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……….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Sep 24 2012

An Afternoon In The Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep 1 2011

Poop On A Log

I love the feeling of good soil beneath my feet, the soles of my shoes can transmit every nuance of the ground upon which I step.
Firm but at the same time there is give, subtle and gentle I can feel each step and it’s warming to me like walking through the front door of home after being away for a long while. Walking along one of my favorite trails, favorite not for the run, favorite not for the challenge, and favorite not for the distance, not indeed anything that you might think but favorite for the quality of experience. This trail is magical in its short-lived beauty, it‘s subtle nature and how it shows that it knows that you aren’t really out in the depths of the
wilderness but if you were, if you were this is sort of how it would be.

This soft and well-travelled trail isn’t special or unique, but it is enjoyable all in one, for this place enliven the senses with wonderful woods and musty soil odors. A wonderful abundance of nature shrouds the trail for its singular short length, walking along this trail causes a pause in the mind-set, every turn of the head produces a new image in the mind. I think these feelings brings back memories for me in a place I once knew and once loved, shared with the one person I loved most, both are gone now.

There is a place along the trail that is quite ordinary, a dried up creek with several different channels. This creek is a temporary
waterway, buried beneath the watchful eyes of the birch and black spruce trees. Rose Hips vines, horsetail grass and all other manner of green things living carpet the constricted area. Created by seasonal snowmelt, when the water has no place else to go it follows this temporary stream provided by the forest. There’s energy in there that I can feel, every time I pass be it running, walking or skiing I always come to a moment of pause and glance into that little pocket of awareness. For some unusual reason, when I continue on I always feel refreshed and renewed, ready to see everything in a new light.

Tree roots crisscross the trail and a multitude of different species of mushrooms litter the trails length. I always consider all views and perspective of things I witness in my world, the mushroom has become an odd partner in my experiences, their view(if they had the conception and ability for vision and the intelligence to understand the world around them)interests me. Maybe the view that they have might, in turn help me understand my world and how I view it. Size after all is relative and how I see my world is only a few feet higher
than how my fine little fungi friends perceive their world, again if they could in fact do such a thing.

The micro-world of the vegetative life is amazing in its complexity and diversity, the human race could stand to learn from such an amazing organism. We all live to see our lives progress as successful as possible and regardless of what that progression is surviving to see things through is something all species on this planet share. Life on the trail is no different, for humans, animals or for plant life.

All things positive occur on the trail, nothing negative happens here and as long as I have been travelling this way I have always been greeted by smiling faces and tongue drooping dogs. This trail is like many of other trails in the interior but for me having a trail like this right outside my door changes my perspective of  a certain quality.

Regardless of the season, I find myself returning to this little trail and exploring the birch tree forest that the trail penetrates. Sunlight always finds a way to filter through the branches and leaves of the birch trees, striking the trail at one angle or another leaving a wonderful soft glow on the ground that I now travel. The trail gently guides you to an abrupt pause as you come out of the trees and on to an Alaska Railroad access road (dirt road) and if you run across this barrier, the trail continues for and additional half mile before splintering off in several directions. One of those directions being the winter trail that casually directs you back on to the Dunbar Trail. If you decide to stop at the railroad “road” a fun little trail leads to a wonderful pond always filled with a collection of ducks and a pair of very moody swans.

During the fall, the brilliant yellow leaves of birch trees carpet the trail in an insane version of the yellow brick road. The reds and yellows of fall create an “Alice in Wonderland” type of feel. The amazing feeling I get from travelling on this trail can only be described as if I am crawling from bed on a winters morning and going down to the living room just to be warmed by a wood stove and a hot cup of coffee. The comforts of a warm and comfortable place, the familiarity of home is a sensation felt anywhere that we choose if we spend enough time there.

So here I am entering into the trail that most satisfies my immediate needs and there is a fallen birch tree log, out of this log is growing a mushroom a genus of which I’ve yet to identify, but that isn’t the point of which piqued my curiosity. What most caught my attention on this log, which encompassed a protruding mushroom, was in fact topped with poop and something I would like to have understood. Some creature, quite possibly a fox felt it necessary to leave his “matter” on this lowly log, that just happens to have a lovely mushroom attached to the end of it, hmmmm.

A trail is always nothing more than a trail, a feeling is nothing more than a feeling, and a unique place that can alter our perception
about the reality we live in is a special thing. A special thing is just what I have outside my window, a window that opens up for a view inside of me just as I look out that window to find myself.

 

 

 

 

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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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Sep 23 2010

The Longing

Each day that I distance myself from the trail the further the trail distances itself from me. I have been on trails so often that I can close my eyes and imagine myself there, the smell of decay on the floor of the woods, the trees, moss, water, and plants.
I can see each step, the moss and small plant life collapsing beneath the weight of my feet.
Time doesn’t have much meaning on the trail, no timetables or schedules really exist there. I can just go until I feel like stopping and relax, or maybe stop and camp for the night. Each day on the trail is a new day and the experience changes with every moment, I open my senses to everything that the trail has to offer.

Everything I need for my survival is in my pack, and since my foraging skills are somewhat lacking, I am required to get my food from the hiking store like most other people. If I had to actually kill something be it out of hunger or self-protection and actually manage to kill the creature without injuring myself, I’d probably end up burying the poor thing in the ground and slinking off into the shadows like a criminal attempting to disappear after committing a crime.

The further along you go on the trail the more deeply you become adapted to the environment to such a point that nothing really matters anymore beyond the trail in front of you and what’s around the next turn.
I’ve realized that as the years go by and I spend more time on the trail that the destination isn’t as important to me anymore, but that it is the experience as a whole that is what makes this place magical.

I was recently out on an old hunting trail that meanders across the valley from my home and realized after a time that this trail I was on will link up with another trail called the Nugget Creek trail.
This trail has become a hunting trail during the summer months but was originally a miners trail used to gain access to the west side of the valley via Ester Dome. A creek called Goldstream Creek has carved a deep cavern through the valley limiting access to this side of the valley. As it is the Nugget Creek Trail is my favorite winter ski trail and I ski it almost daily during the long winter.


Now wandering along this trail without the snow covering the ground has allowed me to see things I have never been able to see before. As I turned a corner that leads to the Nugget Creek Trail I found an old miners pit. A miner would dig into the soil until he hit the perma-frost layer, then he would fill the hole with timber and burn it out until it melts some of the perma-frost. The miner would then dig out the melted soil and continue the process until he gets below the frozen gravel and soil. This pit was about six feet in diameter and full of water but the timber was still there, patiently waiting to be lit and do its job. I felt like this guy just all of a sudden said to hell with it and abandoned the effort all together.

Just about a hundred feet up trail and at the junction of Nugget Creek I found his camp. Two nearly decomposed dog kennel’s sit there, one with no roof and the walls collapsing in on itself, the other fairly in one piece but slowly being swallowed up by a spruce tree. The miners trash, cans, coffee pots, broken bottles, and fuel cans lay about recklessly dumped down a small slope away from camp.

I never think about whose feet have created these trails and paths before me in the last hundred years that non native Alaskans have lived in this valley. It didn’t occur to me until now that these trails I play on during the winter and summer, were trails that provided a lifeline for men and women who worked and died here trying to provide for themselves, and usually that effort resulted in failure.
So here I am looking over the remnants of their inhabitants and it leaves me a little sullen and contemplative, as if I was studying a tombstone I’ve discovered at some long-lost grave site.
History on these trails are as important to me as the nature itself is. Learning about the world around me helps me understand with a greater appreciation for the gift it truly is.

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