Nov 28 2016

Returning to the Desert

The plan was to fly into Salt Lake City, rent a car and then drive down to Moab, Utah for a few days to take in the sites while running the Dead Horse Ultra 50k.  I was going to car camp while there, cooking camp food and living as sparsely as possible since I was truly broke and the only saving grace for me was a couple of credit cards that still had a bit left on them. I was meeting a friend there that had years more experience running ultras, huge 100 mile ultras and I was looking forward to the shared experience we would have.

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Upon arriving in Moab my plan quickly began to fade, it’s cold in the desert! The steady wind made it feel even more cold and the idea of sleeping in the rental while trying to keep warm and actually enjoy the experience while it’s in the 20’s overnight really started to look like a terrible idea. Over a couple of beers we ended up agreeing to share a hotel room and I was so happy to have a warm room and comfy bed to crawl into after spending the last twenty hours travelling to this desert oasis.

The next day was warmer and sunny as we headed off to Arches National Park to take in some light trail running as a warm up for the trail race the next day. The day ended up being a tour de force of running to as many arches  without exceeding the planned mileage of the day. We cruised in to Delicate Arch and enjoyed the views with about 30 of our closest friends that we have never met, friendly strangers. The sun was warm, the air was still and the views were breath taking. Running out I was bouncing around like a person without a care in the world forgetting the 50k trail race I had bright and early the next morning.20161118_110158

 

Having returned to the parking lot we were jazzed to hit the next place, the Devils Garden and its multitude of arches. We planned on running in to the Double O Arch but the mileage would be too much considering the race in the morning and the need for fresh legs to get us through our respective races, so we settled on hitting a trio of arches, Landscape Arch, Partition Arch and Navajo Arch. Running through this amazing  environment was mind bending in its amazing beauty, even the incredible cold wind couldn’t take the smiles from our faces.

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Driving through the park we kept stopping to check out every little place including Sand Dune Arch, Salt Valley Overlook and The Windows Section with Turret Arch and the North and South Windows. It was early evening by the time we left the park, hungry and thirsty we needed to hit town and call it an early day as we needed to be up at 4:30 in the morning to get to our races on time. Eating dinner at what was becoming our favorite spot to eat, the Moab Brewery we decided to grab another hotel room so we could get a good nights sleep before our races and as it went I then concluded that there was no way I wanted  to sleep in the back of an SUV, trying to recover from a 50k trail race, logic overcame budget and that was that.20161118_123819

The morning came way to quickly and 4:00am was very unwelcome but we had races to run and fun to have! Running through the desert is mind bending and surreal, it felt as if I was becoming a part of the landscape around me. The race was almost secondary to my need to just exist in this moment and savor the incredible world around me. I won’t go into detail about the race, that’s another story all together but it was an incredible life changing experience for me and as I sit here writing this I can think of only getting back out to the desert and wind my way through the desert, just myself and a pair of shoes.20161119_082206

After our races we returned to the hotel, took showers and collected ourselves both chatting about our individual experiences and the way we felt about our performances before heading back in to town for dinner and relaxation. Tomorrow was our last day in Moab, she was heading back to Montana and I would begin the arduous journey back to Alaska so we wanted to make the best of the first half of the day. We decided the best way to end the trip was the way it began and when we first met up here three days ago, we decided to hit the two big parks, Arches and Canyonlands during the visit. With Arches done Canyonlands was next on the list so in the morning we ate breakfast at the EKsentric Café, comedy of its own as we waddled around on stiff legs that haven’t recovered quite yet from racing and running into other runners who were suffering from the same fate. 20161118_124533

The drive south took only about 45 minutes and even in the subdued, overcast skies Canyonlands was spectacular, the vast openness, amazing cliffs and rock formations  were incredible and getting in the scenery around us was nearly impossible without pulling over and staring at the world rather than driving through snapping pictures on the go. We hiked very little, giving our fatigued legs a break and honestly I don’t think I was capable of any extended hiking at all giving the exhausted conditions of my legs anyway. Stopping at the Needles Visitor Center we picked up a map and headed out for the remainder of the road to see what we could see in the limited time we had.

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Stopping at the Pothole Overlook we got a short half mile walk in and were treated to incredible views of the canyon around us, it was a perfect way to spend the day. After visiting the turnout at the end of the road which also included some light walking around it was time to get back in the car and head back to Moab. Driving out of the park was just as surreal as it was driving in and I thought it was funny that I believed that after seeing everything I could see on the drive in that during the drive out everything might lose its unique quality but it didn’t, everything was just as magical the second time around.20161120_111857

Back in Moab we packed up all of our gear, threw everything in our cars, hugged each other goodbye and wished each other the best , getting in our cars we drove down the highway, each in a different direction.  Later in the evening as I was sitting in my hotel room in downtown Salt Lake City I was able to take a breath and reflect on what I have experienced over the last four days, nothing was lost on me as the whole visit and everything that took place really left a mark on me emotionally as well as mentally. There was a time I thought that Alaska was my home for the rest of my life, now I’m not to sure about that but I am sure of one thing and that is that ultramarathons are not just something I am doing now and then, they are becoming more of who I am than anything else and the need to continue it is completely overwhelming.

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I’m learning as I grow, yes I am pretty old to think like that but no matter what age we are at in life, the opportunity to grow and excel continues to drive us and this was a new drive I have been longing for. A new devotion has set in for me and the love for this new world has absorbed every ounce of my being, What this revelation will mean for me is difficult to say, could I be moving in the near future? Possibly, but for right now as I sit here at my table staring out the window and watching it snow, I know that this place, like myself is temporary and there comes a time when you know that you’ve worn out your welcome, for me that time is coming very soon.

