I first connected with Edelweiss resident Jessica Kelley when she posted a picture on Instagram of her bicycle in front of the mountain of snow blocking the North Cascades Highway at Washington Pass. She had ridden to the end of the road before clearing had been completed to open the highway in May 2020.
I am well aware that there are outstanding athletes here in the valley, but I became particularly intrigued with Jessica’s pictorial documentation of her many and varied quests. I sent a message to her to ask if I could submit her picture to the Methow Valley News. She was thrilled and the photo appeared on the front page of the paper last year.
Our first in-person encounter occurred at one of my favorite valley places — Methow Recycles — where Jessica works. When the recycle center reopened after the first COVID shutdown, we had not become so adept at recognizing people behind masks as we do now. Somehow, Jessica and I put two and two together and realized our connection. After that, every time I pulled in and pulled out my membership card, we chatted for a few minutes — mostly about horses, another of her passions and, of course, mine.
Then, Jessica posted about her next adventure — the 2021 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic. Okay, now she really had my attention! She spoke about the route that traverses the Talkeetna Mountains in early August and, as she puts it, “promises lots of suffering and growth, probably in equal amounts.” (The event’s rules are that participants travel from start to finish with no outside support.)
I had to know more about the mindset that enables a certain subset of people to engage in the most thrilling and, at the same time, the most terrifying activities. (Remember, I’m a wimp who looks for green circle ski trails; well, I did ride my bike 472 miles with 31,620 feel of elevation gain in sweltering temperatures in 2015 — my crown jewel of physical accomplishment.)
Jessica will actually participate in two wilderness adventures this summer. The first is the Bob Marshall Wilderness Open beginning on May 28, 2021. The route from the South Fork Teton Trailhead to just upstream from Clearwater (all Montana public land) is determined by the participants based on weather and conditions at the time. Only human-powered locomotion is allowed within the identified course area. No travel on paved roads is allowed. Jessica and her traveling companion, Ellen, will be on foot or on late spring whitewater rivers in an Alpacka packraft for the entire course.
The Alaska adventure challenge takes place in August with a wilderness traverse from Cantwell to Sheep Mountain — 160 miles of breathtakingly beautiful land, while at the same time full of frightening encounters with the wild.
A person participating in these adventures must be entirely self-supported and self-contained. They are to leave nothing behind but footprints and are responsible for self-extraction in case of an emergency. Jessica has training in rescue and first aid and packs her lightweight backpack with all the gear necessary to be prepared for challenging conditions. She carries an InReach Mini, which allows her to communicate with her husband and keep him informed of her location. She explains that the device has an SOS button, which is to be used only as a very last resort and, hopefully, never!
Jessica describes her husband, Tom, as super supportive of her journeys, and that she would not be able to do it without his help in holding down the fort and caring for their daughter Rowan.
The Kelleys moved to the valley just a few months pre-COVID. As many of us, she calls it “BC.” It has been an interesting time to integrate into a community without all the usual social events and encounters that we are accustomed to. We’ll all be happy when we can meet and greet our new and old neighbors in person again.
For now, best of luck to Jessica!