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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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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Dec 18 2011

White Mountains

Frustration has been clouding my mind these past few weeks with a total inability to conceive a single abstract thought to put down on paper. I have had wonderful days exploring my world on my ski’s with Equinox beside me to share the experience, adventures everyday but not even the smallest word refused to erupt from my mind to help me explain the world around me, the experience I envelope myself with, what it does and means to me. These past few weeks, almost a month now have been a nightmare of infertility.

I venture out daily in pursuit of inspiration to put pen to paper, after hours of skiing on the trail, exhausted and stunned I couldn’t bring to words the images and environment I’ve just been witness. Today on this winters Solstice I travelled to the White Mountains to ski in to a place known as “Lee’s Cabin”. It is a mild seven mile ski in, but the views and the world around you are stunning, this being only the second time I will have ski’d in to the cabin the experience is fresh and new like the ski above that had been hidden from me for the last couple weeks.

The wonderfully soft glow of the afternoon sun sits low on the horizon its light filtering through the twisted, and warped snow-covered black spruce trees. The snow glowed from the low angle of the sun’s light and it seemed even the shadows refuse to be left out from the gentle and warm gift, myself absorbing every ray of light into my heart and mind. The world around me is two worlds living in tandem, the land around is silent and still, as lifeless as any world could possibly be in the dead of winter yet this place lives.

Animals tracks are everywhere, squirrels, shrews, snowshoe hare, red fox, moose, tracks ramble and flit from one way to the next always it seemed a hurry but the moose and fox tend to step with purpose, relevance, thought. The trees watch me, study me, wondering, considering me, coming to mind of whether I am a friend or foe, a lover of this world treating it with respect, or am I a user of the world inconsiderate of the this magical place.

The snow crunches and gives beneath my ski’s as I glide within and through the wilderness about me. The first couple of miles has a grueling climb followed by a wonderful decent that is followed by a fabulous casual ski up to the first knob just four miles or so in to the trail. The view from that sheepish knob provides a wonderful view of the trail ahead and the land that has enveloped me. Soft descending through a dazzling forest of spruce lead to a very stressful climb to the high point of the day, almost five miles in. The climb isn’t so brutal in its sheer steepness as such, but the length tends to weigh heavy on the shoulders after a spell.

The wilderness falls away in only the way a romantic could perceive it, mountains hug the horizon to the north, the Wickersham Dome looms in the distance behind me, and the White Mountains Recreation area falls away before me. We lead off and glide down the wonderful heart lifting decent down the backside of the hill and before I knew it I had arrived at the junction the forks off to the Wickersham Creek Trail to the left and Lee’s Cabin to the right. We had been following two other skiers’ tracks for the whole day, and now those tracks turned and angle to the cabin as well. For not being one to intrude on some bodies privacy and wilderness experience, we called it a day at the sign that directs you one hundred yards up to the cabin itself.

Light has receded as an afterthought, and my headlamp has found its use to my need. The light was just enough to guide the way but the detail of the trail is lost in the increasing darkness that closes in on my shoulders. My dog and I laugh and play on the long and fast descent, trees flashing past; the snow beneath me has become more of a blur of white than a plain of substance. With each enlightening descent brought with it an ever-increasing onset of fatigue as the next climb would wear me down and the miles bore into more and more.

Equinox was on-line pulling and we skijored our way up the last few miles to return to the trailhead when at last we finally ran into people heading in on their snow machines. They moved off to the side yielding to the dog and I and we swiftly glided past with a hardy wave of hands and smiles gleaming in the darkness. Friends of the trail without ever having truly spoken, but with the like understanding of how special the world is we live in and the need to be there drives us.

 

 

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Nov 8 2011

Questions

I want to know why winter affects me the way it does, how it has such a controlling grasp on every sense of my being. The first dusting
of snow is an alarm clock waking me up from a summer’s sleep, no matter where I am, I can’t stop staring out the window. Just as autumn has dazzled me with its brilliance fall came along and depressed my thoughts, my imagination, my internal eye, everything. The snow falls and finally sticks to the earth, the sun is rising less and less each day and the color palate is becoming more refined, pure and distinct.

During the summer, I can’t stop staring down to the ground, all consumed by the wonderful life successfully growing and living on the forest floor. The fungi, lichen, mosses, tiny little freaky flowers that litter the tundra on the barren hills of my world fascinate me, and identifying each and every one of them is intoxicating. As winter dawns, the snow falls, all the land and plants I treasure have been locked up for the unforeseeable future and all I can think about is when the next snow fall will occur and how long it will take for the snow to accumulate and fill in the trails making them accessible for me to ski and explore.