 

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Oct 10 2015

8 Days a Tourist

Sipping my Americano coffee in a cafe early in the morning, the gravity of what I was doing began to slowly seap into my consciousness. I have been going strong for nearly 24 hours straight so I could be sitting here in this little sandwich and coffee shop in the city center of Reykjavik Iceland, staring at the people around me in a drunken daze of fatigue. The hostel where I had booked my stay for the first couple of days and last couple of days wouldn’t allow me to check in until 2:00 this afternoon and being that it’s 9:00 in the morning, here I sit in the middle of a city of over 100,000 people completely lost as to what I was going to do for the next two days before the adventure truly will begin. I had accidentally arrived a day early after having messed up my time zones, thus I had an extra day to explore this land that I have been waiting so long to be a part of.
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A year ago I learned about a trail here that was suppose to be incredible, a trail that you would never forget about as long as you live so I looked it up. It was amazing and incredible by all accounts that I could see from the internet, the need to be on this trail became an obssession. Roughly 35 miles long, the Laugavergurinn stretches from the Icelandic highlands of Landmannalaugar and winds its way to
Þórsmörk  closer to the south. It looked incredible and i wanted to hike it, but for me it was too short to just spend a few days on a trail so far away and then I saw it. Just a mile or so up river from Þórsmörk  in Básar is the start of the Fimmvöróuhál Trail and quite possibly 17 miles of the most incredible hiking I will ever experience in my life.
After two days of trapsing around the streets of Reykjavic, seeing its galleries, shops, restaruants and bars the moment had finally arrived. I was up at 6:00am, gathered all my gear, checked out of the hostel and hit the road by 7:00am. The 2 kilometer walk to the bus terminal went by quickly and by 8:00 I was boarding my bus headed for Landmannalaugar and the beginning of my adventure. The bus was a wonderful way to see this corner of Iceland, images flashing by of geisures, horse pastures and dramatic hills gave way to a stark beauty of the beginning of the central highlands.
After 4 incredibley beautiful hours, I along with all the other passengers were unceramonially dumped into another world, that of Landmannalauger. With my tent set up among a sea of tents and all of my domestic camp duties completed I set out to explore this amazing valley and wandered wherever I possibly could until finally returning to the tent for dinner and eventually bed thinking about how incredible tomorrow is going to be.20150827_073955 20150827_125922

