Jan 29 2012

Finding Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dec 18 2011

White Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Nov 8 2011

Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 21 2011

The Death Of Winter

As all things are and things will always be, great things are meant to die. So as these things are, so fleeting and temporary as a seasons passing, a death so slow and agonizing like the words of love lost on the deaf ears of another left less than wanting.
Clinging to recent memories like the last fragile bodies of snow that cower in the shadows of trees and the occasional cold snap that comes to bring air into the gasping breath of suffocating lungs.
Withered and dying, or maybe hibernating the brown grass of the woods lay in a wet matted heap amongst last years fall colors. Bare branches reminiscent of last fall stretch out above the patches of snow surrounded by puddles of standing water and trails of black mud, smells well up musty and brutish, the odor unpleasing to the senses like the smell of an animals carcass found drying and exposed in the sun for so many days, fly’s flitting about planting maggots in the decaying flesh of a once proud creature.
Trails inaccessible and out of reach once welcomed me with open arms to set my tracks on its well packed and traveled ways, and yet now I no longer can view the trails let alone travel upon them, a jilted lover locking the doors, locking me out of the home I know most.
Sitting alone in the confines of the cabin, ignored ski’s leaning against the wall match my stare, my empty and hollow eyes searching for reason and understanding, but there is no answer, nobody is there to understand and comfort me.
Glancing down at the floor I catch a view of the wax stains left behind from untold days of waxing ski’s that took place here, untold days of pleasure, ecstasy some would say, love I would say. Stepping out into a world of cold air and firm snow, shivering off the first chill and gliding wistfully down the narrow road to the trailhead that lead to adventure, fun, life.
Remembering the sound of my ski’s sliding along and the rhythmic kicks of my ski’s along the terrain, a dog runs back and forth between pee stains and fecal matter puddled, dripped, smeared and piled along the trail. His tail flails in the air in a twisted ballet with his tongue and ears all bouncing and dancing about him in a euphoric expression of pleasure.
Skiing along with branches hanging low beneath the weight of freshly fallen snow, the occasional snow bath cools me and refreshes my mindset. My dog bounds off into the distance with his harness bouncing about on his back completely oblivious to anything around him including myself when he suddenly becomes stiff, staring off down trail unmoving, completely motionless until it happens like a miniature freight train screaming down the trail, a large dog sled team is treading towards us. I call my dog back and begin stepping off trail and packing the snow down for a place for both my dog and myself, just as the team tears by at an amazing pace and a wave of the arm from the musher. I learned years ago that it’s easier to move a dog off trail than to force an entire team and sled to yield to my lone self, it just seems more harmonious this way. The sounds of the dog team rushing along with their tongues and tails flopping in the air as they pass me, heavy breathing and the sound of the sleds runners gliding on the snow fades into the distance.
Winter continues to fade just as that memory flows out of my mind, retreating gradually into photo albums and journals, a place that I can tuck away the memory and move on to spring.
This most loved land of wild and untamed weather has been pushed away and seemingly rushed along at an ever increasing pace as if nature was attempting to cover up for winters sudden fall and failure. Such a season, forceful and unforgiving now fades, vanishing from the landscape nudged away leaving us emotionally distraught in its wake.
Even the wilderness is in flux and attempting to come to grips with the loss of an important part of the year, everything on the surface is coming to a standstill. A relationship that formed all these months has ended leaving behind the wonderful experiences, the epic adventures, the brutality of cold infiltrating my armour and the will of my mind all gone.
As I bid farewell to my dearest seasonal friend I find it troubling to enter the cabin with so many memories laying about like a slaughter house on hiatus. Ski boots with socks draped over them sit in front of the heater left to dry a couple of days back, long worn clothing is draped over the kitchen tables chairs still after so many days long past. I glance at a skijoring harness, tow-line and the dog’s harness hanging like a corpse from the coat rack besides the door, swiftly I pass finding my way upstairs to pack away the thick jackets and vests, extra hats and insulating gloves, things that brought me warmth and comfort on those cold days on the trail and now bring warm memories gently passing by.
Time will pass and as spring has exploded with its unselfish bounty of blueberries, cranberries, and  salmon berries, keep me fat and spoiled from this generous supply of sweet treats, I’ll run down the trail on the hard packed soil to the lake a couple of miles from home. I’ll sit amongst the reeds and grass in the comfort of the warming rays of the sun, watching the occasional dragonfly float past chasing a potential mate, a mosquito flits past seemingly uncontrollably looking for that little tidbit that will satisfy its needs.
Looking above the high reeds and across a lake of shimmering water I can catch a glimpse of the trail that I would travel on during winter, from one end to the other, it’s entrance and exit is unmistakable. Suddenly I feel very lonely sitting there restricted by the elements of warmth, of summer and a very wet lake that deserves my attention in a time just past a few months back and yet a few months yet to come.
Ducks play out across the lake oblivious to my dog that swims with ease as his attention wants, in fact he just drifts about aimlessly seeking a direction to go. A gull shrieks from the shore frightened by the intrusion by this wild beast that has entered his invisible boundary that surrounds his nesting area. A beaver floats by in a stealth like manner eyeing the dog, concerned for his home that he spent so many months confined to. Eden drifts about my being in its soft glow of warmth and light, colors and smells that overwhelm the senses infiltrate my being as I am intoxicated by the summers wants.
As I enter my cabin again and again the ski’s still lean against the wall, the harnesses hang from the hooks I sheepishly sneak past my alter-self to run the road through bountiful forests of birch trees and wild flowers that inundate the roadside, oblivious to the changes that I’ve gone through with winters influence, and a change that prevents me from taking nothing for granted during this short time in the predictability of the summer sun, until my lady winter returns in a time that shortens still.
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Mar 15 2011