For reasons unknown to me, I always feel a sense of urgency when I travel on the trails during winter. Not in such a way that I need to
hurry because the day is short, or I’m getting tired, maybe low on water, or I’m soaked through from sweat and it’s getting cold out. No, it’s something outside of the typical and ordinary sense, in fact something non-physical all together. Out on the trail that sense of urgency is more of a drive that burrows into the inner self of my being. Here is a drive with a voice that speaks to me quite often, and most times is but a whisper, a whisper in my ear: “pick up the pace, you need to see what just past these trees and around that corner”.

Every time I get through those trees, every time I get around that corner I see the trail meander off into the distance and through more trees or climbing up the hillside and around the next corner. Every time I reach that place that only I can hear, that voice of urgency calls on me to continue on before it’s all gone. Dreams constantly interrupt my daily goings, fantasies of deep snow packs, trees heavily laden with snow, the frigid air still and creating a canvas of colors and imagery with every turn of the trail. Every place that the woods would relent and the valley view is exposed allowing me a picture of the wide spaces that I crave for.

The season between seasons offers none of the romance that I can find during the winters season. This place between fall and winter,
a place with no name is cruel, and un-imaginative. From summer to fall there is autumn with its amazing colors, temperate weather and reflective air of transformation. What grasp has winter woven into my being? What is it that makes winter such a core of my inner self that I can’t comprehend a life without it?

I have the questions, the understanding to consider my reality, the intelligence to know that though this season can be ugly, cold, cruel, and that I will experience weeks of uninterrupted darkness and a cold that will keep me locked up in my cabin. Winter can and will beat itself upon my bones and will, but I still drive to be out there, less people walk outsides and fewer will wander past their car doors from the house door.

I’ll be left in the kitchen with the rug rolled up in the corner, my ski’s laying over a couple of shop horses. I’m pacing back and forth from the ski’s to the ski supply box attempting to determine with wax combination will create the best glide and survive the longest in the -20 air and snow with the consistency of sand. Choosing the right kick wax will be the difference between secure forward propulsion and flailing mercilessly out in the middle of nowhere.

Winter grips my heart, tearing away the fabric of everything that I think I am. Just when I think I understand how I am adapting to the why’s and how’s of what winter does to me, everything bites me in the butt. The winters are beginning later and later every year, the snowfall is less and less every year, and winter is warmer and warmer every year. I live in the moment of the season and love what I have, having less of the year makes it more special to me than not having it at all, I am what is around me and what is around me is all that I can be.

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Oct 23 2011

A Sense Of Winter

I went for a short hike across the valley today, sunny but cool it seemed like a fine day to for me to wander out on the trails.
Trails that wander across the valley are very a way of wet bog like conditions, something not less than testing during the summer have become quite solid and freezing with the coming season encroaching from the distance. Across the valley, the air is becoming much more silent, and thickening with the retreat of living things. With winter yet more than a month away the stillness and peace that winter brings is becoming more noticeable these last few days.

As the land begins to prepare to hibernate for the coming months ahead, everything around me is going to sleep, pulling the covers over
their heads for a six month nap. I feel a stirring inside myself that is quickly awakening, like a slumbering grizzly shaking off the uneasy tiredness of a long sleep. I recognize a new energy growing within myself, a sense of oneness of my-self and the land about me. Jumping around the black spruce trees and foraging about the lichens and mosses that have become frozen monuments to a late season bloom I sense the change that is looming on the horizon.

All of the sloughs and ponds have a thin shell of ice forming on the surface; it is funny that it wasn’t there yesterday. The land during the summer is bloated and lazy without care of need; everything necessary to live has overgrown the very land it feeds. The shrinking land has atrophied and degenerated to the meekest of nature’s true character, I have to travel into special places to feel as if the world around me is still alive and well. The trails most near to me offer very little for living things, the views are less than tedious.

Snow teases the land, casually covering the soil with a sheet of white that quickly melts off by mid-day. A taste and smell of snow energizes me in ways that don’t seem familiar to me, every winter I am becoming more and more hungry for the cold, the shorter days and the incredible trails. I run on the trails every chance I get especially with the little bit of temporary snow that has settled on the ground. Being active on the trails, running as it is this time of year connects me to the land in such a way that the activity is merely an excuse to head out on the trails in the first place. Even as the light short-lived snow survives, the character of the dormant world around me stands up seemingly welcoming the inevitable season soon to come. The season is always in transition, blink and the world around me has transformed completely.

