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 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……….

On the Prindle Mtn trail

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.

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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.

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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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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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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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Jun 8 2011

The Cries Of The Marmot

I take in a sweeping view of the land about me and I wonder why I do the things that I do. This is a place I know very well but not well enough to be completely comfortable within the realm of my own self. A quick six or seven miles to this very wild place doesn’t allow you to adapt fast enough and the bear paw print I found in the mud a couple of miles back adds to a light touch of insecurity. Though the run began in the sunlight and early summer heat, here the wind blasts across the open land and clouds close in, seemingly collapsing on the horizon in front of me.

The Plain Of The Monuments on the Granite Tors Trail, a very open plateau covered in spongy, soggy tundra as far as the eye can allow. Ghostly towers of granite stand at awkward angles and misshapen, the distance only intensifies the remote strangeness of the islands of rock. Black Spruce trees make up small woods seem to huddle around the plain but don’t intrude on the blank land around them. Off to the north in the direction of the route snow still lays in small fields and hide in great masse in the woods that cover the shallow valley between the plain and the ridgeline that eventually leads down to the valley floor far below.

It was just a short time ago that I was carelessly jumping through boulder fields while traversing a large dome that stands in the way of the top of the climb. As we turned the shoulder a hair-splitting shrill pierces the air around me, Equinox bolts off the trail in attack mode for a creature that he could neither see nor find. The noise created by these creatures is a sound that I can’t describe as a squeak since the sound the marmots produce carry for a very long distance, and up close the sound becomes ear-splitting. Just as we would finally get out of earshot, the next sentry would begin its evil shrill. As annoying as they are these creatures and their alarms breed an air of familiarity with me, this place would feel empty without them.

Resting at the severe weather cabin on the shoulder of the great plain I looked out on the mushy, water-saturated tundra and breathed in the air. Equinox bounds around excited to dive into each small pond of water or puddle of mud, relieved to be up and above the dry land and heat of the lower trail. Of course his version of reality differs from my own. Instead of a sun soaked trail that meanders up a six mile hill line of birch trees, black spruce and dry fallen trees(from a fire that burned through here seven years ago)as witnessed by Equinox, I experienced an incredible trail that winds its way through a forest of large birch trees down low. The trail leads up out of the trees to a barren ridgeline, the trail is soggy with mud and small streams of water in all the steepest of slopes.

In the sun it was fresh and warm, a slight breeze washed through the landscape from over the plains above, cooling me just enough so that I wouldn’t overheat. I couldn’t get a break on the trail when I would head up steep slopes, the mud and water would be waiting for me and so would the slipping, jumping and dodging of the deeper mud and water. I stopped here and there to let Equinox get some water and cool down.

It felt like an eternity had passed since I left the valley floor as I finally arrived out of breath in the woods just on the edge of the plains. The view puts me into a trance as I squint through the bright sun, attempting to get a better view of the granite tors in the distance, reflecting on the past times that I have come through here and succumbing to the same emotions that strike me now.

Beginning to cross the soft tundra it was apparent to me immediately that the next mile or so was going to be difficult at best. The trail through the plains are saturated to a level I’ve rarely experienced. Standing water and a mixture of grassy mush and mud cradled within the folds of the mounds of tundra had the consistency of soggy, rolling sponges that swallowed my shoes whole and fought to keep them every time I attempted to lift a leg. Somewhere along the way I became exhausted with this game, setting feet into rolling angles of squishy mush and then having to yank hard to remove a foot with my shoe still intact. I began walking and jumping through small shallow ponds, diverting here and there to avoid the more dirty little obstacles. On the northern end of the plains there are small fields of snow, islands of winter clinging to a fading memory.

The problem that confronted me with these seasonal throwbacks was that the trail went through them. I had to find my way through these snow fields, usually wading in over the knee to cross the snow. In the pits of the shallow, small valleys that are between the hills the snow is still quite prevalent in the shadows of the woods that inhabit the land. Traipsing from one small bush to the next, only stepping on the shallowest of snow until I am able to find my way back on to the trail, I work through choked hillsides of bush and dwarfed spruce. The trail though here is more  snow mush and running water over mud than an  actual trail for me to run on.

Thunder booms behind me startling me from my focus of the slipping and tripping I experience as I attempt to avoid falling on my back in the quagmire confronting me. As quickly and abruptly as I fell upon the plain, I now exit the land, the previous valley seemingly thrusts me out of a land that within, I was lost. A final marmot sentry cries out its haunting alarm as I pass its lonely outcrop of granite and disappear into the stunted trees and small fields of snow.

The descent from the plains was wet and angry, my shoes were full of water and mud, the distance in front of me is now the only obstacle. Running down and away from the plain I escape into the valley I know very well, the hills pushing me down knowing me it would seem. Just as I would feel my legs run out of energy not wanting to climb a single hill more, the trail would curve its way around this or that, falling down away through the thick air of the lower valley. Elevated wood plank trails and a soft running creek welcomed us with a gentle four miles to go.

