Copyright 1998 -- story by Luke Shullenberger written prior to
the launch of the
In the past year many friends and travelers have asked
Jean-Philippe and I how we first met and how we have remained friends since
we seem to bicker all the time. The party line is that it was love at first
sight and that with a joint bank account, cohabitation and only another year
to wait until our relationship becomes common law marriage, we squabble just
like any couple. A few people are left uncomfortably silent by this
explanation but most pick up on the smirk and wink and laugh. But whatever
the reaction, it always works as a great prelude to the real story.
Prior to the expedition, until April '98, we both were
living in Japan. We both spent nearly 4 years there, with JP based out of
Sapporo the whole time while I spent 2 years in a small town in Northern
Hokkaido and then 2 more in Sapporo as well.
The short version is that we met on the starting line of a
cross-country ski marathon. We both love winter and getting out into the
mountains and woods to enjoy it. We share a love of nature and of physical
challenges that both put us in the middle of it and pit us against it.
However, as far as our respective involvements in x-c skiing go, this is
where the commonalities end.
The longer version starts on a clear, cold day in January of
'96. I was lined up on the starting line of the Sapporo X-C marathon and
looked to my right to find 2 other foreigners on the front line among the
thousands of Japanese entrants. It was a self-seeding start, where if you're
fast you got to the front and if you're a weekend warrior you take your
rightful place in the middle or the rear of the starting corral, and I had
raced in high school and college. Seeing those 2 on the front line, I
figured they were a couple of ringers, hotshots working for a Japanese firm
Bengt was from Sweden and had raced a bit as a youth and
then there was Jean-Philippe. He looked the part, with racing skis and a
nice lycra suit, but something wasn't quite right. I first felt it when he
asked me questions about his equipment, "Is my wax ok? Is there a left and a
right binding? How about pole straps?" After a few minutes I came to find
out that he'd started X-C skiing only 2 weeks before and had signed himself
up for a 25 K marathon after being encouraged by Bengt and some friends. I
was quite surprised and a bit amused and commented about it being a
self-seeding start and that the appropriate way to line up was according to
ability. But it was too late and the race was about to begin.
Jean-Philippe finished 11th place in a field of
2000 on that day and we have been great friends ever since. From
back-country skiing the highest peaks in Hokkaido to kayaking in Thailand,
we continue to challenge and inspire each other. JP usually leads the way
and I try to keep up. And even though I finished ahead of him, taking the
silver medal that day, it was a humbling experience. And with mutual respect
tempered by the heat of competition and understanding that comes from true
friendship, we set off together on this odyssey.