All the signs of what awaits for tomorrow is evolving quickly and I can’t keep up. A splattering of snow covers the ground for a small time before melting away into the soil, and yet days later and just as I had begun the give up hope, in the middle of October the snow arrives furious and vengeful taking over the landscape. The snow smothers the soil with only a couple of inches of cover but suffocates the world with its weight, the land suddenly collapsed upon itself instinctually realizing who the new master is.

The air cools rapidly, the grasses collapse and the trees sleep, all attempting to catch up with the late arrival of winter. Times are changing, the world is evolving and the seasons can’t be trusted to act as predictably as they have in the past. Winter is beginning later every year, the temperature has warmed significantly over the last seven years that I’ve lived here. In years past, we would regularly see the temperature drop to -50 degrees Fahrenheit and occasionally down to -60 here and there, but recently in the last couple of years we haven’t seen temperatures below -48 degrees.

Snowfall has decreased significantly and if we see a couple of feet of snow all year, we will be lucky. As climate change continues on the
land attempts to evolve and adapt to the nature of the seasons baring witness to this amazing world is my goal, living in it is my dream, and being a part of the season is what I am.

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Sep 20 2011

Falling Into Autumn

Like storm clouds drifting on to land from the ocean, once barely visible on the horizon, without warning they have overtaken the
beautiful sky above and darkening the land all around. The Birch trees leaves, in the most subtle of ways have turned from rich greens to a green/yellow and have begun to softly fall from the branches and in a causal manner wattle to the ground. Over the days, the leaves of the high brush cranberries have turned to pinks and reds.

The Autumnal Equinox is gradually approaching and the trees and plants are definitely in full swing to celebrate this amazing time of
year. For years I’ve had an image in my mind’s eye, an image that I wanted to turn into a photograph, but over the years I could never find exactly the image I had in my mind. The image is a composite of a multitude of images I had witnessed while living in Alaska, the trunks of bleached white Birch trees in a forest, a carpet of colors encompass the ground, greens, browns, yellows, and reds. I spent years searching for my image, driving everywhere I thought I could find it but it never came to me.

Until the other day, the other day was nothing special and nothing more than a lazy day off, and a day without plans. Instead of running or hiking I decided to walk my dog up the road from the cabin, the sun was fleeting and the clouds drifted continuously in front of the sun and changed the light at every glance. After about a quarter of a mile I just happened to be looking in the woods across the road when the light changed and I saw this wonderful combination of green’s, yellow’s and pinks. I ran across the road and burrowed through the hip rose vines scratching up my legs without care, and before me stood my image.

There it was, everything I had buried in my mind was completely laid out in front of me, even the Birch Trees had the most wonderful
white trunks that highlight the forest floor. I pulled out my cell phone as fast as I could before the light changed and took four or five images to study, I figured if it looked good on a smart phone, the image would be incredible on film. I stood on the forest just forty feet from the road for maybe ten minutes after taking the pictures, amazed that the picture I’ve imagined all these years was a mere quarter of a mile from my cabin when I have been travelling hundreds of miles indiscriminately for my image. Apparently, if you’ve envisioned something long enough it will, in time make itself visible to you.

Waves of leaves fall from the trees to the ground of the small roads and many trails that weave their way through the woods surrounding
me, I stand on the trail truly stunned by the majesty that has erupted around me. Running the yellow-carpeted trails I can’t help but lose track of my direction on the trail, the leaves distract me with a “Wizard Of Oz” feel that also hide the tree roots beneath their beauty waiting to trip me up. Driving down the road is as close to deadly distraction as I could possibly find, my head swinging from right to left trying to capture as many views as possible out of fear of missing one thing.

This time of year always slows me down a little, bringing me into a much more contemplative awareness about myself, my life, and
the world around me. I often write about the world I live in and how it affects me personally and spiritually and this is no different. As one season diminishes, all the qualities that have defined the beauty of the year ebb into our memories and hearts, we bare witness of the change, and in so being we are altered and reduced to the eyes of children seeing a new season for the first time. Time never allows us enough time to come to grips with the emotions we feel from the impact a season has on us, trying to understand our perception of this world is frankly a waste of time it would seem, as time would soon pass us by in natures brash hurry to move on to the next act.