With the sounds of a herd of sheep passing through camp dawn arrived and with a steaming cup of coffee anticiption oozed from my pores. An hour after waking I had broken down camp, checked in with the hut warden to get a heads up on weather and trail conditions and that was it, I was off…..finally. Climbing above Laugaraun, the valley of Landmannalaugar I fell face first into the surreal landscape that inspired J.R.Tolkens vision of Middle Earth and it was perfect. The trek was never desperately tiring, infact it was almost pleasant and wonderful, allowing one to stop at seamingly every turn to take in the views and an endless amount of pictures.
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Most of the hike was spent in silent wonder and images that even now as I write this still wait to be absorbed in my mind, this land defied every conception of reality as I knew it. As the trail gradually climbed higher I was wandering through the snow fields of Storihver, passing steaming, gurgling geothermal vents, I forgot how tired I was during the occassional steep sections.
After several hours I reached the large snow fields surrounding the pass that leads to Hrafntinnusker, the high point of the Lagauvagur Trail at 1100 meters and halfway point of the days hike to Alftavatn. The fog limited visibility to maybe a quarter of a mile and the flat light made it very difficult to differentiate the snow and clouds as everything seemed to blend together into one grey white world around me.
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After a quick stop at the hut in Hrafntinnusker the trail meandered through fields of snow and gradually began the descent towards Alftavatn. The closer I got to Alftavatn the wind was beginning to pick up and after the long and steep descent to the valley and a very tricky river crossing, the winds were howling, narrowly blowing me off the trail. Arriving in Alftavatn I checked in with the hut warden and set to getting my tent put up in the crazy wind. It was a struggle to erect the tent and as I finally accomplished the task I watched the other hikers around me still battling the wind and went to the aid of a couple who had never raised a tent in the wind before.
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Waking in the morning the air was still, the sun creeped above the mountains and the silence was unnerving. It felt good to feel the weight of my pack on my shoulders again, I turned my back on the beautiful lake and began climbing a small hill out of the valley. River and stream crossings were always a pleasure, meeting up with other hikers laughing and talking as we went through the proccess of removing our boots, wading through the water, drying our feet to put our boots back on and moving on.20150829_080728
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Arriving in Hvanngil the landscape changed dramatically from rolling green hills and snow covered mountains to a desert of lava flows and black sand that seemed to go on forever.
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The contrast between the black soil and the green moss covered hills and mountains that bordered this plain was incredible and I was failing miserably at absorbing all the imagery around me. After many miles of travel through this desert I arrived in Emstrur hut and with it the amazing, jaw dropping Markarfjúfur Gorge and the incredible river that flowed through it. Waterfalls cascade down the great walls to the bottom of the gorge far below. In camp a small stream gurgled past my tent site and afforded me with some of the best tasting water I’ve ever experienced.
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The final day of travelling on the Lagauvagur Trail was before me, and the hike to Þórsmörk  began with steaming cups of coffee and knocking frost off of the tent before I could pack it away and get on with the day. It was a beautiful morning to be hiking in this land, fog drifting across the low lying valley adding a touch of romance to the approach to the first stream crossing of Botnaa. Slowly winding through the hills and small gorges I was suddenly greeted by the region of Sandar and the Frommri-Emstruá river gorge, it was truly wonderful watching this massive river that originated from the terminus of the Entujökull Glacier. I kept getting lost in my thoughts as I wandered through areas like Fauskatorfur, a sandy river valley that hugs the hills on the south side of the valley of the Markarfljót  River.
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Having crossed the startling gorge of the river Liósá via a foot bridge I began the tiring ascent of the Utholmar hills, and just as soon as the climbs began so did the descent to the final river crossing at the þróngá River, and again crossing in the company of other hikers the air was filled with laughter and good spirits. The last hills of Hamraskógar was all that stood before me as I slowed down my pace, savored more of the views and breathed in the air knowing that Þórsmörk  was just a short distance away, sadly the end of this journey was coming to an end but with it the next adventure was soon the begin.
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After a short pause in Skagafjörðskáli I smiled at the world I have spent the last few days in still numb from all that I had seen. I spoke with fellow travellors about how delightful the trail has been, disgussed what was next as some were getting on a bus and heading home and others such as myself were heading off for the next trail. Turning my back on this amazing area I began the trek across the river Krossá and hike to my next camp in Básar and the beginning of my next adventure, the hike of the Fimmvörðuhál.
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The Fimmvörðuháls trail begins in the Þórsmörk  valley here in Básar, ascends the ridgelines and mountains to pass between two enormous volcanos, Eyjafjallajökull and Katla and finally gradually descends to the coastal village of Skógar. I rose early in the morning to a steaming cup of coffee and great anticipation to get on the way. The short walk up the valley to the start of the trail was wonderful and loosend my legs up for what I could only assume to be a rather streneous day ahead of me.
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As I ascended the Fálkhöfuð ridgeline the Strákagil River Valley fell away from me on the west side of the ridge in a breathtaking manner with its sheer cliffs of black and green, the white snow of the upper slopes of Eyjafjallajökull added to the drama of the landscape. Suddenly I was on the Kattarhryggur or Catwalk, a very narrow portion of ridgeline that is only a couple of feet wide and spans the ridge for possibly a hundred yards. At its narrowest point the Kattarhryggur is barely a foot wide falling away to the Strákagil River a thousand feet below to the right and the þvergil valley on the left. Slowly and with wonderful excitement I stepped across the knife blade ridgeline, around the sides and past the useless safety cable designed to be cought if you slip and begin to fall.
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After ascending the Kattarhryggur I stopped to catch my breath and stared across the Hruná River valley and could see the cause of the this incredible world, the Tungnakvislarjökull, a beautiful glacier that drops away from Mýrdalsjökull.
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The way the sun broke through the clouds it was like the glacier itself was guiding the suns rays into the valley floor. Moving on I climbed up and along the shoulder of the Heiðarhorn Mountain and gain the Morinsheiði, a stunning perfectly flat mountain top platue that  seemed impossible to me.
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Even trapped in the clouds and the chill of the moisture in the air clinging to every inch of me, I felt nothing as I was numbed by the view. With extreme purpose I ascended the very exposed ridgeline of Heljarkambur before the final climb to the 1053 meter Brattafönn and the lower snowfields of Eyjafjallajökull, a land of volcanic ash, snow and ice. Moving along the soft snow and fields of ash I took a side trip to climb one of two mountains, Móði and Magni that Eyjafjallajökull  created in its 2010 eruption. Climbing to the summit ridgeline of Magni I laughed wondering how many people could say that they have climbed a mountain that has existed on Earth for only five years.
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The snow fields and hills of ash passed by in a blur of white and black, the massive volcanos upper slopes peaking out shortly now and then through the thinning cloud layer when civilization abruply appeared in front of me. A tour group of guided hikers who had recently set off from the nearby Fimmvörðuskáli hut pass me headed in the opposite direction. Just I begin to recover from the intrussion into my world I spot the unmistakable shiny metal A-frame of the Baldvinsskáli hut about a kilometer down trail, it seemed my isolation from the rest of the world would soon be comming to a head. Arriving at the hut the trail joined a small dirt road that would lead me through a stark landscape of rock, moss, lichen and sheep.
The rumble of unnamed waterfalls roar with life from the casm of the Skóga River far below me on the east side of the trail, still there was still roughly 15 kilometers left in my day and I insisted on making every kilometer count. Gradually wandering down this little dirt road the trail reappeared leading me off to the right away from the predictable road to a trail that skirted the Skóga river and its incredible waterfalls and norrow gorges.
Trapsing along the cliffs that line the Innribotnar valley I was so inthrawled by the beauty of the land that I never even noticed the growing number of hikers passing me heading up trail and before I knew it I was within 5 kilometers of the end of the trail.
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The trail ends with a roar with the massive Skógafoss waterfall falling away for 90 meters and a knee burning descent of stairs that lead from the top of the hill to the flat, coastal farmland of Skógar. Elated with how magnificant the trail was, the experiences I witnessed and the fact that I actually successfully pulled off this trip with no outside help, I wandered to the tourist bistro and pub for a celebratory Icelandic Mori Red Ale or two toasting my triumph and the success of completing what I set out to do. I had missed the last bus back to Reykjavik so I was going to be camping with everybody else at the base of Skógafoss .
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The next morning I met and became friends with a French man of about my same age who had fallen to the same fate as I, attempting to find a way home. It was the end of the month as all the tourist bus schedules had become invalid and had changed, we laughed at our misfortune and worked to figure a way for him to get back to Landmannalaugur to retrieve his motorcycle and I to return to Reykjavik. We found a local commuter bus that was scheduled to stop here midday and heads up the coast towards Reykjavik.
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My new friend and I rode the bus chatting about our adventures which paralled each others but were slightly seperate still. In the town of Hella my friend left me to find another ride for the rest of the way to Landmannalauger, left to my isolation I couldn’t help but smile at how amazing this aventure has been . Finally after leapfrogging commuter busses and with no money, begging generous city bus drivers to get me within a couple of kilometers of the city center of Reykjavic and my hostel I was safely back from where this trip began.
The last couple of days in Iceland were spent catching up with correspondence, buying gifts for friends and catching anything in the area that I might of missed. I found myself quietly sitting in the bar of my hostel, sipping a beer and thinking back to the trail I had just recently finished hiking, smiling and laughing at foolish memories I have to keep with me for the rest of my life. This place and its land changed me, showing me more of who I am just as I thought I knew everything about me there was to know.
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Nov 18 2014

