Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, also known as Bacon’s Law, is a parlor game that became popular in the 1990s when, in an interview with a magazine, then-prolific actor Kevin Bacon mentioned that he had “worked with everybody in Hollywood or someone who’s worked with them.” Upon reading that comment, fans posited that Kevin Bacon was actually The Center of the Hollywood Universe because everyone seemed to be connected to him. 

The way to play the game is to arbitrarily choose an actor and then connect them to another actor via a film that both actors appeared in together, repeating this process to discover the shortest path that ultimately leads back to Kevin Bacon. Indeed, following the rules of this game, we can see how it works with Elvis Presley. Elvis played in the film Change of Habit with Ed Asner, who was featured in the film JFK with Kevin Bacon. Thus, Elvis is separated from Kevin Bacon by only two links. 

The truth is, we’re all connected to each other by far fewer steps than we often realize, a theory known as six degrees of separation, and also known as the “small world” phenomenon. This theory holds that any two people on this planet are six or fewer social connections away from each other. And while some people joke in the backcountry world you could play Six Degrees of Glen Van Peski, it’s really not so odd to find out we’re often only an introduction or two away from knowing some of the world’s most amazing, interesting people.

I read a fascinating article once, which one day I will find again, that explained why ‘small world’ experiences are not as statistically improbable as we might assume.  As I recall, there was some discussion about people traveling in the same circles generally, increasing likelihood of ‘chance’ meetings.  While I haven’t found that article from years ago, I’ve been enjoying the book The Improbability Principle by eminent statistician David Hand.  In it, Hand weaves together a unified explanation of why coincidences, miracles and rare events happen every day.  Still, I was surprised one day on the GDMBR.  

My buddy Mike and I were at Lynx Pass campground, a Forest Service campground of about a dozen sites in the Medicine Bow National Forest, north of Radium, CO.  It had been a long day, and we were delighted to get to the gorgeous, and empty campground.  It had a spotless pit toilet, a water pump, and some great views.  After a cruise through the sites, we picked the best one and set up.  Mike saw a very fat and unconcerned fox walk by.  After our dinner, we spotted a couple of cyclists roll up and divert to the first site near the entrance drive.  After a while, we went down to say hi.  As we walked up, and welcomed them to the campsite, the young woman said, “Wait, are you that Gossamer Gear guy?  I’m Maggie.”  I immediately realized that she was Maggie Slepian, a freelance outdoor writer.  We’d had some email correspondence over the past couple of years, but never gotten around to meeting in real life.  Maggie reminded me of an email exchange where we discovered that we would both be on the GDMBR at roughly the same time, her heading north and me heading south.  Still, with 2,700 miles of route, different paces, alternate routes, etc, I hadn’t really expected to run into her.  Yet here she was!  

I have much more amazing ‘small world’ stories from over the years, including 4 instances in a 48-hr. period in and around Portland, OR, a friend meeting someone in the Sierra, it goes on and on.  It makes me think that if I took the time to talk to everyone I passed by, I would find some kind of common connection with many of them.

What’s your favorite ‘small world’ experience?

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