No Plans, No Problems

by Stephen Dishong - 

Over the years, my wife and I have morphed from detailed and comprehensive planner for all our adventure travels to a carefree, whatever happens… happens kind of nomads. Most of this change of styles has been due to the change in company we have decided to travel with. I have a 12-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever named Lela aka “Brown Dog,” who has had a chronic knee issue for 10 years, preventing her from being our adventure companion. In the past we have always left her at home to keep friends and family company, so that we could secure another organized quest into the wilderness with our other dog, Springer, a Georgia mountain rescue and trail assassin. 

Every trip away from Brown Dog got harder and harder because we knew that she was upset that she was always left behind due to our selfish obsession of backpacking long hours into the wilderness. After some self-reflection and deciding that the company you keep, significantly, adds value to the overall experience of the trip, we decided that we would include Brown Dog on every possible trip.

We realized that this decision would change the total dynamic of future trips and how we decided to experience the wilderness. We had to make a dramatic change from backpackers to car campers, so that we could accommodate Brown Dog’s disability. At first, I completely resisted the idea of even considering being a car camper and racked my brain on how I could include Brown Dog on the types of trips we did in the past, however, I succumbed to the reality of becoming a “Car Camper.”

While sitting down to plan a two-week trip to northern New Mexico and Colorado, I began to realize that most of the problems I would have to consider on backpacking trips were easily mitigated with the comforts that car camping provides. There was no worrying about water availability or caches on the trail, and food or pack weight wasn’t going to be an issue either. It seemed that the only issue would be, where can we safely drive our two-wheel drive Honda Element “Murtle” and access the wilderness in a way that would satisfy our appetite for wild places. Fortunately for us we live west of the Mississippi and are relatively close to the vast majority of all national public lands, specifically, National Forests. We knew from previous trips that National Forest roads provide great access to wild places.

Due to my confidence in said backcountry forest roads, I decided to insert some mystery to our trip by not planning camp locations. Some might think this is a careless decision, but I figured it would add to the sense of adventure, since we were entering into the world of “posh” camping. 

So, it was settled, we would pack heavy, plan little, and head into the forest with only a general location to guide us. We did have one rule, we would not camp near rumbling RV’s or party-crowded campgrounds, even if it meant we looked all day and night to find that solitude. 

The results were unexpectedly magical.

We found ourselves enjoying areas that were just as beautiful and wild as our previous trips. The downside was that we felt that we cheated a bit because we didn’t necessarily work for it. However, as we came and went to new wild landscapes, we let the enjoyment of being with both of our pups steal the sourness of earning the next campsite.

To accommodate our need for a hike, we would do solo day hikes with Springer, while the other relaxed at camp with Brown Dog. It’s a great balance of experience and a valid lesson to learn from both traveling through the wilderness and sitting in the wilderness, it’s about soaking in the moment and the magic of what’s around.

The other little nugget of joy we let ourselves dive into, was meeting random folks along the way and asking them for their recommendations of their favorite spots to help guide us into a little piece of someone else’s paradise.

No plans, No problems became the moto and it hasn’t failed us yet.