Finding Myself on the Kesugi Ridge

Experiencing the Kesugi Ridge is most easily a moment of self-discovery for me, I am always trying to see where I am headed whether it is a career, or learning about myself on the trail. For the time it is for self-discovery on the trail, and that trail was, is and will be the Kesugi Ridge. I was meant to travel this trail with a good friend, but that fell to the way side, but this trip is too important to me, to who I have been, who I am now and who I am to become in the future. This time it will be my great dog pal Equinox and myself that explore the amazing land waiting for us. This trail is so much just a trail, but what an amazing trail, it leaves me wanting to return now this very moment. The drive was painstakingly long, with Alaska’s road repair season in full swing and taking six hours for a four hour drive, it was crazy.

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From Byers Lake, I attempted to hitch to the Little Coal Creek trailhead but people frown on a weird guy with a huge back pack and a dog on the side of the road. Therefore, after standing on the side of the highway for two hours I changed the plan, hike into Skinny Lake set up camp, get up in the morning, do a day hike to Ermine hill, and go back to Skinny Lake celebrate the day and relax.

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The first couple of miles are a refreshing walk, wandering through the forest along the beautiful shore of Byer Lake and winds its way over small hills and ravines. The beginning truly feels like a warm-up for the climbing that was soon to come and when that first turn came, the trail abruptly turned and twisted its way into the sky. I was sweating like a freak, exhausted just as I have many times in the past so I was use to this. A couple of hours go buy slogging through streams running down the trail, tromping through unavoidable mud and lung searing steepness at times I finally made it to Tarn Point, a point where the Kesugi Ridge truly begins, the adventure that I was hungry for stared me right in the face.

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Passing by Mini Skinny Lake I was numb by the amazing simple beauty and if this lake area is this stunning what the hell was in store for me? The answer would come soon enough, as I crested a hill and descended into a basin I found Whimbrel Lake and I found heaven. Wandering around the lake, taking pause to savor every ounce of the land in front of me, I was numb. The water was like glass, the grasses rich and green, the few trees that dotted the landscape seemed as if they have been placed exactly where they are on purpose, it was truly amazing.

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The beginning of the day began in the sunshine but now clouds were beginning to close in, mostly to the west where the Alaska Mountain Range was getting hammered, but here it was still dry. After resting at Whimbrel Hill we set off again passing through rolling rock incrusted hills, the odd lake would fill in the gaps between low lying areas and the winding trail continued on explicitly through the most wonderful of the land in front of and around me.

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A lengthy arduous climb led to the top of Golog Point and with every darkening skies, I get the most amazing view of Skinny Lake and the region beyond, I feel so very small. I knew that I couldn’t make camp along the shore of Skinny Lake with its slopes either too steep or over vegetated, my goal was a much smaller lake sitting on top of a ridgeling about half a mile from Skinny Lake and would be much better to set up a two day camp. Dropping down the trail about a half a mile from Skinny Lake and a mile from my camp site the first drops began to fall.

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I hate setting up a tent in the rain. I am not bothered by hiking in the rain, running in the rain, anything but setting up camp in the rain, it sucks. I had still two muddy, steep, compressed, bushwhacking, stream filled ravines to descend into and climb out of before getting back to a normal trail before I have to again bushwhack my way up to my camp lake. Forget that this is huge Grizzly Bear country and the area I am thrashing through is the perfect habitat for these monsters. When I arrive at the small lake it’s sprinkling but not bad so I drop my pack and begin putting the tent up, it wasn’t a moment after I got the rain fly on the tent that the rain cut loose. I get all my gear inside, the dog in and then myself to relinquish myself of wet, muddy clothes and to get refreshed.

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Sitting on the shore of the small lake, listening to the rain fall on the land around me, splashing on the otherwise still water I feel like an observer not quite welcomed to be here, but being tolerated non the less. As I finished filtering water for tonight and tomorrow I stood up to walk back to the tent, it’s 9:30 at night and still very light out but as I raise my head I am startled by a moose cow and her calf standing there not fifty feet away. We stared at each other for a very uncomfortable period of time before out of boredom I believe the moose casually moved on. I love tent life, I hate setting it all up but once it’s done life becomes very simple. I settled in for the night and slowly drift off to sleep hungry for what is to come.

The morning was wet, raining and visibility is very low so I take my time waking up, enjoying an extra cup of coffee and eating a full and very rare breakfast before heading out. I was using my cell phone for all the pictures because it’s light, small and simple to use, but now with the rain it is worthless and heading out on the day hike to Ermine Hill I actually felt relieved from the task of recording the days events. The hike down into the valley 1500 feet below me was brutal and the hike back out of it really was a burner, thank god I didn’t have a heavy pack on my back.

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Though I pretty much never came into contact with any bears on the trip the moose population made up for it. The days ten mile hike to Ermine Hill and back was uneventful and sadly due to the weather the visibility was horrible, like walking in a cloud with about 500 feet of visibility but for some reason, still it was magical and I couldn’t stop smiling or speaking out loud about what I was seeing.

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That night in the tent I was exhausted, sipping my wine in the tent since the rain had gotten stronger I was elated and finally at truly satisfied with what I had achieved on this trip. The rain was a welcome constant tapping on the fly and with rock blues playing from my phone, a content dog beyond relaxed beside me I couldn’t imagine a better place to be.

In the morning the rain had subsided to a light sprinkle so I went for a walk, I found a large and warm pile of fresh bear scat not 30 feet from the tent. We had worn out our welcome and it was time to go. The hike back was an uneventful journey back through the memory of how I arrived here, retracing the steps I took a couple of days ago. Later that day the clouds parted and just as I hit Whimbrel Lake the sun was out in full force, then I knew the travel home would be magical and more importantly dry.

