Pop quiz: What were you doing 30 years ago this month -- back in 1988?
Working? Playing? Gap year?
I was working 2 jobs while stashing money to leave for college. I'd graduated high school mere months before, and was working as hard as I could to buy a new Trapper Keeper and a full suite of highlighters so that I'd be ready for a slew of 100-level classes. My thrift-store Schwinn Continental 10-speed was tuned and ready to get me around campus, with Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt posters locked and loaded.
None of that is relevant here, except to give context to what I *wasn't* doing while a few not-yet-made friends were preparing to go do this.
Please click that link and read that writeup before continuing. It's important, on many levels.
Could you have envisioned a ride like that 30 years ago? Had you even heard of a packraft? Was crossing braided glacial rivers part of your repertoire -- with or without a bike, or boat?!
The answer is a resounding 'no' to all of those questions, for me: I was 18 and still months away from owning my first mountain bike.
But when at last I heard about their trip it hit me hard. It seemed important somehow: They were setting a bar that I didn't yet even know how to strive toward, I just knew that I wanted to get there.
I'd spend the better part of the next 2 decades learning to travel in the backcountry -- efficiently and safely first, then I'd eventually add in 'somewhat expeditiously'. Learning to evaluate risk objectively, learning to cough up plan B's and C's -- or even to tuck tail and bail -- when the risk was too great. Stacking up the lessons of failure hand over fist for years tends to teach you -- if you're paying attention -- all you need to know about being successful. I can't say exactly when it happened but eventually I transitioned from learning to travel into traveling to learn. I still occupy that space. Hope to stay there awhile.
Somewhere in there two more friends repeated the route. Yes, click that link and read that'n, now, too -- it is equally important, for different reasons. That was 2009. It wasn't lost on me that it had taken 21 years for someone to repeat the route with bikes, nor did it slip past that it was Eric and Dylan doing it. Click went the sound of something ratcheting me that much closer to getting a boat and learning to use it.
I finally got the boat in 2011. Almost immediately used it on a wild traverse with a good chunk of the aforementioned crew -- Roman, Eric, and Dylan. Have been learning and refining boat and bike/boat skills pretty continuously ever since.
Still, it took a different idea falling by the wayside a few months ago for Nabesna to McCarthy to finally take center stage. 30 years had elapsed since it had first been done with bikes. Think about that -- I can't stop thinking about it!
Steve Fassbinder, Brett Davis, Jon Bailey and myself just completed the route with fatbikes and a single Alpacka Caribou between us. We rode 70% of the route, walking/pushing/carrying bikes the other 30%. The boat was never used for forward progress -- only to ferry across rivers too big to wade. ~Halfway through the trip we got buried under a foot of snow, listened to avalanches ripping down around us, subsequently ran out of food, and throughout experienced all of the subtle and not-so nuances that Alaskan backcountry traverses have to offer.
Over the next few days I'll share some images and anecdotes from one of the hardest Alaskan trips I've yet had the pleasure to be humbled by.
Thanks for checkin' in.