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May 26, 2013

Beta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1958, Colin Fletcher backpacked the length of California.  He published The Thousand Mile Summer, the book about this trek, in 1963.  The same year The Thousand Mile Summer came out, he backpacked the length of the Grand Canyon.  The chronicle of that journey, The Man Who Walked Through Time, was chosen by the National Geographic Society as one of the greatest adventure books of all time.

The Complete Walker, Fletcher’s encyclopedic book on backpacking, was published the same year as The Man Who Walked Through Time, 1968.  In it, Fletcher combined humorous stories with a practical approach to something that, at that time, was totally foreign to most Americans.  I’ve read one or two outdoor instructional books that are as good as The Complete Walker, but none better.  When I write anything dealing with gear or technique, I try to mimic this book. 

Fletcher and these three books sparked the backpacking boom.  Reading them as a teenager certainly inspired me. 

Since my teenage years, I’ve favored books on climbing and dogsledding to those on hiking. Even so, every couple of years, a book on a backpacking adventure gets my attention and I read it.  The book for which this most recently happened was Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. 

In Wild, Strayed combines stories of her hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with those about her life as a young woman.  Reading anything that’s well written helps aspiring writers like me and Wild is well written.  With Wild however, I got something else.  I was reminded of the fact that there are softer versions of hard adventure.  Strayed just took a long hike at a time when lots of people did and do.  Fletcher never climbed Everest or El Capitan or crossed the South Pole, but what he did still rings true. 

And with this reminder, I have decided on my goal for next year.  I have started working toward skijoring the Iditarod trail. 

Though it won’t be as hard as climbing a Himalayan peak or dogsledding near the poles, its length, the weather I will encounter, and the logistical difficulties of moving through remote Alaska make it a full expedition.  I understand that only if I start planning now will I have a decent chance to make it from Willow to Nome. With my goal and the realization of just what it’s going to take to get there, I’ve started gathering information about long distance skijoring in general as well as specific information about the trail. 

Happily, there is a small contingent of people who have done and continue to do serious distance skijoring.  Getting in touch with these folks has been a bit like following references in technical articles---the first good article gives you a couple of useful references.  Each of these typically also has a couple of useful references.  If the topic is limited, for example, what we know about particle emission after pion true absorption----I know you’re all waiting with bated breath---there are only twenty or thirty articles and it doesn’t take long to find all of them.  I’m not sure there are more than twenty or thirty distance skijorers in this country and I have the first set of phone numbers and am getting more with each iteration.   (Note: Distance skijoring/Nordic Mushing or whatever you would like to call it IS very popular in Scandinavia). 

I’m asking questions about everything from equipment to technique to logistics.  So far, everybody I’ve talked to has been encouraging and happy to help me.  The good news is that even with all the questions I’m asking, those answering think I should do fine. 

One of the slang idioms my Silicon Valley climbing friends and I used was “beta” or “getting beta.”  It came from beta testing, the real field testing of software as opposed to testing within the development group.  For climbing, beta referred the field information about a climb from somebody who had done it.  Right now, I’m in the process of “getting beta” for skijoring the Iditarod trail.  Between now and the time I skijor into Nome, I expect to learn a lot.  For me, more than anything else, that is the reason for journeys like this. 

   
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