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When I reflect on what I saw, felt, wandered through and fell in love with. This could very well be the perfect trail that leads you through and out of steaming humid forests, up difficult climbs just to make you earn the right to be on the ridge. I thought I saw the land, the trail in a very special light, now I’m laughing at how naïve I was. The amount of rain that fell on me could have been a negative, but this is the nature of the ridge and being a part of what is normal here makes it so much stronger for me. The Kesugi Ridge challenged me to look at myself and teach me a bit about myself and I found more of myself than I expected. This was and is a place that forces the rest of your life into the back of your mind. I thought of nothing for three days but this trail, it invades your mind, your heart, your soul. This place is the definition of backpacking in Alaska, I thought I knew what love on the trail was, and I was wrong.

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Nov 15 2014

Last Chances Never Come to Late

20140903_114231NC!AMoments come to a person while traipsing through a world of boundless possibilities, mostly where that fine line actually lies and where we are limited by what nature has decided we are allowed to be a part. I am not a fan of restriction, of being told no, of being forced to turn away. I can’t accept the power of something else controlling my will and yet this was the outcome just a day ago. Parking the car under ever darkening skies, I put the pack on Equinox and then hefted my own pack. Crossing Nome creek was more of a challenge than it has ever been, swollen and angry it attempted to take out its vengeance on my dog and me but we pulled through. I should have known……….

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The trail began dry and pleasant, but soon after it turned wet and defiant. The land is in flux, some plant life accepting the inevitable have softly turned to a pleasant shade of brown gold. There were light drips on me as I hiked into the increasingly muddy and water logged trail, as each step fell away the water flowed more, the bushes and the stunted trees shed their water on me. I was soaked from head to toe before the rains came so it wasn’t a big change for me. I kept on and then it rained, it down poured, it hailed and the wind made sure I knew whom the boss was. I stood there for quite some time waiting out the driving rain and hail, turned away from the punishing sting of hail.

Once it faded, I moved on the trail now gone and the land begins to revolt against my will to proceed. I crossed a stream that I have known many times but today I didn’t recognize it was so angry, climbing above it I watched it over my shoulder as the next wave of rain enveloped me, and again I stopped, turned away and waited for it to let up. As the rain let up to a light spray a rainbow formed down and away from me up the valley and fell over the Nome Creek, it was beautiful. I went to pull my cell phone out to take a picture but when I went into my sealed gortex shell pocket I found that it was lying in a puddle of rainwater that had forced its way through the watertight zipper.

I continued, I knew that my pack held dry and warm clothes so I ferried on. With each step I moved through the mire of mud and water. However, looking around at the world outside of the hood of my shell it was so very beautiful and the smells were amazing! There then was the half way stream, a stream generally easy to bound across was a stranger, defiant and way over loaded from the recent rains. The couple of braids that made up the stream had been completely overwhelmed and the gentle rest stop stream I knew so well was a hungry thing that did nothing to soften the realization that this was where my will to finish what I started would end and nature had had enough of my intrusion. Sometimes we have to swallow the ego, the will to go through so many barriers and realize that you can only do so much before it is just stupid to continue on, but then there was that moment just before the first drop of rain hit my head…………….

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As the seasons pass from one to another, summer to fall, fall to winter the land itself slowly melts from one form to another and here I find myself again at the trailhead, preparing to cross a much more subdued Nome Creek and taking advantage of a last chance to travel back to the world I love the most. This late in the year it’s early October and I’m treading through the landscape and feeling the soil harden, the streams freeze up and the wildlife going silent I have become numb by the beauty, the temporary transition that I am allowed to wander.

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A land in flux, a life transitioning from one form to a larger understanding and continuing to grow and become more of itself than could ever be understood, has in fact become a stranger to those who thought they knew what it was all about. This is a season that hasn’t quite been normal, a season that has decided that the things of the past aren’t truly what are meant for today or tomorrow.

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Transitioning from one point to the next, following a trail through the hills, across the mountains, fording streams and finding yourself in a land rarely witnessed and most dreamed of, watching it change from what I have always been most comfortable with to a land of unidentifiability is the land that I have lovingly wandered into. The newness of change is always exciting, new and the results are never what we thought they would be, the challenge the evolution of our minds follows the season and with the season we grow and change, growing leaving behind the ashes of yesterday.

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Nov 13 2014

Running the Rich

People pass through places they see all the time viewing the world through the windows of their cars as they drive along the road. More often than not, people rarely stop and explore that amazing land that caught their attention in the first place. It caught my attention as I bid my time and waited for the right time to see a fantasy, a daydream come true. In 2004, I first drove the Richardson Highway to shoot black and white photography of a land that is pushed up against multiple mountain ranges, I was staggered by the immensity and beauty that I had immersed myself. The area was completely obscured by smoke from the worst wildfire season Alaska had ever experienced so I never realized just how incredible the area is. Having returned the next fall, I had a better view of the area, getting amazing photographs of the landscape and still thought very little inclination of how this place could affect me.

First look

At the time I had no thought of running the road, the highway, instead I was more intrigued with hiking the area, and in time I did do that and the only time I savored the area was in passing, heading to further destinations such as Valdez or to drive the Denali Hwy making this place a passing fancy. Ten years later, this place the Donnelly Lakes Region of the Richardson Highway was my destination and running the highway for the almost 5-mile stretch of road was my mission.

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Stepping out of the car and into the warm sun was electric, the normal wind was an afterthought and the clouds evaporated leaving the unspoiled land to dry out and absorb the rays of a sun that is fading slowly into fall. Running along this stretch of highway, I could feel every footfall land silently on the asphalt with every twist and turn of the road. I kept smiling as I travelled along the road even the climbs couldn’t diminish the pleasure and sense of freedom I was feeling inside of me.

