About a week ago, we got a question from Marscha Chenoweth that we thought required a separate post as a response, even moreso given recent events. She writes:
“I’m wondering if you are now or maybe as time goes on, you will feel pressure to take less time and energy to enjoy the park you are in, and start moving into the future thinking of the parks to come. To make it simple – how are you staying in the moment?”
Even before the shutdown, we didn’t have much of a problem with this – mostly because we haven’t planned all that far ahead. We do have our master schedule which tells us how much time we have at each park, and we’ve arranged with people we know in the area to stay where that applies, but we don’t really plan out which hikes or areas we want to hit or which campgrounds we’ll stay at until we get to a park (or a day or two before at the earliest).* This isn’t to say that we do absolutely no research – I can’t even count the number of blog posts and nps.gov pages I’ve read – but we don’t really make specific decisions until we get to a park. Plus, reading about parks that are so far ahead makes things get all jumbled in my brain and so I have to re-sort it out for each park we get to anyway.
So how are we even able to do this if we don’t plan things out far ahead and do spend our time staying more in the current moment? Well, the biggest help has definitely been the NPS park rangers. I have yet to have an interaction with a ranger that was anything but positive. They’ve honestly been some of the most helpful and genuinely enthusiastic people I’ve met. We mentioned to Ranger Larry at Shenandoah that we were thinking about doing Old Rag and he promptly pulled out handout maps of the area, as well as several other hikes he thought we’d be interested in, and talked us through the different points about each of them: which way was best to start the circuit, how quickly they would gain and lose elevation, and the best way to get to each one from our campgrounds or Skyline drive. Between him and Ranger Mike, the next day, we were very well-equipped with activities to fill our days there:
Up at Acadia, Ranger Dave talked us through general information on hiking in the park, and gave us a route up to Sargent Mountain Pond (which is slightly acidic and allegedly fishless), and the rangers at our campground helped us plan out getting to Cadillac Mountain at sunrise.
Overall the rangers have been awesome, which helps us be spontaneous and not have to plan too far in advance. It has also helped that we’ve been filling our days at whichever park we’re in to the point where we don’t have time to get lost in planning things for, say, Glacier or Yellowstone (which are still way out on the agenda).
Of course with the government shutdown, most of this is somewhat irrelevant, since we’ve kept things spontaneous by necessity. We can plan for different scenarios, but until we check the news each day (via smartphone, since even though we’re stuck in the woods we do somehow have 4G service), we don’t know which way things are going to go. If things stretch on to the 17th and the debt ceiling negotiations, we may even have to turn the car around and head out again in the spring (which, given we’re a couple thousand miles from home, would be a bit of a blow).
See you (hopefully) back on the road,
*The exceptions to this are Old Rag at Shenandoah, which has been on the agenda since midsummer, and the ferry to the Dry Tortugas since that has to be reserved in advance.