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Aug 25 2011

Wandering Around

It began as a three day get-away from work, from town, from the daily grind that I‘ve been going through over the past year. As a coincidence
this three day escape just happened to fall on my birthday and just to make everything interesting I am also sick with some kind of flu-like bug thing. The plan was to run away, well drive away down to the Donnelly Dome region that lays just past Delta Junction Alaska and just before the great Alaska Mountain Range. The goal was to camp out for a few days, hike into amazing areas and photograph the way I’m meant to photograph, but this isn’t what transpired.

Waking up in the morning it became readily apparent that I wouldn’t be camping for three days, I felt like total crap. However, feeling like crap never kept me from a good drive and a good drive is definitely something I was craving.  The weather has been, and is quite uncooperative coming home with a successful day of photography would be iffy at best. Driving out of town and getting on the highway instantly relaxed me and the idea of not seeing town for the day felt so good. Once I arrived at Birch Lake the world melted away, I’ve always loved relaxing at this rest stop and watching Equinox swim in the water amongst the massive lily pads.

All week the rain has been falling seemingly non-stop, clouds trapping the days and nights from expressing their true selves. Today the clouds parted, they gently drifted apart in massive clumps of grey and white behemoths of floating demigods, staying back and seemingly retreating
from my advance. Driving into Delta Junction is always a breath of fresh air, so wonderfully laid back and simple. Delta junction isn’t simple in mind in as much as it is in lifestyle, kind of a throwback to a much better time. This town is so similar to an old west town by way of structure, the majority of the town is down one strip of road the highway, and you get the same feeling of arriving here.

The Donnelly Dome region was a quagmire of sharp light and fierce walls of rain that cascade down from the micro cells of storms that have escaped from the grasp of the brooding mass that is the wall of the Alaskan Mountain Range. Fall has come here faster than I thought, the leaves
are changing very quickly and the grass and bear berries have all turned to yellows and reds. Entering the great Alaska Mountain Range I always feel very small, insignificant at best. On the right and across the river is the Alaska Mountain Range jutting straight out of the ground, and on the left side of the road is the wonderful Delta Mountain Range smaller in stature but just as incredible. Rivers flow down from the mountains; melt off from the many glaciers high above, glaciers like the Castner glacier, such things that cause the blood to boil in any person’s body that houses an ounce of adventurous spirit.

It seemed as if nature herself was attempting to thwart any chance of shooting a single quality photograph. As I drive along the highway I come upon something I want to photograph, something beautiful and temporary. I love the light and as I get ready to pull around and find a spot to park it begins to rain, it clouds over and kills the light I was enjoying just a blink ago. I decided to just drive and wait out the sun, raining here
and sharp sun between the clouds blind and darken the world around me. My best pictures are the ones I quickly take on my cell phone. A stop at Summit Lake gives me a pause as my buddy Equinox runs down to the water to taste the crystal clear water. It’s sprinkling and a wall of water is waiting for me, stationary with my moment of pause.

There’s something about the smell of a lake in the mountains while It’s raining it finds itself inside you and becomes a part of you almost in as much as you become a part of the world around you. With a now self-reflective mood Equinox and I board the car and shove off chasing the
clouds. Paxon explodes on us very quickly, one turn and there you are just in time to make a very sharp right on to the Denali Highway. Today we are not going to drive through the highway, even though that would be wonderful since it is my favorite road trip in Alaska. Today the goal was to get within a few miles of the Tangle Lakes Region, just close enough the see the McClarren Glacier and the amazing land that I’ve pulled in close to me like a soft and comfortable blanket.

This land feel both ancient and new all at once, the world is stretched out everywhere I looked. The land finally relented and the sun exposes the world around me for a brief moment, a moment that was stunning. I was staring at the McClarren Glacier far off in the distance, a lake fills in
the fore ground and the land has fallen away from my feet. A moment of clarity surrounds me and I take a quick picture with the cell just as it starts raining again.

Brief moments of amazing splendor, brief moments of dazzling light and land have reminded me how special this land is. The drive back felt almost busy, the sky had closed in and the rain was constant. The light had flattened out, the wind was picking up my day of photography was
over. Places that I knew that were great locations for shooting were now wind-washed and covered in the darkness of the clouds. The world is ever changing in front of me, one moment the world is calm and at piece then I see a stream with a light twist through the soft hills, the color of fall hangs over its banks succumbing to the balance of the season. I slow to a crawl, and then the winds come and the rain drips slowly into my vision, poignant moments flooded by a reality I can’t control.