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The air is different, things seem simpler, life back there in worker/personal life world doesn’t matter, don’t exist for the moment. The contrast of the black asphalt against the rich green grasses that line the road and fall away to the many ponds and marshes in the area accent the slowly yellowing leaves of the birch tree woods that compete for beauty with the spruce trees.  Feeling the energy of this world creates a newness within myself and evaporates what was, and created a newness that I have craved for a very long time. This place holds a magical key that opens your/my mind to what is possible in the present and in the future. This amazing place, so full of life, beauty and an ability to let me see within myself as my feet fall on the road show me how to see the growth inside me and where I am aimed to be.

The Rich

 

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May 21 2014

A Chance Introduction

A slight chill still clings to everything around me, my pack and shell have a thin layer of frost coating them but this will soon change. After all summer was in full swing, and the first mile was yet to begin and the several stream crossings were quite in fact just in front of me. Weighing my pack on my fresh shoulders, I step away from the trailhead and walk the short distance to the first stream crossing and luckily the water level is low enough to leapfrog exposed stone across the stream.  A short bout of bush wacking and one more stream crossing and the adventure was finally away.

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After a short hike through narrow trails we ascend a rise and receive a view of the valley in front of me, a valley my imagination was never prepared to witness. A breath of a breeze drifts through the waist high shrubs and blueberries before cascading to the stream below. The air is electric and I anticipated anything of surprise to come as I slowly hiked the very well defined trail deeper into the valley and even deeper into a world I never knew would greet me. The trees across the valley diminished and a barren arctic landscape took it place but the energy of this place continued to rise. Dahl Sheep traverse the slopes across the valley, possibly hopeful to be replenished by the stream that separates us but too timid to come any closer.

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A short six miles and marshy lands, weaving through bogs of mush and moving away from a visible trail to wander higher up the hills slopes to avoid the wetter areas I arrived at the valley bowl that I would call home for a couple days and it is spectacular. Barren but amazing, beautiful in its simplicity this place has an energy all its own and I can feel it with every step. One of my favorite time during a trip is setting up camp, throwing the pack to the ground, scoping out the best place to put up the tent, unloading the necessary gear that will be needed around camp and what will be used for the hike up on the ridgeline. A small stream trickles through the middle of my valley simple, subtle and beautiful but the ground is very soft as arctic tundra can be.

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Ascending the ridgeline to the north of the valley, I am able to view the rest of the world around me and my breath is sucked from my lungs from the onslaught of spectacular beauty I was witnessing all around me. Wandering along the steep ridge is amazing in all that is that I perceive reality to be, and just short of actually continuing on to ascend the mountain I choose to just walk about the granite tors that line the ridge like fins on some long dead dinosaur. Travelling through, around these monoliths is nothing less than an awakening of everything that created me and I am not lost on the moment. I seek out route lines, imagining climbs up each wall, each tor, and every face of granite. Then I finally see the valley below and away from this world I am still coming to grips with and my mind and spirit are spinning out of control.

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Every ridgeline, every valley that seemingly forms at every turn is like a movie that constantly changes and is so subtle and unique. An afternoon away traversing this ridgeline has left me emotionally exhausted by what I have been witness to, returning to camp is unusually light of step bordering on bouncy, a sense of euphoria envelopes me. Back at camp I meditate on a large boulder on the creek in the late afternoon sun, everything around me is felt within me. Dahl sheep drop down on the  valley in their travel to get to the small creek that I am meditating. The trickle of water creates the perfect sound to relax to and the landscape projects me beyond any physical understanding I have ever known.

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That evening wandering around the valley with the summer sun still high in the sky and a full cup of wine accompanied with a laxadaisel mentality, the valley becomes a playground to seek out submerged streams buried beneath boulder fields. By morning I never wanted to leave this place, sipping coffee and stepping about the valley floor, the world, this plain of existence is perfect. After breaking camp and packing everything up I suddenly feel like the jilted lover being left behind. This place begs me to not to leave its wonder but leave it I must, the other world waits for me. Hiking out was wonderful and beautiful but at the same time terrible. It was a walk of loss, losing the feelings that this place had given birth inside me. A relationship that had begun the second I stepped on the trail was slowly fading the further I got from the valley and the closer I got to the car. This place guided me to a new life and an understanding of what special truly is. I am spoiled by this wonder and slowly allow my spirit to fall with the slopes of the hillsides that have settled on the valley floor, where the essence of what it means to be who I am now resides.

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May 27 2013

Alone With A Stranger

Something has changed and I could feel it before even opening my eyes. There was energy in the air, like static electricity and it was everywhere. Winter has been clinging to every particle of soil in an attempt to maintain its grip on the landscape even snowing for the last few days, but this was April and something new was taking place. Normally this time of year I find myself slowly putting my ski equipment away, packing away all the cold weather clothing and reflectively watch the snow melt and recede into my memory.

This month nothing is going in the direction that we are accustomed to, it’s continuing to snow and the temperatures have remained slightly chilly this spring. Soil would begin to appear beneath the trees in the woods, the sun warms the landscape just before clouds silently slip over the horizon engulfing the skies and the snow gently falls on the melting snow blanketing the rotten old snow in a fresh, healthy shade of white. The snow continues to fall and the air remains colder than normal frustrating all of us who are itching to see springs arrival.

Falling Snow Early Spring

Willing winter to disappear and bringing forth the birth of an overdue spring isn’t doing it, as the seasons really don’t listen to us humans with our pathetic miniscule and selfish needs. The seasons move along at their own lazy pace, deciding for themselves when they are ready to move on. Impatiently, we struggle to fight off the urge to give in and pull the equipment back out of the closet to hit the trails for what could be one final ski of the year. Experience has proved that letting the season pass, quietly remembering the last wonderful ski trip with all its amazing memories is a far better way to move on to spring than heading out on this horrible snow. Floundering in the soft, melting crud that offers no purchase to my kick wax would only prove to be a futile attempt at reliving that same great day I last experienced on the trail.

