'Last Man Up': Michael LeMaitre, Mt. Marathon and Alaskans' addiction to danger

Michael LeMaitre begins the Mount Marathon race, July 4, 2012.
Carol Griswold
Photo by LUKE ROSIER An Alaska Air National Guard Pave Hawk helicopter participates in the search Thursday for Michael LeMaitre on Mount Marathon.
In this photo taken July 4, 2012 and provided by TSS Photography, 65-year-old Michael LeMaitre competes in the Mount Marathon race in Seward, Alaska.
Davis Stewart via AP

Runners World magazine this month takes a lengthy look at the mysterious disappearance of 65-year-old Anchorage resident Michael LeMaitre in the 2012 Mount Marathon Race in Seward. LeMaitre was the last man up the mountain that day, and race volunteers left the turnaround point before LeMaitre got there. He was never seen again. But the article is just as much an overview [for Outside readers] of what Seattle-based freelance writer Christopher Solomon calls sporting Alaskans' "lion-like protectiveness" toward the danger inherent in the race -- and in any number of other Alaska outdoors pursuits and competitions.  

[Alaskans] sniffed talk of any big changes [in the race] suspiciously. When I was in Alaska, the adjective that modified the Mount Marathon Race the most—it dangled from the name proudly, a little provokingly—was “dangerous.” It was this event’s red badge of honor. Without danger, there was no race. ...

And time and again during my visit, people inevitably turned the blame back on the missing man. “We were unprepared for someone being that unprepared,” [Lori] Draper, the race committee member, told me. Many locals see Alaska as the ultimate non-nanny state. Yes, there is community, the kind that emerges when people must rally against outside forces. But at the same time, there’s still a frontier attitude, and the elbow room to go with it; you can have all the rope you want to lasso your big dreams and adventures—or all you need to hang yourself. The lesson: Don’t look to anyone else for help when the grizzly charges and the rifle jams. You made your bet against this country. It’s your fault if you come up short.

As for LeMaitre, Solomon describes a man who fell in love with Alaska and was always up for adventure -- even if there wasn't enough time for extensive planning.

LeMaitre more or less subscribed to “the duct-tape answer to life,” his eldest daughter MaryAnne told me from her Utah home. “He wanted to have fun.” For her father the journey was the adventure—and if you map every moment, “you’re taking away the spontaneity, the come-what-may feeling.” ...

And the thing is, he always made it work. There were a score of dodged bullets—the dead engines, the hunting trips that went sideways. But those just became good stories. That’s why, when the CB radio craze hit in the mid-’70s, Peggy’s handle became Lucky Swede, MaryAnne was TwinkleToes. And Michael? He became the Crazy Frenchman.

Read more at Runners World: The Last Man Up