Posted by: davepidgeon | December 3, 2008

Olympian-size challenge

I want the book. 

That was my reaction after reading Erik Hansen’s all-too-short of a story about his attempt to cross the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, published in Outside. He was obviously under a word limit, which Hansen handled fabulously enough to entice me to ask for more. And if there was ever a writer who has more fun with misery, I’m not sure I’ve come across him or her. Hansen and a buddy bike, hike, treacherously cross a glacier without rescue equipment (they dumped it to save pack weight) and finally ride a tiny inflated raft (Hansen calls them “tiny butt boats”).

What Hansen’s best strength here is to summarize what would have been an hours-long struggle into a single paragraph or two:

Turning off-trail up the Elwha Basin, we find our progress immediately retarded by downed firs and hemlocks. The lattice of timber, some 15 feet high in places, forces us to slither on our bellies or clamber over the logs, legs kicking helplessly in the air. The concertina wire of thorny vines bloodies our legs. Our torsos and arms grow sticky-dirty with sap. Stinging nettles cover every bit of exposed flesh with tiny welts. Once in a while we can leap from boulder to boulder in the frothy river. But soon enough we are back fighting brambles, smelling like sweet pine and feeling that, despite our best efforts, we are choosing the worst possible route.

Then the briar patch tilts. We have no choice but to bushwhack along an avalanche-blasted sidehill, the Subvertical Carnage, thus combining general misery with the acute possibility of a thumping fall … . We balance-beam over airy precipices and cling to dangling roots as if aid-climbing. I’m about to snap the blades off my collapsible paddle if they catch on another branch. It takes us almost six hours to cover three miles, which breaks down to an average speed of Goddamn Slow.

In the end, and I won’t spoil it for you, all I could think was how I wanted more … more details, more stories, more about this trip. If Hansen describes the Washington mountain range as “where glaciers once did the nasty, ridges and valleys swirl from 7,965-foot Mount Olympus like the tentacles of a jellyfish,” man I want more details and more about the story!

I challenge anyone to read this article and not get fired up about your next trip. You can read it here.

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