Overland Trip Planning
While I spent a lot of time flying in the military, I probably spent more time (not by choice) planning for the missions I would eventually perform. Through that experience, I do a lot of trip planning before setting out. I do this for a few reasons and the first one is that I enjoy it. I really enjoy dropping a line down on the map and solving the problem of how to get from one place to the next. The second reason is that I like to have a line to deviate from. I am not opposed to changing the route on the fly nor do I feel like I have to stick to the plan. The plan is just a baseline to deviate from and get back to should the need arise. My third reason for developing detailed plans involves me familiarizing myself with the area that I am operating in. For instance, if I come to a point where the planned road is closed, it isn’t a problem because chances are that I remember that a highway is on the other side of the ridge or maybe that I know I can get gas in a town and not risk running out on an extended adventure.
Those are some of the reasons why I build detailed routes but you may be asking “how” I do that. Let me show you.
1. The first thing I do is to decide, like a military mission, what the purpose of the trip is. Is the purpose to put some miles down and get from point A to B? Is it to go slow and fully complete a certain route? Is it to get to a camp to hang out rather than driving? Sometimes there is even a mix of purposes in each trip. For instance, the trip I am planning right now is my most ambitious trip and the point is to stick as close as I can to the Continental Divide from the border of Canada to the border of Mexico. That is the purpose but I also have to look at the purpose of getting to and from the trail. That is much more a purpose of getting from A to B. Along the way I am also looking at visiting every National Forest that I can along the way. Each purpose has to be weighed and implemented at the correct time to make the mission happen smoothly.
2. After deciding the purpose, I get into the Google and see what is out there already. There are people who have done the Continental Divide already but I was not that happy with their route. This left me to create my own but I did find a Google Earth overlay of the entire Divide which helped me stay as close to it as possible.
3. Now that I have a purpose and any existing information I could find, it is time to start plotting some routes. In the picture below you can see that I picked a basic route from city to city in order to get a rough idea of the overall route. Most of the time I will do this in google maps and drag the route to make adjustments that I want to make. Once I’m kind of happy with Google Maps, I’ll transfer that rough route into Google Earth (DOWNLOAD HERE). You can see the lime green line on the map below.
4. After setting down the rough route, the time consuming process of nailing down an exact route begins. This involves zooming as far in as I can to pick out roads that I think will be open, interesting, and will get the job done of getting from A to B. This step is where I really familiarize myself with the route and the surrounding areas in case I need to adjust when actually on the trip. Here you can see the refined route that I will follow when I go on the trip.
5. After planning the route I start to look for some of the things I can do to make it better as well as the beginning stages of the logistics of the trip. What I mean is that in this stage I start to think about where I am going to get gas, supplies, and where I plan on sleeping. I really like making my way into the National Forests for camping so that plays a big role in the planning of the trip. Below you can see where my planned route takes me between two National Forests and this happens to be the point at which I would probably looking for a place to camp for the night. Because it is one of my goals to step foot in all of the National Forests and I can probably find a nice place to camp, I regularly plan an alternative route that takes me into the Forest area. When on the trip, I will see these and can make the decision to continue or take the alternate route. What is important is that the alternate route quickly returns to the planned route after the purpose of the alternate route is complete.
6. What I end up with at the end of step 5 is a detailed plan with offshoots that can be taken or not when actually on the trip. This plan can be analyzed for rough timings based on projected average speed and helps build a timeline for the trip. In the beginning, I was consistently overestimating average speed so that my trips were taking significantly longer than planned. I was okay with it but the people traveling with me were pretty upset when an 8 hour day turned into 11. Estimates of avg speed are mainly based on personal experiences and as you travel more, your estimates will slowly become more accurate.
Another analysis that can be made is range between places where you can get gas and supplies. I rarely plan a route that requires me to carry extra fuel but I do plan routes that take me to the edge of my Jeep’s range. In these cases I just pack a couple of jerry cans for some peace of mind and all is well. Along with the range and time estimates is the estimate of where to camp/sleep. If my wife is with me, she has a rule that we can only camp two nights between hotels so I have to take those things into consideration.
7. The final stage of planning is going over the route and making sure it all makes sense. In the flying world we call this “chair flying” and that means that we think about and execute the flight in our minds so that when it really happens, we have, in a sense, already done the flight. I do this with these routes and look at the detailed plan for each day as well as the overall trip. Everyday I think about what time I need to get up to be on the road in order to make it to the next camp in a reasonable time. Where am I going to eat? Am I going to stop and cook or grab a pop-tart? When looking at the whole trip I think about things like fatigue and hygiene. Is it reasonable to go on a trip for the duration I am planning and is it safe? For the Continental Divide, I also have to take into account seasons as a lot of the passes are closed in the winter. All of these details must be hashed out before setting out.
There are many things I do to actually prepare for the trip but that will have to wait for another time. I try to plan in such a way that if things start going sideways, I will already have a backup plan ready to go. I try to think through all of the little details in the planning stage so that I have less to worry about when actually taking the trip. It also gives me a sense of fulfilment when I plan a coop mountain road I happened to see on the map and it turns out to be better than imagined.
The Continental Divide trip is obviously way more intense than a weekend trip to a camp that I already know but the principles are the same and I try to think through every detail regardless of whether or not it is a multi-week trip or an overnight trip to the lake. If you all have better ways or more immersive tool that you use, feel free to let me know so I can give them a shot. Thanks for all your support and one day I may actually take this Divide trip that I have been planning for months now. Fingers crossed…