Late Spring Snow

Late winter, early spring the snow continues to fall. Nowhere is any dark soil to be found, this winter that refuses to fade away relentlessly dumps more snow each day driving fear into our hearts that spring may never come. Even now with all this fresh snow it just isn’t worth pulling out my ski’s, this wet powder only covers the chopped up cruddy ice that lays just beneath it and would give way to the trash beneath at the hint of any weight. Staring out the window or standing on the porch, I watch this stranger whom I’ve never met maintain a stranglehold on my world. I’m over it, I want winter to end, the soil to dry up, the leaves to unfold on the trees, and the flowers to bloom.

The end of April comes and goes but the snow stays, weighing down branches in the trees, weighing down the thoughts in my mind. Never mind that the temperature has risen to just above freezing, the snow continues to fall. To what end this season will come is anybody’s guess, the strangeness of the season is so foreign to us all. Alone I sit and wait for this madness to subside and anticipate the return of a more rational spring to step in and push aside this craziness that consumes my life for the time being. In time, the snow will melt leaving the land to itself once again. The soil will dry and the clouds will fade away to a strengthening sun. The mosquitos will return and annoy all in this land while we duck, swat and wave at invisible and imagined insects that are seemingly constantly attacking our heads. The trees will turn green and the flowers will bloom, spring will arrive and the world will be right. Time will pass and we will forget what it felt like to go through the experience of winter’s intrusion into our spring, shortening our summer and erasing our perception of what was once a predictable change of season. Alaska just reminded us that though we know what to expect from this land we must always remember that everything is subject to change.

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Sep 24 2012

An Afternoon In The Rain

The day began as a drive in the soft fall rain, cruising to the Eagle Summit trailhead was the goal for the day. We weren’t really expecting much with the light wind and drizzly rain that seemingly followed our every move, but to make something out of a day off from work was all that mattered. Windshield wipers set the tone of the drive with their constant back and forth, even the music was subdued by the less than pleasurable mood of the weather today.

We shared a light-hearted banter, laughing about the silly realization that every time we’ve travelled together down this road the weather has been less than ideal. The river flows by seamlessly moving along its own timeline, as does the rest of the world passing by in a blur. The idea was to drive up the Eagle Summit trailhead and hike the Mastodon Dome route if the weather permitted. Well we could tell rather quickly that the weather was going to be less than cooperative.

As we approached the mile 57 marker I realized that  right at that point there is a turn off for the Nome Creek camp ground at the border of the White Mountains State Recreation area, and  I thought that this would definitely be a great replacement to hitting the Mastodon Trail. After a fine outhouse break and short a conversation we headed up the dirt road and over the pass to Nome Creek. It, the short seven mile drive to Nome Creek is always wonderful and spectacular. There was fresh snow on the nearby mountains, reminding me that winter wasn’t too far off and it made my blood boil. I couldn’t wait to set my ski’s down and glide off on the trails.

At the Nome Creek camp ground we wandered about looking at the creeks water level and viewing the incredible hillsides. Turning back to the road we headed out towards Beaver Creek and thought to enjoy the scenery. After passing a point where I last visited and turned around, I had passed into a world where every turn introduced me to something new, fresh. There was a scenic sign just after a corner and I decided to stop to see what it what about. Turned out it was the trailhead for the Table Top Mountain trail, a trail I had read about but really paid no mind to due to its short three mile distance, but considering the weather and the hour of the day being nearly 3:30 in the afternoon I thought it might make for a fun hike.

While we headed out the rain was gentle, with its soft taps on our shells. The trail was a gradual climb that led up the hillside through a burnt out forest of black spruce trees. Tall grass seemed to overgrow the trail during the first mile, there are areas where the fire didn’t touch, islands of beauty and subtlety. A slight stream saturates a well vegetated strip of land that evaporates down below the fields of grasses. Walking around the water I could see the sensitive nature of the world I was invading so I walked softly and left the area as well as I could. The trail meandered up along the hillside, never difficult but a little slippery at times as the rain continued to soak into our shells. Coming over a ridgeline we came out above the protection of the hillside and we were introduced to a driving wind, so it was to be our day.

Stepping on to the saddle of Table Top Mountain the wind sent the light rain directly into our right sides. The trail faded quickly, and we picked our way to the base of the short scree covered slope of the summit, if that’s what it could be called. Table Top Mountain seems less a mountain than a great hill but the views tell me different, rain subsided we look into the distance and the snow capped peaks of the White Mountains knowing that this is a special place and a place to be appreciated.

Retracing our steps down the summit we travelled back across the saddle and descended the slope back down the trail to access the intersection where the trail loops around and returns to the trailhead. Funny as it is for me, that hiking and running have any things that are so similar. Time to think is something both activities allow for you, time to reflect on life and consider the world you exist in. The rain had let up and being below the ridge line the wind was all but gone. We descended the grassy slopes and meandered the burnt out trunks of decaying black spruce trees, but the new growth of life made everything seem reborn.

A mile or so had passed, light humor and conversation has been endless and the rain begins its light serenade on the landscape. The trail is more manicured with rock walls at little turns and miniature streams running down the side of the trail. With the car looming in the distance and the last half mile to go I dreaded returning to the car, this is the world I love and stepping out of this world and into the car will return me to responsibility and the day-to-day grind. With a mind full of thought, I pointed the car towards home and reflected on the trail and the afternoon’s experiences, remembering that returning to home is a merely a moments pause before I head back out to fulfill the next journey.

