Avoiding “The Chilkoot Breast Stroke”

By , February 9, 2012

With no road to our homestead, everything we bring in must be hauled. We bring it by canoe or pulk when we can, but most of it comes in on our backs. We rarely hike home without backpack loads, from a handful of mail to 40 or 50 pounds of goods, sometimes more. I’ve learned to avoid doing “the Chilkoot Breast Stroke.”

The “Chilkoot Breast Stroke” is a term that’s stayed with me since I read it in a Donald Duck comic book as a kid. It originated as a joke comparing a steep climb under heavy packs to traversing the Gold Rush-era Chilkoot Trail. It has since become, for us,  a family term for a bad habit I began to develop while hauling heavy loads of goods over the ridge. Avoiding that habit has been key to maintaining our health, even as we continue to haul heavy loads on a regular basis, to the shore of Chilkoot Inlet, appropriately enough.


A typical load of goods headed for the homestead (Photo: Michelle Zeiger).

Early on in our moving process, I habitually allowed the weight of the load to slow me to a plodding gait. At first blush, that makes sense: after all, balance is key to safe carrying. A misstep or fall with a heavy burden can lead to severe injuries, so slow and steady does, in fact, win the race.

On the other hand, there’s no need to give in totally to this pace! I realized early in the process of moving our goods to the homestead that I was falling into the “Chilkoot breastroke,” which inevitably made me carry the load for a much longer time than necessary. Maintaining the slower pace prolonged the strain on my body, wearing me out sooner, possibly even injuring me. As soon as I catch myself falling into that pace, I speed up. Sometimes, I can’t go any faster, but most often, I find that I can. The sooner I arrive home, the sooner I can put the load down!

As a family we agreed to take our own pace, rather than waiting for the group so that no one who can go faster and set down his/her burden sooner had to wait for the slower people. We’ve continued that ever since. It’s improved our health considerably.

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