Returning to the Donnelly Dome Region the light was very sharp and fleeting as the clouds jockey for position in the evening sky. Pulling into the little space on the side of the road I strapped on my hand gun and loaded the pack for the hike in to Donnelly Lake, the light is changing and the clouds have pulled back. It seemed like a small island of light between the mountains and off to the north to Delta junction have opened up and with it a small window has also opened up to allow me a moment to photograph a brief bit of the world I see.

I was able to get a single frame of film that offered a view of my world, with it dark, grey clouds hang back in the distance, waiting patiently for me to close the shutter and put my camera away. I hiked around a small spot of the lake in the sharp light that would be here one moment and then all the light is gone the next. I fired off a few more frames of film and packed up, moving on back out to the car and the road. Hiking out was a pleasure, calm and serein a storm in the waiting and waiting for me to get my butt off the trail. As I hit the trailhead the first drops of rain begin to fall and quickly I load up the pack, unload the hand gun and get Equinox to jump back into the car. The rain falls as if it had been held back for a lifetime and the drive is narrowed to what is visible between two lines. Driving home I thought about this day trip, sadly short and terribly difficult to locate a time to shoot. It was a great time and a great escape from, my world of work and sleep, mindless droning of going to work,
doing the time and returning to my home to breath.

Breathing, existing, satisfied about my life, this place is a double edged sword. I live exactly where I am supposed to be doing things that I am meant to do but with it comes pay back. Work buries its ugly head into my world, not unlike a lot of people in this world. Life is out there waiting for me to explore and it is there for me to discover my role in it, a role I am slowly adjusting to. The land about me is begging me to introduce myself but at the same time it protects itself from me, I get a bit close and nature recoils but if I don’t commit enough the land begs me on. This place contradicts everything I thought I understood but I learn that how I see this land and just how much I devote myself to this world determines how welcome I am.

 

 

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Aug 17 2011

A Short Lived Summer

There is one place where I can stand perfectly still, doing absolutely nothing and look around me at the world with which I have
surrounded myself. There are always multiple conflicting emotions that confront me, haunting me sometimes and yet I love this place. I can never understand how being somewhere can evoke so many emotions and feelings that collide into one another and yet the level of peace I feel does in fact evaporate the uneasiness I feel.

Being out on the trail or breaking through an untracked area can be very unnerving for me, fear of the unknown, fear of what could be out there watching me. I think that the insecurity I feel is completely natural, that travelling outside of our comfort zone will create uneasiness that returns us to our basic sense of being and it is what helps us survive. Whenever I prepare to head out to the trail I feel so awkward, as if I am departing a world that I exist in but only partially belong in and entering a world that I partially exist in yet totally belong.

Trail running always involves getting in the car and driving to the trailhead, bagging up clothes, towel, water, and shoes rather intensifies the separation of normalcy and unfamiliarity. Some trails are very mundane and ordinary, requiring only time and distance as the challenge, then there are other trails that require total commitment. There are trails that require major planning if you are running a long distance, the Pinnell Mountain Trail for example is a spectacular 27-mile trail that weaves through an arctic environment just below the Arctic Circle. The Pinnell Mountain Trail is spectacular, I mean the drive to get there is incredible and the land is amazing to see. Out in the middle of nowhere and not seeing a car for but half a day on the road below at the trailhead really brings to light the necessity to prepare for the worst, yet hope for the best of experiences.

The dirt roads offer a different experience wild and unforgiving, yet close and comfortable. Even running the remote dirt roads here offer some concerns, far enough in and you must be aware of the potential for wolf or the occasional moose traipsing in to your path. Though I’ve heard
stories I’ve yet to experience it myself but I have heard of some people running into bears along the dirt roads I run. The Cache Creek Road that runs along for about 17 miles has had reports of bear dens below it, and the further in you go the more you become a part of what makes up the wild about it.

Nature in general is supposed to be foreign to us these days I think. We live in our houses, drive our cars to town or down the street to whatever our destination is. The slightest deviation from what we conceive as normal and comfortable can leave a person feeling rather anxious. I spend as
much time out on the trail as I spend in a more civilized environment and I can’t figure out which can be more unnerving. As I struggle through society, going to work, paying the bills the anxiety builds about making the payments, paying the rent, keeping the job and putting food on the table. Out on the trail, the real trail, the concern changes, the bills don’t matter, the job is of no concern and the house is just a place out in the pasture of my memories.

