Ahhhhh…. the Wilderness Classic.
It’s been, I guess, 27 years (2009 – 1982) since my first one. That was a defining event in my life. It affected how I did every subsequent trip, really, from family trips where we needed to make room for kids’ stuff, to hellbiking for National Geographic, the Arctic 1000, and a packrafting book. Ultimately, it led to conventional adventure racing (Eco Challenge, Raid Gauloises, Primal Quest, etc.) and television dollars.
But more importantly than money and a bit of notoriety, it led to long lasting friendships.
So, this year, the 28th version, a longish course from Gerstle River on the Alaska Highway near Delta Jct to McKinley Village, Forrest McCarthy and I have teamed up.
The Competition looks fierce. The Air Force’s PJs, who’ve dominated the race of late, redeeming the military’s poor showing in the early years, will be there. And so will Coloradoan Andrew Skurka, who’s been skulking around the Kenai, Chugach, and Talkeetnas for the last month or so and looks to be the strongest Outside entrant since the Master-Blaster team of Adrian Crane and Tom Possert. Then there’re the Alaska Mountain Winter Wilderness Classic ski race winners like Luc Mehl, and sumer/winter winners Tyler Johnson and Craig “Chunk” Barnard, and last year’s summer champs, Butch Allen and Jim McDonough.
Ugh. My feet ache just thinking about keeping up with these young bucks. My soul’s chilled thinking about the shivers in my open boat and wind gear on the icy Yanert, paddle-paddle-paddling to stay warm and hold a third place finish at best.
I told Forrest we’ll just take our time, have fun. But as Sunday’s start grows nearer, I weigh my gear to the ounce and shuffle and skimp and do what I can to save scraps of weight. It’s stimulating and creative to enter a race without real gear requirements, where the checkpoints are more than 4 hours apart and the entrants some of the wildest characters you’ll ever meet.
Maybe, like Dick said, it's true that “Old age and treachery beat youth and skill every time.” Pushing 50, I just hope I’m old enough for successful chicanery.