In May of 2008 I joined Joe Stock and Cathy Flanagan for a traverse of the Revelation Range, the westernmost sub-range of the Alaska Range. I had been trying to figure out a trip to experience the transition from peaks through foothills to the marshlands that were familiar to my childhood on the Kuskokwim, and when I heard Joe was planning a traverse in the Revelation Range, we teamed up. Snow conditions were too spooky to allow for the intended direct traverse, so we skirted the range on the western flank, which ended up being stunningly beautiful. After floating Big River to the Kuskokwim, Francis, my step-dad, picked us up for the three-hour boat ride to McGrath, where we ate infinite pancakes and sandwiches featuring a 9$ head of iceberg lettuce.
The Debt of Pleasure
There seem to be two end-members for backcountry food planning: gourmet over the top (guided trips), and scrape-by-barely-enough-hope-to-find-some-berries-on-the-trail. I usually shoot for something on the scrape-by end of the spectrum, saving food until I know I’ll get out and then eating the last of it so that I am on empty at the finish.
Three days into a trip in the Revelation Range I realized that I would be a little short on food. We were expecting a 7 or 8 day trip, but had time for 9. I carry two pounds of food per day, and started with 18 pounds. A few days in I noticed my two pounds of salami was starting to turn, so I buried it. At this point I started splitting my ‘one serving’ dehydrated dinners into two meals. At the same time the weather was beating us down and we started spending more time in the tents.
My college friend, Alex Masulis, is an editor in NYC. Every now and then I ask him for a book recommendation. His previous recommendation was The Cloud Atlas, which I really enjoyed. In true trip-planning form I waited to the last minute to find a book for the Revelations. With a destination like ‘Revelations’ I had high expectations for finding some insights of my own. I really did, this was a trip long in the making, an opportunity to transition from the bold peaks of the Alaska range, through the foothills, to the broad, meandering rivers and swamps that I grew up in.
I called Alex while walking from car to bookstore, and left a message when he didn’t answer. I roamed directionless inside the store until I got a message from Alex: ‘The Debt of Pleasure, John Lanchester.’ I grabbed the book without bothering to read the cover and moved on to the next last-minute errand.
Four days into the trip, after a light meal, wedged in the tent with Joe and Cathy, I cracked open The Debt of Pleasure. The first line reads, ‘This is not a conventional cookbook.’ I closed the book, layed it on my chest in the sleeping bag, laughed, and thought, ‘Oh shit. Alex sent me on this trip with a cookbook.’ During the remainder of the trip I lost a pound each day while reading a murder tale interwoven with chapters like, ‘Roast Lamb,’ and, ‘A Luncheon on the Theme of Curry.’ I remember dreaming about huge banquets with fancy meat platters, chicken dinners, and people offering me jobs.