I initially chanced upon Team Heavy during my first classic. I was forewarned about the many classic character archetypes I could expect; however, Rob and Greg were unique.
I hardly had time to chat Rob the morning of the 2010 classic before I encountered two fellas with no maps planning to wing it and eager to recruit anyone with a topo. Eventually discovering another group near the Jarvis planning to travel on the north side, I kept moving and wouldn’t see Rob for another two years.
At the next start in Valdez, Rob and I jabbed about the cruel rainstorm we brushed with a couple summers ago. He shared stories of extreme dehydration in Yanert Valley. Midst preparing to start out of Thompson Pass, in Rob fashion, he opened a beer and passed me one as we started walking, which I accepted, and will never regret, despite the dire cramps on the Cleavage Glacier. I remember as I took a swig, he muttered, “Let the dehydration begin.” We both smiled.
Next year, we stayed together in Tok and McCarthy before the winter start. Rob helped me make a snowman. We talked about food, music and style. I learned Rob played rugby in college. We spent dinner sharing choir memories and discussing the finer points of scrum tactics—collapses, hand placement, ref sight angle, knee strikes, pulling down and sledging—Rob was a dirty rugger.
The next start, Rob explained the trickiness of sled packing and preparedness and I, ironically, paid little attention. I shared gear with a partner who bailed within five miles of start, so Rob’s resolution to always be prepared became evermore relevant when I realized I was 170 miles from the finish with no gas or tent. I found Team Heavy on the Nizina trying to catch up with others. Rob was taking a nap when I found him while his group was eager to keep moving up the valley. Rob knew how precious remoteness was and he savored it. I rushed ahead to catch others with gas and shelter to spare.
I saw Rob again next summer in Thompson Pass. We hugged. We shared stories about Cordova and Skolai Pass. We both underestimated the severity of the Bremner valley brush in which we were about to battle for seven days. After I dropped out, Rob messaged me at home to reminisce about the brutality of the Wrangell alders and devils club. His words of camaraderie comforted my bashfulness about dropping out early from infection—he knew how to help.
Rob helped build another snowman at the next winter start in McCarthy. He kindly helped me pick rocks for the buttons. Softly grinning, he advised me to reshape the trunk so it didn’t resemble a phallus.
At the start this summer, we joked about how gnarly the Bremner bushes were the previous year and joked about my devil’s butt rash. Suffering in the woods was old hat for Rob, so it felt natural and easy to joke about it with him. Rob and I agreed the Wernicke route was guaranteed beauty and he was keen to try glacier travel for the first time.
I saw the Team Heavy family at the finish. They were amazingly welcoming. We cried the next day when premonition struck Tammy and her instincts overcame restraint. I reassured her of his strength. I left four hours before learning of his fate.
He was a beautiful friend. My thoughts are with Tammy, Greg and the whole Team Heavy community.