Always Thinking About Something

Days come along to remind me why I love living here, sacrifice and give up certain things that are not available here and considered normal living in the lower 48.

Standing outside of a cabin on the shore of a frozen lake at 2:30 in the morning, it’s really not that cold out maybe around -10 degrees Fahrenheit and the sky is clear, the stars make the night seem endless. The Aurora was strung out in the distance out past the lake, colors of red and yellow in a wash of lime green hung like a short curtain dripping light on to the landscape along the horizon. I managed to look up for just a second to see a cloud of wavering lime green pulsating just above me and over the cabin, the moon seemed like a dream behind the soft breathing light.

A shotgun blast echo’s across the lake, a groan and pop of pressure being released from the ice sheet locked solid across the lake. Another crack and bang! as the ice moves and shifts on the surface of the large body of water.

Following the brief outbursts the area seems even more peaceful and quiet, the stars staring down at me in what seems like a curious glare as I stand there barely dressed for the weather in the middle of the night, or early in the morning depending on your personal frame of mind.

Just twelve hours earlier I was skiing along with my dog, skijoring, my dog and I attached to one another for the sole purpose of completing the course in as short a time as possible. It’s a fun race that involves several forms of transportation, cross-country skiing, skijoring, and dog sled, of which all are bound by the common goal of enjoying the moment.

It doesn’t matter where you place but that you love being where you are and celebrate the world we live in. It’s a party in a sense to enjoy our time in our place, and the time is wondrous. It does help that we are all adults and can find pleasure in the adult beverages of choice, good food and a bit of bar-b-que.

I realize as I do every year after such an experience that it doesn’t take adult beverages or a bunch of people to show you how or why you love the place you live in, but a shared experience does have a profound impact on you when the results of the day are evident on the faces of each of the people you shared the day with.

During the drive home I’m able to reflect on the amazing weekend I just experienced, the amazing environment filled with wondrous views and great trails. I thought about the comradery shared between all of us and the friendships that stand by the bond of an amazing want to be in this place doing what we do. I thought about the relaxation after the “race” talking about events that took place during the shared experience on the trail and laughing at each other where the laughter was due. Relaxing and drinking beer, enjoying great food with people who get it, that understand what it means to live where we live and openly talk about it as if it is expected that everybody would love what we do.

We spend the evening talking late into the night under the dim wavering propane lantern hanging from the ceiling, as shadows create ghost-like images on the faces of everybody around me, and I’m quite sure I look none the better.

The conversations wandered about from one thing to another and once here and there about actually skiing or dog mushing and that’s when I would manage to perk up a bit, though I am intrigued by other discussions some are out of time with the moment and I would think more proper with less beer involved, like politics.

Sleeping on these events, away from home, in a cabin filled with the odd sort (that being me) and a bunch of dogs running about with their claws scraping and clawing about on the wood floors adds nothing to the utter silence that I desperately cannot sleep to. I need an ambient sound like a light fan turned on to break that awesome quiet that unnerves me every night.

Mornings filled with freshly fried up moose and caribou sausage accompanied by slabs of scrapple and scrambled eggs has never felt better as I lean over a steaming dark cup of coffee. The caribou sausage was amazing and a bit spicy, perfect for the morning and faces full of laughter, like children after Christmas morning calming down from opening all their presents. We chat and talk of odd things, exploding ice on the lake, my dog barking late at night and my loud attempts to calm him. We speak of a new day and what is in tomorrow, today is already fixed and all used up as some head out to skijor on the wind-blown ice road of the lake, some to sit and relax and others such as myself to head home and settle into the hour and a half ride back to normalcy.

After a day’s rest Equinox and I are back out on our local trails all alone and finding the pleasure that we can only find here, left to savor our moment. I am left reflecting as I travel along my environment and ponder about this thing and that, it dawned to me that I’d love to share this time with others and yet there is nobody around for me to share with. I relish the solitude of the world around me and at the same time wish I could share it with a select others at the same time. I’ve got no idea where I’m headed down this trail of mine but the adventure around the corner that I haven’t seen just yet is going to be marvelous.

