Light & fast is cool. A scroll through Instagram reveals a dude bragging about how he doesn’t bring water on trail runs to avoid weight, plus tips on how to saw that cumbersome handle off your toothbrush. Light & fast has its place -- when completing an alpine climb before being benighted, for example.
But when we focus on speed (think: ultralight gear at a premium price, Strava, heli-skiing) over slower, deeper, and more reflective travel, might we be taking some of the magic out of the journey?
In April, I completed a ski traverse of the Talkeetna Mountains in Alaska. The 20-mile route involved thousands of feet of steep couloir climbing and descents of everything from windboard to blower pow. My partner Sam and I took four days on the route, spending nights at rudimentary shelters perched on the remote glaciers.
My pack included a clunky hand-me-down DSLR camera, a hardcover journal of watercolor paper, extra paper in case Sam wanted to paint too, watercolors, paintbrushes, sharpies, pencils, The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder, Backcountry Skiing in Southcentral Alaska by Joe Stock, duct-taped down booties... You get the idea.
My ski setup was the only pair of boots I’ve ever owned (who needs a walk mode?) buckled to some very old-school bindings mounted to fat, heavy skis. I felt a world apart from the spandex-clad, Dynafit-sponsored guys I’d seen in the only few existing reports of the route— guys who might knock out the traverse in a single day.
If we’d done it in a day, though, we would have been back to our car before the sky turned green and purple with northern lights. We wouldn’t have stopped to wonder if it was a wolverine or some other critter who left fresh tracks in the powder.
We wouldn’t have found the sweet, quiet serenity that comes after four days without seeing another human. We couldn’t have been bothered to ski the fun little lines off to the side of the most direct route. We wouldn’t have so appreciated the people who preceded us, from those who built the shelters to those who left behind superfluous items like Trivial Pursuit and a guitar.
Light & fast is cool, but heavy & slow bonds you to the land and to each other. Light & fast is efficient, but heavy & slow leaves time to cultivate connection and inspires awe. Light & fast may be the future, but I’d rather keep slogging away, one step at a time, stopping to paint the view whenever it feels right.