July 10, 2009 by David Gillaspie
A man arrived at the B&B very tired. He slept all day. He woke up with this story:
“When my wrestling coach brother called from Alaska I answered. He said we ought to run Mt. Marathon. I said okay with no idea what he was talking about. I’d already run a marathon in three and half hours and figured the Mount Marathon Race would take a track around the mountain. I’d show some track star form.
I was wrong.
Alaska didn’t frighten me even after my dad slipped a few gears on his visit. The snow and the native Alaskans reminded him of his Silver Star Marine days in Korea. He flashed back and never made it all the way forward again. I spent my military days in Philadelphia so my chances of a bad flashback were pretty slim unless a Mummer showed up with a banjo.
The Mount Marathon race didn’t go around. It went up Mt. Marathon, a skree slope so steep you could reach forward and touch where your next steps ought to fall. Two steps forward, slide back one, scramble for another three, and you stood where your hand touched. How did rocks hang on that slope?
I learned my brother had run it the year before and came in somewhere near last, if not dead last. From descriptions he was more dead than last, and he wanted redemption. Who did he call? Who would he beat this time?
To make it a fair race he said his back was out and I’d have to carry the food and water, the first clue something was wrong. The next clue was learning that we weren’t actually in the race due to some confusion in registering, hence the food and water.
He planned to hike up the mountain and spend the night, which is really daytime in July Alaska. I switched to supporting mode and asked only that we stick together. I carried eighty pounds on my back; he carried sleeping bags and a tent.
The hike began with a cliff climb. I saw it and thought ‘no way we’re climbing that,’ but the cliff was the only way up. With a hundred pound pack pulling me backward, and zero cliff climbing experience under my belt, we took off.
The cliff led to the trees and inhaling mouthfuls of little red bugs. The trees led to the skree. The rest of the climb showed my brother tacking up the hill, forgetting my stay together request.
At the top we reviewed bear attack plans:
“If we hear a bear sniffing around, keep his attention to one side of the tent and we cut our way out of the other,” he said.
“Where’s the knife?” I asked. It felt like I carried at least a dozen Bowie knives in my heavy pack.
“Plan B: if we hear a bear keep his attention on the back of the tent. We unzip the front and run for it.”
This was the race I’d win: me versus bear and brother.
I was ready.”