Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Moving boxes, and happened upon this photo.  1995, I believe, or maybe 1994.  Proof that the intense little dent between my eyebrows isn't just a factor of age, it's always been there. 

This was my first solo backpacking trip, during the summer I lived in my truck.  I'd just gotten done with a week or so climbing in the Tetons with friends who had then returned to Madison.  I headed out for the classic circumnavigation of the range, and found myself somewhat happy to be alone.  The high-stress cooperation and communication of climbing wears one down, and the pure solitude and self-dependence of the trip was a relief. No talking, just the rhythm of movement and of ordinary human needs: eat, drink, sleep.

I got back in three days instead of the four I thought I needed.  I took everything out of the pack, gave it an appraising eye, and realized I didn't need half of it.  I went into Jackson and dropped some cash on a smaller pack and a lighter stove, then drove down to the Wind River Range.  Shouldered my new, lighter pack and went out again for an eight day circuit through the cirques and passes of that beautiful range.  Where, picking my way alone across a vast shifting field of talus, I realized that fast solo backpacking could get me nearly as far out there as climbing ever has.  A lesson in every step. 

Getting lighter means increasing your capacity for misery while retaining your tendency toward self-preservation.  Slowly paring away the material objects, yes, but more than that entering the right mindset.  Leaving behind as much as possible without leaving behind any more than that.  How much misery can you withstand in exchange for joy? Answering that has been the process. 

I feel like I can slip into that mindset at any moment, find myself dremelling the handle off a toothbrush thinking about the CTR.  Not just getting light, but being compact as well.  Addressing not just my own needs, but the needs of the bike.  The miles, the speeds, the lack of redundancy-- the level of complexity in the system gets truly advanced.  More than a bike race, this seems like postdoctoral work in ultralight backpacking. I'm surprised and impressed by people who jump right into this without much previous experience in ultralight high country transit, on or off the bike.  I needed to progressively test the boundaries of comfort, address fears, solve problems, withstand boredom; teach myself where my edge actually was.

Getting ready for the CTR has meant another refinement and reevaluation of my ultralight standards.  And some unwelcome discoveries, like the fact that my bivy sack delaminated itself from the inside over the winter. So just like back in 1995, being fast and light involves laying down some cash for new gear.  And at its heart, this all seems like a straightforward progression from that day I set the self-timer and knelt down in front of the Grand.

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic read. Your narratives are delicate, but yet embody an honest toughness that only a person who endures the punishment you do can capture so eloquently.