 

Running on the trail and taking in the smells, the soil, the trees, all the things that change my perception of what reality I exist in has a tremendous impact on me. Just being out there isn’t enough for me, yes sometimes after I have been injured during a race or during a training run, just being out there is satisfying for the moment but it’s more of a snack when what I really want is a four-course meal. People talk about the primal feeling or experience of traveling wilderness, yea I don’t get that. When I’m out running trails or backpacking, maybe just out for a day hike on one of the many trails around my home I feel like I’m in my element, where I belong and I complete a wholeness about myself. With all that said I also feel like a tourist, as if the world I enter is tolerating my intrusion but since I’m not doing anything threatening I’m being allowed to go as I please. I feel eyes on me all the time; the shadows watch me cautiously as I pass through their world.

Feeling observed and almost stalked would be the best way to describe the feelings I get sometimes during the summer on the trail. Throughout this wonderful world, all these things fill in the whole picture for me as I become a part of this incredible place. Running through the trees and
tussocks, the ponds and bogs that I pass by, my dog is running about recklessly peeing and pooping wherever he feels necessary. The woods hide many things that are not interested in being disturbed by man, but the occasional crossing of paths does occur and with these rare events, it can be very tense. The moose cow and her calf, the cow could very easily become defensive and stomp my dog and then turn on me.

The sun washes the land in a beautiful warm glow, a glow lost these last few weeks the rain dominating the summer this year. This late in the summer having the sun warm my face is a rare gift and a gift that shouldn’t be ignored. The ground will soon begin to harden, the trees will be
shedding their leaves, and the sky will gradually turn to a steel-gray. Every day as this world is prepares for the coming months of winter, enjoying the remaining late summer days with its fading green birch trees, and slowly yellowing grasses is an incredible pleasure, being out there to see it first hand is almost as special as the land itself.

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Aug 3 2011

Less Than Ideal

Every summer seems the same to me as I go through the same regime. I get all built up for the running season, the races that come
seemingly every weekend and the extraordinary amount of time work demands of me. I feel as if with the crazy workload from the job and the training I go through for the races I don’t have much time at all for inspiration and flowered writing prose.

Sad it is for me that writing is fundamentally the basis of my sole existence, only in that I am inspired to write for maybe seven months out of the year. During the summer I am in a sense trampled upon by responsibility, the idea of getting out to live becomes an effort in futility.
I think it is a matter of being overwhelmed with activity and work. The running and training compiled with the many hours of work really takes a toll on me mentally and the idea of writing becomes more labor ridden than pleasure.

Now that I think of it, I don’t believe that I am less inspired because it’s summer in as much as it is that the opportunity to get
out on the trail and into nature become fleeting moments of an hour or two here and there. I think it’s very odd that this is the case in summer because I work just as many hours in the winter yet somehow those great adventures are more
available to me then. Still days do come when a simple trot out to the trails becomes a small window of intrigue but not quite an adventure filled
with passion and emotion. Most of the trails around my home are only accessible during the winter since the soil is primarily peat bogs, muddy, wet, uneven muck that leave you gasping for a breath of air. As you battle your way around the many obstacles that at times can slow forward progress to a crawl.

I’m sure that many people feel the same frustration from something they love doing is restricted from them by daily obstacles, and
the frustration they feel that comes from it. This is my world the minute I open my eyes, the need to be out there and being a part of the world around me is an overwhelming sensation and being trapped in a job that has the sole purpose of paying the bills with no intellectual stimulation what’s so ever is maddening. I find that when I am not involved in a high output physical activity I lose the ability for abstract thought. My mind tends to withdraw into a form of mental hibernation to save itself for a more productive time. I spend my time letting my dog Equinox get in on the action, watching him bounce and play as I plod along on the local trails down below my home and across the valley. It’s still a wonderful experience hiking those trails, it’s just getting to the firm soil is a bit arduous.

Trekking over tussocks that survive in a quagmire of peat and mud, bushwhacking through the over-growth until my feet discover firm soil that waits for us across the valley, patients is definitely a necessity in this land I love. I think it is a frame of mind when it comes to the summer for me, so much sun light and hours upon hours to spend outdoors becomes very overwhelming after a bit. These days though the economy has left
me less than capable of going out on more extended adventures, preventing me from seriously doing what I most love, exploring. Oh and my dog ate my expensive sleeping bag and can’t afford to replace it until early winter, also keeps me from strapping on the pack and putting one foot in front of the other.