The tour through the valley for the last bit seemed more of a victory lap amongst ones cheering fans on the field of battle than me just trying to make my way through the last few miles of trail, hoping my knees hold out long enough to get me back to the car. This trail is not the longest trail to run or experience but it was and adventure for the day, a test of strength and endurance, a tour through a land that can define ones own personality.

This place as it is, so close to our world remains set back in the distance away from our eyes and lives, invisible like the marmot until we witness it firsthand. The cries of the marmot can evoke many things inside us but a fond memory of the land above the road, and the trail that rambles past the lives of these oversized rodents is an experience that can change a person’s own path.

 

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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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Apr 4 2011

Wandering Outside

After seven years of existence and living in the land that has become my reality, I have finally been pulled away from everything that is familiar to me. The day was coming and I knew that it was approaching but its startling arrival has thoroughly shocked me creating a numbing sense of disbelief.

Flying above the land I love and staring out across the horizon, the waning sunset has created a ghost like blue-orange crescent above a completely black landscape far below. A star filled night sky sends waves of emptiness and loneliness deep inside my fragile inner self. Locked inside this aircraft for the next seventeen hours was a hell I never thought I would have to ever endure yet there I was staring down at a ground far below that I would be much more comfortable gazing up from.

This place Texas welcomed me with open arms and a heat that stifled me, a humidity cloaked heat that instantly left me seeking anything with air conditioning. I would find out that the temperature outside was only in the mid 70’s, but after six months of living in temperatures below -20 degrees Fahrenheit the 70 degree swing in warmth felt horrific.  As I eventually come to the hotel I breathe a sigh of relief for the security of my room especially after being lost for forty minutes on a twenty minute drive from the airport.

All I could think about was sleep but after thirty-three hours awake I was wired having gained my second wind. I went for a drive and lost again I so too became, but this time I was prepared for the strange land around me. I drove short distances and then returned to roads that I recognized until I was comfortable enough to head out in search of a restaurant that was suggested to me including stupid proof directions. As it happened I was only lost for twenty minutes this time and when I finally found one of my landmark streets I found my way to a place to eat and no it wasn’t the place I had set out for not too long ago.

The hotel seemed so foreign to me then and sleep was difficult at best, now it is a welcome friend each time I return. I laugh at myself from those first couple days of weakness and insecurity given that since then the temperature has been casually rising to the high 80’s in the last few days. Housekeeping doesn’t know what to make of me having the A/C running morning, noon, and night and keeping the room at a comfortable in the mid 50’s.

It’s hard for me to think that everything I love is over 4,000 miles away and my dog is not at my side for the first time in almost six years. Settling in and creating some routine became my mission, normalcy my drive or else I would never calm down and focus on the task at hand. Work was the reason for my Texas trip and the sooner I finished the training assigned to me the sooner I can get home. I began running a path not far from the hotel and being involved with work gently brought me back down to earth and out of the hysteria I was feeling from being so far from everything familiar to me.

It seems as if the universe was conspiring against me and the futility of my existence in this place. First, the inability for me to be able to drive more than three miles in any direction without being helplessly lost and then the second issue, my laptop acquired a virus and the hard drive completely crashed. It took all my savings and a bit of my recent paycheck to cover the cost of this much needed item. The new laptop came at a perfect time when the weather has become very hostile to the pursuits of running, mainly winds with speeds of 30 mph and again temperatures reaching the high 80’s. I know how it seems but living in the desert for thirteen years and with what amounts to endless days of wind, I had grown a healthy distaste for the blasting and blowing beast that waits just outside my door.

Thoughts of home seep into my consciousness whenever I sit idle and only then do I become lost in the thoughts of my best friend Equinox and what he is thinking about regarding my sudden and lengthy absence and how he’s coping without me. I know that as time goes by I will adapt to this place and as routine slowly engulfs me I will feel the need to run away and escape less and less which each coming day.

The woods and hills that surround my home have been replaced by buildings and streets that look identical from one to the next, slowly as I adapt   these things are beginning to be identifiable and I am driving through town with more confidence. Having to replace my laptop also left me without the ability to upload photographs since the software needed to transfer images from my digital camera and cell phone are both in Alaska. For now only words will have to do but I will still take photos and when I return to my home I will edit and upload the pics to the article. All I can do for the time being is slowly expand my education of the surrounding geography and engulf myself in work. I will run when I can run as long as I don’t succumb to heat stroke or dehydration and find pleasure in the more subtle things that peak my need to learn more.

Having returned to the land of high speed commuting, valleys of asphalt, manicured lawns, and predictable retail stores I will breathe as I breathe and live as I live. After all what more can a person ask of themselves?

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