What’s the Point of Planning?

sand dunes with a blue sky

photo credit: James Marvin Phelps via Flickr

People don’t plan to fail. They fail to plan. I (Molly Balunek) recently took a trip with my family and wanted to share with you an experience I had with them. It led me to write about this great analogy in describing why it’s so important to plan.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin

My family spent a long weekend at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northwest Michigan, near Traverse City.  It is a National Park with gigantic sand dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan.  They were left behind by the glaciers about 13,000 years ago and are quite an impressive landmark.

The first morning is a beautiful fall day, with blue skies and calm winds.  It is expected to rain, so we decide to go directly to the dunes and climb to the top, postponing breakfast so we can get the hike in before the weather changes.  I fill our water bottles and we head to the park.  Everyone is really excited!

The parking lot is empty and there is a large sand dune right next to where we park.  We are all ready to climb to the top and head down to the shores of the lake to dip our toes in the water and look for beach glass.  My two daughters (ages 13 and 8 at the time) take off their shoes and off we go.

I don’t take the water bottles because the dune is not as big as I thought it would be and it is a cool morning.  Besides, I did not feel like carrying them, and I figured we’d be done in about 15 minutes.  How hard could it be?

We start up the dune.  It’s a big sand dune, quite steep and the sand is soft and clean.  We stop a few times and look around and catch our breath.  It is pretty high.  We have never seen any beach like it.  We get to the peak we had seen from the bottom, and realize that there is another crest to climb.  It is not just one sand dune, there are heaps of sand off into all directions, except back toward the car.  So we keep climbing.

At the next crest, we see a signpost that says we are one mile from the lake shore.  We are a little thirsty, but we all decide to follow the trail because we want to see the lake.  This hike is unexpectedly strenuous.

Up the hill, down the hill, up a bigger hill, down a hill.  Dunes in every direction now.  We catch a glimpse of the lake.  It seems very far away.  Thirsty.  Children are getting tired.  Parents are tired, too.

We reach the top of another dune, and it is pretty steep down the other side.  We realize that we have to climb back up it if we go down.  But it is really fun to run down the hill, so we keep going.

My husband starts to pull away from us and soon he is several dunes ahead.  The children, especially the younger one, are getting quite tired.  We are all thirsty.  We get to another signpost.  Now we are three quarters of a mile from the lakeshore.  It took 15 minutes to walk a quarter mile.  We have climbed a lot of dunes.  We find an oasis of shade to rest.  My husband continues to get farther away.

My younger daughter asks if we can turn back.  Hmm.  How do I get ahold of my husband?  The cell phones are in the car.  I ask the girls to wait in the shade and head onward to try to catch up with him.  Then I realize I could get lost and not be able to get back to the girls.  The trail map is also in the car.  Hmm.  We can’t turn back without telling him.

I begin to realize I did not plan for this expedition very well.

When I see him crest a hill, I decide to yell to him, hoping my voice will carry since there is no wind.  He hears me.  I yell that the younger one, is tired and we want to turn back.  He yells back, “You don’t want to be a quitter, do you?”

Don’t call me a quitter.

I rally the girls and holler to him to wait for us.  I tell the girls to pretend we are in the desert and we have to be on the lookout for camels and we can rest at the next oasis.  You don’t want to be a quitter, do you?  Mind you, the oasis does not have any water, because that’s in the car.  With the cell phones and the map.  They keep going and we catch up to my husband.

We stop; sweating, tired, thirsty, without a map or cell phones (which we could use to find a map).  My girls are barefoot, which makes walking harder in the sand.  We have been hiking for 45 minutes and still have a long way to go to get to the lakeshore.  Then we have to come back the same way.  My younger daughter is starting to cry.  She asks how we can call the rescue camel to take us back to the car.  She is serious.

We turn back.  We take our time, and rest frequently.  My older daughter tries to call the rescue camel by making camel noises.  Her younger sister starts to feel better because we are all pretending we are looking for camels and soon we are back at the first dune.  We all drain our water bottles and head to a restaurant for lunch, because we were hiking for almost two hours.

Next time, we will look at a map and make a plan.  We could have made it if we had eaten breakfast, taken water and granola bars with us, worn shoes, and known from the map how far it was and how long it would take.  But we didn’t do that, and, as a result, we didn’t achieve our goal of making it to the lakeshore.

For me, this experience is a great analogy for underestimating the significance of a few small details on the outcome of a plan.  The decision to leave an item behind … the water – the map – the phones – the shoes … one bad decision might not have ended the hike early, but four poor choices, taken together, caused us to fail.  Planning for the unexpected could have made all the difference.