I have to admit my greatest fear. It’s not the bears or the cold or the possibility of death or serious injury. It’s not even the mosquitos. My greatest fear is being the weakest link.
As you know, I have hardly any true wilderness experience, by far the least of any of my fellow Expeditioneers. There is no pussyfooting around this issue. And there is very little I can do about it in the next few weeks. I can’t change my wasted suburban youth or my urban young adulthood. What I am in control of, however, is my body, my equipment, and my mind. The one thing I can do is make sure that each of those is as worthy of this adventure as possible.
The Check List
I don’t have to be the fittest of the group. As the old joke goes, you don’t have to outrun the bear, you only have to outrun one of your companions. I mean no offence, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to this, but I bet I could take Bill in the 100 yard dash.
I love to hike and I’ve been doing 7 miles pretty regularly these days, so I think I’m good on stamina. But the hundred yard dash from a bear? I’ve never been a runner and I HATE treadmills, but for this I’ve started running on the damn thing. I tried running on the street, but honestly I need the feedback of the machine – time, heart rate, distance, speed – to keep me going. I know you can buy new-fangled watches that do all that for you (hell, there are even apps for that) but I’ve got more important things to spend my money on this summer like rubber boots and a lifetime supply of DEET, so I’m running at the gym. Can’t say as I like it, but imagining the bear and the look on Bill’s face as I pull away helps a lot. Check.
I need to make sure that my gear is appropriate for the Arctic and is in good shape, which will be relatively simple since I don’t have any gear. Which really means it will be relatively expensive since I will have to buy it all.
Have you ever done it? Fallen down the equipment rabbit hole? Admit it. You’ve been there: You walk into REI looking for one simple item – a pocket knife, a new pair of sunglasses, hell, a t-shirt, for god’s sake. You start reading all the hang-tags, the hand-written employee recommendations, and your head starts to spin. “Oh, my, I never thought of that, guess I need to spend an extra $35 to get the better grade.” And the next thing you know you’re walking out of the store having spent three times more than you intended on gear suitable for a Class 5 whatever when all you actually needed was a T-shirt that would look good in line at Blue Bottle Coffee.
I have a particularly low-resistance to the “got to be prepared for everything” sales pitch, as in “you don’t want to be freezing and wishing you’d spent the extra $280 for the four-season hurricane-proof tent,” so I either 1) spend the extra money, or 2) run out of the store without having succeeded at buying anything at all.
This trip is too important to let that happen, so I’ve talked to the most experienced people I know, and I drove up to Bend to meet with the Expeditioneers to go over equipment. I’ve created a bomb-proof shopping list, and I have a game plan: 1) Do some slow breathing in my car before entering REI. 2) Don’t read any additional in-store info. 3) Don’t listen to the cute sales clerk. 4) Channel Tiger Woods in my laser-like, unflappable focus. 5) Exit store will full complement of gear. Plan in place. Check.
Well, let’s be honest. There is only so much I can do about my messy mind. Best thing to do is stuff it full of as much information as possible so the rest of it doesn’t rattle around too much. I am reading everything I can get my hands on to prepare me for what to expect on the trip. Most surprising thing so far? Musk Ox. Did you know there were Musk Ox in Alaska? Am I the only one out of the loop? Apparently there are 300 of them up there. If I hadn’t read it in a book, when I spied one of those Pleistocene beasts on the horizon, I would have been sure I was having a hallucination, grabbed the satellite phone and demanded a lift to the nearest psychiatric hospital. One ignorance-based crisis averted already. Check.