Photo by Luc Mehl (@lucmehl)
This write-up was originally featured in our Spring 2023 Trail Break issue.
Our northernmost ambassador, photographer, author, educator, wild ice and packraft guru, Luc Mehl has traveled over 10,000 miles of remote Alaska by foot, ski, paddle, pedal, and ice skate. “Most people are largely motivated to have fun,” he writes. “But, typically, sprinkled between the fun are hard parts.” Often it’s these that turn recreation into adventure. If you start to reach your adventure limit, here are some of Luc’s tips for getting through those hard parts.
MUSIC: I prefer nature’s sounds when I’m outside, but when needed, music can be an incredible mood booster. My earbuds are like caffeine pills; I save them for when I need a boost. I strongly prefer earbuds—not all of my partners want to hear [my] music, and I’m careful not to use speakers when I’m around other groups. This is Leave No Trace’s “let nature’s sounds prevail” guideline. Some of my mood-boosters have uplifting lyrics, like Bill Withers’ Lovely Day. Others, like MSTRKRFT and John Legend’s Heartbreaker have a fast and prominent tempo that keeps me moving. Below is a playlist of my favorite electro-pop uppers.
FOOD AND FUEL: I think of food as fuel for a fire, and I can’t afford to let the fire go out. Just like a fire, my fuel needs vary during the day. I carry quick-access fast- burning tinder in my pockets, like candy and dried fruit. I eat moderate-burning fuels like chips, crackers, cookies throughout the day, rather than at set meal times. Slow- burning fuels like cheese, meat, and nuts, are an investment in the future—anticipating energy needs later in the day or night.
I struggle to stay hydrated during winter days, and drinking calories with water is a double-win. My go-to liquid fuel source is Tailwind (tailwindnutrition.com/collections/ endurance-fuel).
PARTNERSHIPS: Nothing soothes a tough situation as well as a good group dynamic. I actively work to be the best partner I can be. I use a one-step plan to make myself a better partner. Shift the focus from myself: Is my partner comfortable expressing a concern? Can they keep climbing for an hour? When was the last time they had a snack? Am I prepared (mentally, physically, energetically) to help them through a bonk/ injury/scare? Of course, you have to listen to your own needs as well. But hopefully, everyone in your group is practicing being their best partner too, and checking in about your needs.
“THE EXPECTATION ANCHOR”: A common source of frustration is when conditions don’t meet our expectations. By being clear about expectations from the start, an “expectation anchor” can help keep perspective on decisions during the day. Is the point to take pretty pictures in a beautiful setting, or to climb three summits in six hours? I’m in the habit of having this conversation before we meet at the trailhead.
Luc Mehl manages a broken ski midway through a traverse of Iceland. Photo by Dan Rea-Dickens.
Kate Fitz with a broken leg and makeshift splint near Valdez, Alaska. Photo by Luc Mehl.
Classic Type 2 fun recovery. Photo by Joshua Foreman.