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Risking life and limb

Posted: August 22, 2013 - 12:14am

Extreme runner Dan Lesh has risked life and limb many times during his adventures up mountains, across ridges and glaciers and down the valleys of the Southeast landscape.

Whether training for extreme distance races, pursuing a subsistence lifestyle or just inhaling the clean air at elevations most of us suffer “creaky neck” evaluating from afar, Lesh has always known the dangers and the values of the outdoors.

Raised in the small community of Gustavus near the mouth of the Glacier Bay, Lesh has always prepared himself for any unforeseen catastrophe.

That is what makes his latest outing so wrong on so many levels.

Not wrong on Dan’s part (Lesh is smarter than the average tip-toe-through-the-skunk-cabbage resident), just on the behalf of person(s) to be hopefully named later.

On Tuesday morning, Lesh skiffed with girlfriend Marysia Szymkowiak from his home in Gustavus to nearby Pleasant Island, 20 minutes away.

They anchored their boat east of the fan marker on the north side of the island. The prominent feature on the landscape has a reflective and lighted marker for navigation. The boat was far enough out to avoid any low-tide strandings. It has been done many times before.

They rafted to shore with two gear bags of dry clothes and essentials for after their workout. It is something all hunters and outdoorsmen do, in case something happens to the anchored vessel.

They then took a roughly 23-mile training run around the island.

Szymkowiak is training for the Klondike Road Race.

“I am just having fun,” Lesh said. “Training for life.”

The couple began at 8:30 a.m. and returned at 4:30 p.m.

They avoided all mishaps.

They were not running alone and were careful to not suffer a sprained ankle or broken appendage on the rocky shore or cliff areas.

“It was pretty,” Lesh said. “We only had to go up in the woods a couple times. There was lots of beach combing and we saw some deer.”

They had fuel for their bodies and wore layers that could be shed.

They heeded any wild animal signs and paid attention to the weather.

They did all the right things for the workout on that day. It was a workout Lesh has replicated in other areas.

No, what is wrong about this whole instance is that, upon the duo’s return to their anchoring sight, all their stashed gear, raft included, was missing.

Stolen.

Not misplaced.

Not eaten by critters.

Pilfered.

“There are several questions you ask,” Lesh said. “Was it the tide, a bear, did I not know where my stuff was? It was really easy in this case because we had markers on the beach. I tied the stuff to a tree and there were enough items that it would have been strewn around if it were an animal. Plus, we had gear in two different spots. It was just ruthless or super-desperate behavior by a human.”

Someone, or some people, (and that term is very much trimmed down from what they are), helped themselves to Lesh and Szymkowiak’s belongings.

Gone were a blue packraft, an orange Mustang float coat, an icom marine radio, a navy blue dry bag full of clothes and essentials, a grey Outdoor Research dry backpack full of the same, a stove, a large pair of Xtratufs and a smaller pair of Bogs.

“Why would you steal all that stuff?” Lesh said. “Why not just take what you wanted unless you were just in a really weird circumstance where you were running from something or... I don’t know. I can’t make sense of somebody just trying to make some money off of gear in the woods.”

In Alaska, life depends on being prepared for the wilderness.

Stranding someone on an island without their gear is akin to rustling a steer circa the 1860s or pinching a bit of bread in Dickens’ London, or stepping on a Kardashian family member’s shoes... It is a hanging offense! A hand-removal blow! A shunning at all Hollywood premieres!

With tar and feathering, fingernail pulling, binding and gagging and waterboarding thrown in.

And add a good Wet Willy to the ear or a wedgie to the backside as well.

This is not just common theft.

This is putting someone in a life-threatening position.

“We all anchor and pack to shore,” Lesh said. “It is nothing anyone hasn’t done before. We rely on the fact that the worst among us wouldn’t plunder that. You shouldn’t need to think twice about your survival gear on a beach in a remote location, that is just a principle of respect and outdoorsmanship. Even if some people were desperate you would hope they had an element of respect for the fact that other people are depending on it for their life.”

A fair amount of traffic plies the waters in that area.

A skiff was stolen out of Excursion Inlet three days ago.

A suspicious 18-foot open skiff with two jovial occupants was seen by the duo as they approached the end of their run.

“It seemed suspicious even before we knew our stuff was missing,” Lesh said. “They sounded a little too giddy or delirious. We just kind of scratched our heads and moved on.”

Alaska State Troopers are investigating the crime.

If the culprits are lucky they will just continue on with their low-life existence.

If the system is lucky they will apprehend the scum.

Lesh doesn’t rely on luck.

Lesh was prepared.

He had with him a cell phone and he knew reception was available. He had a lighter and could start a fire to stay warm if needed. There was no reason to attempt a swim in frigid water to an anchored boat in unseen currents.

“We were in light shorts and running jackets,” Lesh said. “We would have been stranded.”

Lesh called his mother JoAnn so she wouldn’t worry and rescue came from Glacier Bay Sport Fishing charter captain Mike Halbert, who ran the Stoic out to move them from the beach.

Although I am sure Dan Lesh was about to build a raft from devils club and shoelaces and chase down the cowardly thieves himself.

Note: If anyone has information please contact Dan Lesh at 321-7080 or Alaska State Troopers at 465-4000.

“I don’t really know what to say,” Lesh commented. “It is really disappointing.”

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