The psychological taper
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I get on a plane for Alaska, and the Wilderness Classic, in a little less than 30 hours. So I have a big pile of gear on the table in the sewing room, some stuff to finish up at work today and tomorrow, and in the last four days have been doing not much in order to have as full a mental reserve as possible for what promises to be a very trying non-event.
Unlike last year, where an established race history and preponderance of online beta could hardly have made planning easier, our course through the southern Wrangell-St. Elias is mostly unknown. Under my compass in the photo above you’ll see two 3′ by 4′ 1:75,00 scale MyTopo custom maps. I’ve had them for a few weeks, and have been pouring over satellite images for six months, but the inevitable conclusion thus far is that any of the several roughly equal route options which stand out will have at least several significant sections which will be highly unpleasant. No doubt the Ak’ians will have a bit more precise idea of brush and water levels, but I suspect that most everyone will do some substantial improvising once there at ground level.
That’s a known unknown over which I have no more control. What I did have control over was this luxurious four day weekend just passed. I slept in, barbequed a lot, finished off the last round of gear altering, maintaining (industrial-strength DWR reproofing), and purchasing. M and I also got out to Many Glacier for a micro-vacation, where we did not hike much, but did stay in the lodge, eat dessert in the dining room, and hang around yesterday (through some impressive rain storms) playing Trivial Pursuit (at which I lost badly). Enough activity to stimulate and lower the anticipatory stress level, but not enough to overwhelm the process of topping off the tank.
Equipment-wise things are mostly as expected, and as they’ve been set for months. I’m bringing my “real” PFD, which is heavier than the homemade one but more confidence-inspiring and a lot more comfortable. More clothes than last year, specifically a Rab Xenon and a fleece vest. Also powerstretch glove liners and Camp Wind Mitt’ns. A light fixed blade knife, which last year’s weather-enforced bivvy convinced me might be nice should serious gear or shelter improve be needed. Obviously the extra clothes are meant to make such a bivouac less likely. Same old Pocket Rocket stove, with a smaller ti cup, and lots of chemical firestaters (the green cuben bag, lower right). Test loading convinced me to take the big pack, and be able to fit everything inside with ease. Overall packing for the Classic is simple; 9 pounds of obligatory rafting stuff, 15,000 dense calories (we might be out for five days), a tarp, a bunch of clothes, and some carefully chosen odds and ends.
Simple, really. Now I just have to get to Alaska and walk a long ways without making major mistakes. The physical end might be hard, but I know I can manage that. It’s walking into the folds of so much unknown that is the hardest part to cope with and prepare for. As of now I’m confident I’ve done all I can to prep for that, which makes it somewhat less scary.
I’ll be back the week after next. Jefferson lives.