I did more miles faster and had more fun than any previous year, even though my 2015 route is still tops when it comes to scenery. I hope the exuberance is captured in the video.
As you’d hope on my sixth consecutive year, I had the equipment pretty well nailed. The weather, far milder than anyone had a reason to expect, didn’t push clothing too much, but 40 hours moving out of 56 will show a great deal quickly, no matter how kind the conditions. The only things which fell a bit flat were my last minute move to BD modernist rock jeans (my Patagonia pants had problematic holes I only noticed at the last minute), whose waist closure doesn’t cinch quite tight enough now that I’ve lost weight compared to last year; as well as my food. After a demanding first day I ate a ton to recharge, and found myself tolerably short on day three. Derek gave me a few bars, which restored a comfortable margin. I also would have preferred a bit more salt and a bit less carbs, due to the warmer weather.
Highlights were the Sitka Core LW hoody and BD Alpine Start combo, which I wore exclusively about 95% of my moving time. Together they achieve a broader range of quick-adjust comfort than anything else I’ve tried. My foot system (Hydroskins, Smartwool UL knee high ski socks, Montbell spats, LaSportiva Bushidos w/o insoles) was also bulletproof; I had no foot issues of any kind save general fatigue, and used no tape or lube, ever.
The Seek Outside Divide and Osprey Grab Bag combo was also immaculate, with just enough features for daily efficiency, and effortless carry of a relatively heavy load. As I’ve told the designers at Seek Outside, the bottle pockets only need to be made a bit taller and wider (to easily hold a 1 liter nalgene when the pack is stuffed) for perfection to be at hand.
In spite of the weight the MSR Windboiler was essential. A few hot meals refuel me better than cold food, and hot coffee is good for moral. I also slept with a hot water bottle both nights; on the first night this was the only reason I slept much at all, as my depleted body was having a tough time producing enough heat to warm up my sleeping bag. If anything I’d pack a third Mountain House and even more coffee, the midday breaks absolutely added to overall speed and efficiency.
Of the several navigational and tactical errors I made the only one I can’t forgive was putting in early on Danaher Creek. Just below the meadows the water looks so inviting, but all the reports about it devolving into a spruce-choaked portage fest I now know to be quite accurate. I burned at least an hour over just walking down close to Basin Creek, as I did five years ago. I was frustrated by the slow pace my wobbly legs had set over the pockmarked trail in the upper meadows, and acted out of immediate need, rather than judgment. My second regret is less coherent, and that is not being able to better recover after that first day. Calf sleeves overnight and better nutrition the first day probably would have helped keep my pace from dropping as much as it did. I fueled and hydrated aggressively once I was out floating the South Fork, which allowed me to keep a good pace up Little Salmon that evening.
Overall I’m incredibly pleased at how enjoyable and low-drama the whole affair proved to be. I had good moments of frustration, notably during the Danaher detour, as well as when lower Lion Creek proved so damn long, but finishing was never in doubt and the only source of stress was the prospect of not making it before the time I had arranged for M to be there. It was just fun to be out in the woods, moving all day, discovering new terrain and revisiting old, seeing a bunch of critters, and solving problems as they came. I’ve talked about moving the Open earlier to produce more challenge, but it was very clear this weekend that the things works very well as is. I all but made up my mind concerning 2017 while I was walking through Danaher Sunday morning, and the event will stay on Memorial Day, waiting for newbs and veterans to show up and discover that wonder for themselves.
Until next year.