When I was in junior high, my school had a thirty-minute period after lunch each day earmarked for reading quietly. As a general rule, I struggled at this point in my life (and also now) to be quiet or sit still, but this wasn’t an issue for me during Charles O. Moore Middle School’s dedicated “Read & Relax” time. Most days, I’d settle in at my desk and pull out the same book I’d read cover to cover untold dozens of times.
This book, Ken Marschall’s Inside the Titanic, was, to my thirteen-year-old mind, the definitive authority on all things Titanic. It featured intricate cutaway illustrations of the ship, accounts of the crew and passengers’ lives, and, best of all, detailed maps of the doomed luxury liner’s journey and wreckage.
It told the story of famed Woods Hole oceanographer Robert Ballard’s discovery of the ship, which now lies some 12,500 feet below the ocean’s surface. Dr. Ballard sat in a tiny deep-sea research vessel, which plunged more than two miles into the murky depths of the North Atlantic Ocean, to take photos and explore the eerie specter of what was once the greatest ship in the world.
I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was about this story that held me captive. My language arts teacher suspected I had a “flair for the morbid” (her words), but—while this may be true—it was something more than that. Dr. Ballard’s sojourn to the ocean floor had taken years of near-obsessive planning and research and keen attention to detail. I liked that.
I love to have a good adventure. But like most people who feel this way, I also love talking about them. I love hearing about them. It’s why I follow a dozen adventure blogs, why my Amazon wishlist reads like a who’s who of archaic expedition journals, why I’ve read The Emerald Mile and The Worst Journey in the World and The River of Doubt three or four times each. It’s why I keep a diary of my own escapades (“Dear Journey Journal…”) and why there’s an entire room in my apartment dedicated to The Planning of Excellent Adventures.
A friend came over recently and asked where we keep all our gear. I flipped on the light and he poked his head in.
“I see,” he said, in quiet, nerdy awe, “In the War Room.”
A pacifist I may be, but it’s an apt description. The walls are plastered in maps; the guidebooks and expedition chronicles are organized first by activity, then by geography and chronology. Gear is stored in clear plastic bins, neatly labeled in my best take-my-time Sharpie handwriting, and arranged according to frequency of use on a set of hand-me-down utility shelves from my dad.
You could plan one hell of an adventure from our War Room.
I take considerable pleasure from meticulously planning my next outing—I’ve more than once been called anal-retentive—but you don’t need a fancy headquarters to do it. Some of my best arrangements have been made at dive bars, discussed in vacant classrooms, sussed out around a friend’s kitchen table, daydreamed from my desk at work, or, on occasions that required it, reworked from inside a soggy tent as Plan A fell to pieces.
That’s the thing about adventures: even the most fastidious, system-driven preparations can end in disaster, or at least a failure to make the intended objective. (See above re: RMS Titanic. Sorry—too morbid?) My outings have rarely (perhaps never) gone exactly as I pictured they would, which is kind of the point. If you know exactly what’s going to happen, it’s not really much of an adventure, is it?
Still, I’d argue that doesn’t defeat the purpose of planning. Quite the contrary: the best itineraries allow for some deviation—you never know when That One Epic Thing is going to happen—and, more importantly, include metaphorical lifeboats to prepare you for any eventuality.
Which is fine with me, because planning is half the fun. Okay, maybe not quite half—I’ll take a week in the backcountry over an afternoon at Headquarters any day—but it sure does make it the adventure possible.