Blog · Travels

Why You Shouldn’t Try to Plan a Damn Thing


A.k.a have no expectations to exceed your expectations

Written while listening to: “Is it All Worth it?” — Treetop Flyers

Writers like to plan. To write is to predict the future, even as you go. To know what a character is thinking when they walk to the basement or where that basement is, what’s lurking in that basement (PLOT TWIST), we have to plan ahead.

That’s all well and good on paper (literally). The problem occurs when this starts to seep into real life. Because no matter how you set yourself up for certain things to happen in your life, nothing ever goes according to “plan.”

Lately, I’ve learned to embrace the things that happen when plans go astray. And there isn’t a better metaphor for this than “Eagle Watching Weekend” at Starved Rock, a.k.a the weekend we saw no eagles.

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An actual real eagle (above)

1: The (Almost) Entire Lack of Eagles

The whole reason my family and my best friend’s fam got up at 7:30 AM on a Sunday and embarked on the two hour drive to Starved Rock was to see the eagles that rarely inhabit Illinois.

But the first thing our guide said on the eagle tour? “So we haven’t been seein’ too many eagles.” Of course.

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Well, we saw one eagle up close. And a Barn Owl!!

It was unseasonably warm, so most of the eagles had left. Which made for great hiking…unless you were hiking to go find eagles.

But it was ok. We were still hooked up with a tour guide. Eagles or not, she was gonna teach us a lot.

2: The Tour Guide Who Taught Us Nothing

After what we saw of that tour, for all I know? Bald eagles poop out star-spangled banners and screech to the tune of the freakin’ National Anthem.

As hiking aficionados, our tour guide for beginners wasn’t doing much of a good job of telling us anything:

Group: *Guide stops us in front of a map of the park*

Tour Guide: Ok now this here’s a map of the whole park.

Tour Guide: *Points to “YOU ARE HERE” dot* This dot, shows us where y’are. Which is actually pretty reassuring.

One very into-it member of the group: MMMMmm, mmhmm yes

Tour Guide: The map shows ya where yer gonna wanna go.

This was an hour long tour. We were on minute 15. So what’d we do? We went rogue. A forest awaited…and we were gonna blaze that muddy trail.

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Not a wolf track…MAYBE coyote…PROBABLY one of the many dogs people bring to the park. Oh well.

3: Into the (Tame) Wild

My oldest friend katy, myself, and my Dad had been to Starved Rock before. So we had a rough idea of the lay of the land.

But last time, we’d planned. We looked at a map, planned out our route, even used the sacred knowledge of the “YOU ARE HERE” dot that the tour guide cleared up this time around. This time, we were going in cold.

So we just turned towards the woods and walked.

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The trail into the woods was caked with deep, thick mud. The warm weather that had sent the eagles away also melted the snow that had been there and flooded the river. What should have been ground firm with frost looked slick enough to be the back of a giant submerged salamander.

But even in the winter warmth that had us peeling off our coats and stuffing our scarves into our packs, thick icicles that froze dripping streams into icy tendrils and stalactites emerged from the woods.

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Initially when we cut away from the well-kept trail that our stop/start tour group had been inching along, we weren’t so sure we made the right choice. The mud was no joke. But it takes going through a little bit of crap to appreciate where it was leading you.

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The mud was a constant, but the scenery quickly changed from the simple mouth of the trail to half-frozen stream, and what we assumed was bright orange clay that scorched the side of the creek bed, looking like a giant copperhead snake weaving along the water.

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That’s what was nice about being there in the winter. We had previously visited Starved Rock in the fall when the forest was ablaze with color both on the ground and up above in the trees.

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But being there in the winter, we got a different perspective of Starved Rock. With the leaves long gone, we could see through the forest to details that we never would have seen before, like that rusty orange clay.

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And despite winter overtaking the area, there were bright pops of color and life at our feet. Bright green moss covered tree trunks. Bright purple vines popped out from the rusty-orange and earthy brown spindly branches surrounding them, bare with winter. Mushrooms covered fallen, rotting timber.

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But the most spectacular part of the trip happened when we got a little lost. We had already stumbled across several lookout points that we had tried — and failed — to find last time during the autumn hike where we had actually planned things out.

I wanted to go back to this big gorge in Starved Rock — in the summer it’s a beautiful waterfall. But in the winter, that waterfall turns into an immense sheet of ice. And I wanted to see that sheet of ice.

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The back of my friend’s fabulous mermaid head

We had found some things we were looking for as we wandered, but we couldn’t find — nor did we have time to find — Wildcat Canyon where the falls are (is?)

But when we started making our way back to the Lodge to catch a Birds of Prey Presentation, sinking into mud on the edge of cliffs, passing by familiar landmarks made unfamiliar by the lack of leaves — there it was. We stumbled across Wildcat Canyon in all its icy wonder.

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I don’t have a full picture of the thing, because we were up at the top of the cliff and to get a picture of the full thing would have been a whole mudslide of a trip down.

Point is that this trip was a beautiful disaster. The eagles were a bummer. The tour guide was a bust. The mud was gross and probably kinda unsafe what with our walking on the edge of cliffs.

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But from everything that went wrong, so many things went right. The things that were unplanned, the sights that we didn’t expect to see, all the times we (literally) went off the beaten path — those were the times that led to the best sights, the best memories, the best laughs.

I am a writer. Therefore, I am a planner. Or, should I say, a planner of potentials. I can’t — that is, I have a bad, conditioned habit of — do anything without wondering “ok, if I do A, B might happen, and then C will happen…so maybe if I do B…” etc. etc. I see patterns, and how those patterns affect us, our lives, our futures.

Maybe it comes from the fact that when I was younger, I often chose not to put myself in any discomfort and was stubborn, so now I’m trying to make up for that by trying to plan my life in the way that makes for the best outcome, the best experience, the best life I can hope to live.

But to plan like that is to ignore Chaos Theory and or Murphy’s Law.

Translated — it’s a bullshit attempt to control things that we’ve no semblance of a hope of controlling. And that’s ok.

I’ve learned to embrace the things that happen when plans go astray, the things you could never play fortune-teller with, couldn’t pin out on your map of life. Because what leads to a great life isn’t sticking by your own rules — it’s what happens when you lean outside those barriers.

So go live.


Originally published on my Medium Blog and Future Travel


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