Kate Siber December 28, 2011 TWEET COMMENTS 0

Praising Arizona - Page 2

We were in the middle of a two-day trial run of the burgeoning sport of fastpacking on the newly minted Arizona Trail, a trip proposed by our zealous fastpacker friends Matt Hage, 36, and Agnes Stowe, 26. The Alaskan duo are multi-purpose outdoorspeople with a mission to pinpoint the most scenic locales for Matt's photographs and to cram as many uber-adventures into their days as possible. Between Agnes' stints working as a civil engineer, the couple has fastpacked hundreds of miles through wild Alaska, packrafted Class IV rapids in the country's least visited national monument, the Aniakchak, and stared down grizzlies in defense of wild-caught salmon. Their hard-core nature and unbridled enthusiasm for physical challenges were the perfect antidote to Andrew's and my tendencies toward sleeping in, lingering over pancakes and prolonged happy hours. It also made them the perfect tutors in ultralight backcountry travel.

"The point of going lighter is to be able to go farther, faster or to just enjoy yourself more," Agnes told me. Fastpacking seemed a natural marriage of two of my favorite pastimes: backpacking and trail running. Still, before our trip, I wondered: Were they really that compatible? What would a night in the wilderness be without a few creature comforts? And how would trail running feel with the extra weight?

Fastpacking was born both by ultralight backpackers speeding up their paces and tackling greater distances as well as trail runners eager to prolong their jaunts in the wilderness with the help of overnight gear. The goal of both: a purer connection with nature by traveling long distances quickly through remote wilderness.

In the last decade, continual advances in ultralight gear have made it easier to carry less weight, considerably widening the sport's appeal. It has also allowed fastpackers to lighten loads to jaw-dropping numbers: The sport's most fanatical ounce-shavers now carry packs lighter than five pounds in the summer and 10 pounds in the winter, while traveling upwards of 40 miles each day.

Weeks before our trip, Andrew and I loaded up on as much ultralight gear as we could afford. Then, after spreading it all out at our campsite the day before our trip, Matt and Agnes helped nip the extraneous items: Wispy synthetic-insulated pullover, yes. Flask of Maker's Mark, no. The result was a shockingly gossamer pack and the lightest overnight kit I had ever hoisted onto my back. This, I thought, was promising.

"Holy crap, I might actually enjoy carrying this," said Andrew, after trying on his kit. Andrew, 34, thrives on adrenaline sports like skiing and mountain biking, but loathes backpacking. Occasionally he appeases me by joining a foray into the woods, and this gave me hope he could be converted.

"The thing about fastpacking is everything in your pack is multi-purpose," Matt told me the next day as we cruised out of a sandy wash and up a rocky canyon. That night, we used our packs under our feet as sleeping pads and our running tights as long underwear. "And it's more about dynamic comfort, not hanging around camp."

He was right. Without a bunch of gear weighing me down, nor the mental prospect of hotfooting it back to a car before dark, the beauty of southern Arizona's wilderness became distilled. Instead of focusing on my own discomforts, I absorbed my surroundings. We hoofed past deep-blue Parker Lake then people-free hills dotted with cactus and Huachuca yucca, with feather-duster-like flowers taller than scarecrows. We sped over buffed singletrack and down rocky hillsides as blissful 60-degree breezes cooled us. Above, wispy clouds swirled like cursive across a broad cobalt sky.


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