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Apr 16 2012

Return of the American Dream

Once thought of, the American dream was to graduate college, find a high paying job in your field and be successful, get married and raise children. Woman in the past were expected to find the man of their dreams, get married, have several children and be a good person and a loving housewife. Job and family, owning that house with the white picket fence was the American dream but that dream faded as all dreams turn to fog in the memory of our minds.

The American dream became an actual dream, politics, cost of living, recession changed all that, the majority of people see their world more as a battle for survival than a gift bag of choices for their future. Our country had no longer been a country for people to wet their whistle on, to fantasize about what sort of future could be gained by this fat land we are fortunate enough to be born in. We grew from that fantasy of a place to do whatever we want with no limitations, the ceiling was limitless and we all set out testing the waters to find a niche where we would make our mark. The fact was that the American dream was dead.

Not dead in the sense that there isn’t a place for us to find a successful life, but the old crap that has been pushed in front of us as we grew up has died. That is not what this world, this country is about any longer and I am not the same blind man who society feeds on. In this day and age I can’t afford the house with the white picket fence and with the economy, our country has led itself into, I don’t see a reason that I would want to. Well times have changed and with it some of our desires and wants. This time is about the strong getting stronger and the weak grasping for air, jobs are a gift far and few between. I am transcending this ideology and elevating myself above the populace of fighting, to continue on the futile nightmare that was the American dream.

I have given birth to a new dream, a dream that has nothing to do with societal requirements. My American dream requires only that I follow through with the path that I have placed in front of me, a path of slight exploration and mild adventure. I am a realist and fully aware of the reality I exist in, I would never deceive myself in what I am capable of in this reality other than what I can test myself with and open my mind and eyes to a world I can appreciate fully. I’ll never find riches and it doesn’t matter, money can dilute the American dream, since humans tend to feed on greed naturally, it clouds judgment and misguides people from their true path. Even my saturated opinion has been influenced by the necessity to acquire wealth driving me to devote more and more time towards hours at work that were and are unnecessary. I am by no means suggesting that every person on this world is trapped in what-ever reality they’re presently in. I am discussing the idea that we no longer are expected to limit ourselves to the strict regime of narrow limitations that our parents and others in the past had been expected to see themselves.  My American dream is not to find financial security, living to pad the bank account to provide for my future and the future of whoever else might be in it, no. No, living for the moment and what tomorrow will offer up to me, and standing up to it, welcoming it, exploring it and my limitations, that’s my American dream. Irresponsible and reckless perhaps, but life is about how we live, period.

The new American dream is a dream that never ends, it is continuous, the dream evolves as we evolve and actively brings the dream and ourselves into a harmony, an exploration and discovery about ourselves, and a world that we don’t know everything about.

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Jan 29 2012

Finding Myself

As time has gone by and I through time, I’ve looked inward to myself and the person I have transitioned into. Having spent these last few years engrossed in the advancement of my experiences on the trail, I have learned a great deal about the land about me, and even more about myself. More people think I’m crazy than those that understand my devotion to the world I live in. For those that can’t comprehend why I love the trails and allow myself to “suffer” as it were on those freezing winter trails, I try to show them in the pictures or videos I take.

Certain forms of contemplation confront me during the mid-winter; trails I am travelling on aren’t just winter trails to me as they have been in the past. I know what these trails look like in the summer; I know what is living beneath the snow. Now and not as before I think about the floral and fungal life still living beneath the snow that I am enjoying, the plants are hibernating and are completely healthy but I can’t help wonder what will come of this six-month sleep the life below the snow is in.

I have only been skiing half as much as I usually do this winter; the responsibilities of life have been pushed to the front of my time against my will. I am spending more time just walking the trails, mostly at night with Equinox bounding away out of the view of my headlamp. However, not being able to ski every day as I love to do hasn’t really hurt me as I thought it might. In previous winters I have ski’d every day humanly possible and even some days that most humans would shut their door to and cuddle up to a warm fire.

Only one thing bothers me when I go out to ski when it reached temperatures below -20 degrees, the snow is unbearably slow. I can handle the cold air with clothing, with gear that covers my face and anything that is exposed to the severe cold, but the colder it gets the dryer the snow becomes. When the temperature drops below -20 degrees the snow becomes very course and ski’s lose their glide and a ski trip out on the trail essentially becomes a walk on ski’s.

Now when the temperature drops to cooler temperatures I just go for a walk, skiing would be slower anyway. I feel impatient at times with this slow mode of movement through a world that I usually kick and glide. The wilderness along the trails don’t care how I travel and neither does my spirit, I am a part of the world there knowing that I have that connection changes my entire outlook on the world around me.

I was skiing the other day, videotaping a moment on the trail to share with people who want to see the world as I do, well I was standing in the middle of a lengthy bit of overflow ice, walking along talking about the area and the ice conditions when my ski boots finally slipped on the ice and I fell to the ice. There I was laying on the ice in the middle of the trail a mile and a half from anywhere with my gear flung about with reckless abandon, me laughing my butt off at myself for looking like such a fool. A thought came to mind, what a moose hiding in the bushes might think of humans as that moose watched me flounder about the ice just to roll around creating that irritating noise.

We judge quality of life, success in life by material gain in a human society. The wilderness see’s success as surviving to see tomorrow, taking advantage of every moment that presents itself and appreciating the world around me knowing that this is a special place. Successful living for me is finding a place I love and living in that place, experiencing the world in a natural way, not controlled by social pressure. However, that is something that anybody that has a bad job doesn’t need to be preached to.

It, the whole of every aspect of the wilderness experience is everything that creates a specific quality in my life. The quality of appreciation is about understanding how life works, how we no longer are allowed to exist in nature because of what we have done to it. Being allowed to appreciate the natural world to feel it in your heart and breathing it in with every beat is a gift very few are allowed. Wandering the trails unhindered is a level of acceptance that even less understands, those that do aren’t sitting here typing on a laptop.

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