The worse feeling I have is when I know I should be out running or doing something, but injury or illness is preventing me from going out and getting it done. I always substitute my running with other activities, this being the hiking and local exploring. I have truly felt that not being able to pursue my running during the summer I have really evolved in the knowledge of the world around me. As I delve into the world of all the different forms of mushrooms I am startled and amazed by the unique nature of these strange and necessary fungi.

I live my life by insuring that I live it as full and wondrous as possible. If I can’t be involved in one sport, activity or function I will fill that void with another.
With all that said I can firmly say without any hesitation that winter is three months away and I am counting the days until I will be stepping into
my bindings and slipping down the road to the trail. Most things hibernate in the winter, I begin to breath and to live devouring the world with my hunger.

 

 

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Apr 22 2011

This Place In Time

Out of the most irritating of inconveniences, I have been thrust into an alien world. I had managed to substitute the well-travelled trails of the valleys and hills of home for concrete walking paths, well placed trees, the manicured lawns of cookie cut houses and endless strip malls filled with retail businesses that I will surely never have any interest in. Each day that I expose myself to the harsh heat of the sun and the unrelenting wind that seems to have no end in sight I become more alien to this place, this place that has no identity. The multitude of people who choose to exist in this place baffle me, there’s nothing here, nothing outdoors, nothing indoors, nothing in the way of excitement of any conceivable means of any kind. Yet here are these people who live day in and day out with apparently no change in sight.

As each day gets hotter than the last, I find myself cowering in my hotel room more and more. I’ve closed the curtains in an attempt to block the slightest beam of light from piercing my dark crypt and hide in the cool air of the air conditioning patiently waiting for night to come and lift me from the life sucking heat of mid-day. I have no care for what is taking place out there in the heat, on the roads and in the stores. It seems there isn’t much more to it than that as I can see the fools that tread out into the high sun and how miserable they all look. If I must I will travel out into that insanely bright sun to get in a run and in the way feel better for all the squatting I have been involved with in my room.

I thought about attempting to blend in with the people who live here but after much consideration, deliberation, contemplation the idea was simply self-defeating.   Nobody here really is interested in who you are only why you’re here. They seem to dismiss me as soon as they meet me, maybe in a way of not getting to know me because they know I’ll be gone soon. I’ve got plenty of time to come to some sense of an idea about what this place is about, as it is though I haven’t got a clue.

Another storm front is headed this way, on top of the hot weather, unstoppable wind and complete flatness of the region another extreme wall of thunderstorms are headed this way. I didn’t sleep through the last storm that wrecked this place. God I miss the snow and the still cold of the Alaskan interior.

Each day is never-ending, slowly melding one day into the next. It doesn’t matter if I get in a great run, or discover a new street to drive down with new stores to see. It’s all the same for me and it kind of depresses me because the people here really are wonderful and they love where they live, and that’s where the confusion begins for me.

As the days stretch out and pass, the weeks seem to be getting shorter maybe out of some idiosyncratic method that is just beginning to make itself known to me. Things are becoming clearer and other things are causing problems for me. For the last few weeks I have been living with the thought that every second that I am away from home in this place is time wasting away for me. I sit in my hotel room and do nothing, I get up the next day and go to work and do my time training and learning, as is expected of me. After work, and some days before work I go for a run, not just any run but training runs to get ready for races back in Alaska.

Somewhere along the way I have gotten comfortable here, developed a daily routine and even go out for a drive here and there. How is it that my mind has adapted to these foreign experiences to make living here easier on me emotionally?

With less than two weeks to go until I head home it dawns on me that if I was staying in a house and had my dog here I could become comfortable here, so strange that seems to me. This plain an ordinary place same as everywhere else tornado warnings and messy thunderstorms aside has become rather acceptable to me and I don’t understand why. I think if I had long enough to explore the region more and get more involved in the activities that are available here, the golf or races to be ran I could find my place here.

All this sounds well and good but facts are facts, my home is in the true north and my living and breathing is the air of Alaska. The weeks are now getting shorter and the days longer as the anticipation builds up until the day I drive to the airport and fly back to my home and all that matters to me. All that matters to me is the life I already have, there really is no need to change now but then I’m always up for adding a bit here and there now and then.

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