In August, Alana and I participated in the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic. I for the second time and Alana for her first. It was the first time in all of these events that I set out to go with someone else. The experience would be and was far different than when I first participated in 2016. Then I was trying to eschew as much gear as I could and travel for as long as possible. It resulted in me having the lightest pack at 13 lbs and only sleeping for 3.5 hours over the course of the event. This past year, not only did we sleep more than that each night, but I had slightly more than double my pack weight.
The main reason for these differences was in deciding what would work best for both Alana and I to function together successfully, as well as limiting the recovery time on the back end. To that extent we agreed to aim for 6 hours a night of sleep and were frugal with gear but still brought “luxuries” for the Classic. To wit, I had both an insulated jacket and a sleeping quilt in addition to our tent. Across the board our gear functioned as expected and the only things that were lacking were a pair of neoprene gloves for Alana.
Our food strategy was based off previous trips and the fact that neither of us consume that much when we’re travelling outside. We found we really like chips, the spicier the better and could do without nuts of any kind. Apparently, Dick Griffith likes to tell everyone they are bringing too much food at the pre-event dinner. For us that held true and going forward I would only bring a pound of food per day per person for any future summer events.
The two biggest errors, ones in which I believe led to us exiting the race, were two of my route choices. The first was exiting the Tsusena River early, going up to the high country which slowed our travel and put us through brush that wasn’t necessary. Cold and not knowing what lay ahead on the river, it seemed an easy choice to make at the time. Knowing now how slow the travel was above, perhaps we’d continue on the river next time. The second was descending down into the Kosina River valley and trying to navigate amongst the plethora of caribou trails. The ground was too soft, wet and brushy to permit fast travel and I think we would have been better off staying high. The tradeoff was dealing with more elevation gain and loss but in this case it may have been worth it to stave off the constant low mental toll. Both speak to the importance of being able to read the terrain and having done prior homework, researching maps and imagery for not just your ideal route, but of any other possible options within the area.
Communication was definitely put to the test every day following the first of this event. To put it frankly, Alana did not enjoy the vast majority of the event and understanding that and communicating further was difficult. It was important that we had discussed our strategy and goals prior to starting. We were not in it to finish first, but rather just to finish. This prior discussion made it easier to detach and communicate in a manner that didn’t exacerbate or instigate further problems.
I still have yet to explore the balance of sleep and sleep deprivation. We slept longer than 6 hours every night, more so the final couple nights when we weren’t really racing. To no surprise, we felt fully rested and physically capable of taking on the route each day. I was back to full strength within a day of leaving the course, while Alana experienced some shin pain that lingered for a week. I’m still curious as to the balance between longer miles, sleep and recovery going forward.
Each event allows the ability to put strategy and gear to the ultimate test. Finish or not, we’re able to come away with some lessons that can be put to use for future events as well as personal trips. This trip definitely highlighted the importance of communication and going in with as clear as possible set of expectations. What does an event like this entail? What are possible route conditions? What measure will you compare yourself too? Most of the time, questions like these and their answers don’t become apparent until later. I strive to identify such things ahead of time, hopefully improving communication and strategy, thereby preparing myself and others for risks and potential problems that we may face going forward.