria would force road closures on my way or the event to be cancelled. Nevertheless, I had at least the foresight to think it just might rain on such a long trip, so I had better prepare by protecting my gear in waterproof bags. A motorcyclist’s necessary equipment.
By now, the time I had hoped to leave my home and begin the trip had passed. While I had no required time for arrival, the later one leaves the later one arrives! So anxiety started to creep in.
Lastly, I needed to turn my attention to my motorcycle. I knew I needed to fill up the tank and could do so on the way out of the city, no problem. I decided to wear my best jacket but without my leather vest, as this restricts the venting built into the jacket. A hot day was expected. I dumped what equipment I quickly surmised I would not need, loaded my luggage and pulled out of my driveway heading for Melbourne!
While filling up my motorcycle’s petrol tank, I began to survey my mistakes. The biggest and most obvious being that I had not put on my motorcycle’s windscreen. On long trips, this is a lifesaver, since it protects from the constant buffeting of the wind, lessens dehydration, provides cover from rain and bugs, and simply makes long rides much more enjoyable. Here I was on the cusp of a long ride and had forgotten the most essential equipment of the journey.
I was too far from my home to turn back, so pressed on instead.
The error in my judgement became quickly evident. The wind was against me the whole ride. At high speeds, there is a level of airflow anyway, but the buffeting caused by air currents forces one to hold on to the handlebars that much tighter. Imagine holding a bench-press position with the barbell halfway up and you can imagine the exhaustion this causes, not to mention the fear of being tossed about the highway.
To make matters worse, the temperature quickly rose to the high 30s. Once the temperature passes 30°, it seems to me, the wind chill is no longer a relieving factor. The airflow is just hot, with no respite. Hot, dry and windy for 10 hours!
I did stop for breaks. Motorcycles requiring refuelling every 2-3 hours anyway. I did discover a new, favourite eating spot at Albury, NSW. I stumbled into The Albury Brewhouse at about 5pm, just in time for happy hour. I had a satisfying cider brewed in-house and a delicious pizza for $14. I made sure to stop in again on the way back, had another delicious pizza and a blueberry wheat beer. Plus, the bartender introduced me to the music of Sydney-sider Rufus del Sol. I will be sure to in at The Albury Brewhouse any time I’m near Albury from now on!
I pulled into Benalla, VIC, at about 7pm to change into my rain gear. A phone conversation with my destination revealed there was a storm over Melbourne. Even though it was 38° at Benalla, with wind gusts upwards of 90km/h (according to the station attendant), I got the feeling I would not be dry very much longer.
Heading out from Benalla, I proved myself prophetic as the rain started within about 15 mins. Not only did the rain fall, so too did the temperature. By the time I pulled into Wallan, 1.5hrs later, the temperature had dropped to 12° and I was feeling certain of the onset of hypothermia! Trying to warm myself in the service station, I was shivering uncontrollably.
Pressing on, I expected to complete the final 130km on one tank of petrol. I don’t know what went wrong but, on the ring road around Melbourne, I almost ran out, pulling into a service station running on fumes.
I made it to my accommodation 12 hours after I left home, a much longer and more harrowing journey than I expected! I achieved the goal of my destination, running the 28km trail in 3 hours, 8 minutes and 47 seconds, but I can’t help noticing that I was not prepared for the journey itself.
Prevent the Destination Derailing the Journey
We all understand the value of having a goal, a destination for life, even if only for a season. The wisdom of others, and even personal experience, demonstrates how easy it is for one’s goal to become derailed by unforeseen circumstances. There will always be obstacles on the journey, to go over, under, or around.
Focussing all our attention on the destination, though, will increase the incidence of unforeseen obstacles. Because we are not taking into account the journey itself, we are unprepared for when circumstances change. We may lose momentum, or even lose the capacity to achieve our goal, all because we did not prepare for the journey itself.
Keep your destination in mind but keep the journey in view. Look down as much as you look up!
I know preparing for one’s goal takes lots of effort and energy. Preparing for the journey will then seem like an obstacle itself, an unnecessary addition to an already overloaded schedule. Yet how much more smooth the journey will be if the obstacles are reduced to mere annoyances because you are prepared?
How much preparation is too much? I can’t answer that question because each traveller and destination is different. Because of my own recent experience, I am now more certain than ever of the necessity to balance attention on the journey as much as the destination.
Based on my own experience, considering what I could have done differently for my trip, I suggest the following principles:
- Depending on the time you estimate achieving your goal will take, estimate natural breaks in the journey. For instance, if you’ve made a one-year goal, then natural breaks are likely to occur every quarter, possibly even every month. If my case, over a 1,000km journey, I would naturally need to break every 250km to refuel.
- Take advantage of each break to rest and recharge.
- Imagine potential obstacles over each period. What equipment or other resources would be helpful to mitigate those obstacles? While I did not expect rain, I prepared for it by carrying wet weather gear. I gave no thought to cold in Melbourne because it was stinking hot in Sydney. So, I did not pack a sweater and suffered the consequences.
- Reduce your equipment and resources to the bare minimum, to only the essentials. Being overloaded is an obstacle in itself!
- At each break, while resting and recharging, cast your mind to the next stage of the journey. What has changed since you began? What new circumstances have arisen, or are on the horizon, you did not expect? Can you dump equipment or pick up something new to aid your preparation?
Such preparation and reflection will help you achieve your goal, to reach your destination, by mitigating the disasters that can and do result from obstacles threatening to derail your journey. As Forrest Gump told a fellow traveller, “shit happens … sometimes”. As far as possible, be prepared for the journey as much as for the destination.