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Feb 24 2011

Upon More Thought

I’ve recently began to reflect on my experiences this winter, this past winter as it comes to a close for me. Yet there is still a couple of months left before anybody would begin to discuss break-up yet my winter will come to an abrupt end in just a few weeks. The why’s and how’s are not a point to be mentioned, what is of importance is the fact that I am going to be temporarily taken away from a land I love and a season that makes up a large portion of who I am.
I was breaking trail today on the Dunbar trail, in the trees there was a foot or more of fresh snow and in the exposed area’s the snow and trails were windswept and cleaned by wind with gusts of up to 40 mph. The trail itself was uneven and in a constant state of change, in the tree’s it was deep and flat so I spent my time powering through the powder at a slow melodic pace, but in the open the trail was windswept and bare accept wherever there was an obstruction and then the drifts would fill in the trail, it was beautiful.

Looking back at winter as if it was already in passing while it is still in full swing mixes my heart with a wide range of emotion. I’m not crazy, insane or losing it, but maybe a bit skeptical of the future yet I know my winter is ending at a very precise moment. I will be on the trail gliding along enjoying the smell and sound, the images that I pass by and the adventure of the day when, after a night’s rest and an evenings packing I will drive to a plane and be subsequently flown away from the land, world, and environment that has shaped me for nearly seven years without so much as a flinch. I’ve spent every waking moment either being in or thinking of Alaska’s wilderness since the fall of 2004 and for the next month to two months it is all coming to a rude end.
I’m on the verge of an anxiety attack with the thought of leaving this world and land that I love as much as I could love life. I leave with winter in full swing, heavy snow fall, brutal winds and bone numbing temperatures only to return to the precursor of spring. The shock of suddenly being thrust from a place I am so familiar and comfortable with seems a mirror image to birth only with myself possessing self-awareness and an infant possessing nothing.
Yet I exist in both worlds of an infant and an aware and experienced human being, that and in that I experience this existence for the first time and breathe the air of the knowledge of knowing. I witness so much around me and melt into the fabric of non acceptance, I pay bills and work in such a dry and unrewarding existence, but the other level is of nothing other than experiencing the land through awareness and first hand perception.
Now each day and moment is radically changing, even as I am experiencing a moment on the trail, at that precise moment of awareness I already look back on what is around me as a dream or as a fond memory, warm and close.
I’m not a true fatalist but I live very much by the moment, this can be seen in the way I write about the seasons and my life within them, no not a fatalist though I do see finality in many things and my leaving out of state for a month or two ends winter and begins spring the minute I step on the plane. With this thought I glide down on the trail with much more awareness and purpose.
As I think about what it will be like to spend so much time in Dallas I am conflicted. Why couldn’t this trip take place in September when there is really nothing going on for two months as the land carefully prepares and waits for the first snow and winters encroaching domination. I’ve never thought much about Dallas, or Texas for that matter, it was just a place with a diverse cultural population and an awesome town for music that being Austin.
I think the most terrifying feeling I’m experiencing is the separation I will have with my dog, he and I have never been apart for more than thirteen hours in the last six years. I’ll miss him as a father will miss his son, but how will he be affected by my absence and what will he go through waiting for my return.
I leave him in good hands with my friend who’ll be house sitting for me but all that time that will pass has got to have some sort of effect on him and that is what scares me. Aside for these little things such as the traumatic affect my dog will experience in my absence and the loss of the most cherished part of my year I think I’ll be all right as long as everything goes well and I get home safe and sound.
I know I might sound pathetic and whiny but I am connected to the land around me emotionally and spiritually, this is my place where I exist at my purest form and leaving it even for but a short time sucks life from my soul, air from my lungs, and strength from my limbs. Alaska will grow and step past me during my absence not waiting on me to return and continue my relationship with this land, like a jilted lover trying to forget the last relationship and move on away from the pain.
What I think most about is what it will be like to return, what differences have taken place and what I have missed. The trails are becoming empty for me, the animals stare at me now no longer accepting me as part of the natural terrain but as an anomaly and foreign. I will have a lot of making up to do to get back to the land I love and be accepted again,
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Feb 17 2011

Along The Trail

An obvious stillness encompasses my being as I stand in the middle of the trail staring down at the distinct tracks left behind by ski’s, dog sleds, and snow machines. Each track tells a story, some funny, others dry and expected such as the direct and predictable movement of snow machines. A skiers tracks seem casual, controlled, and practiced when a distinct disruption in the snow tells a humorous story of a skier falling and then tumbling to the snow, but a closer look tells a different story. The skier was on skate ski’s and was skijoring with an unknown count of pulling dogs, skiing along casually in the skate ski pattern when the skier caught an edge on something invisible and was flung to the snow on the side of the trail and then dragged along by the skiers dog’s for about thirty feet.

  

The silence around me is unnerving and I find myself stepping side to side to create some type of movement, nothing was moving and it was freaking me out even Equinox seemed transfixed in a statuesque pose, the pose labs make when they know a camera is pointed at them, legs are straight and staggered, tail hangs purposefully and he seems to stare off in the distance at an odd angle. He always makes this pose when I try to take a spontaneous picture of him, silly smart dog. 

 

So I stand there in the -26 degree air and waited silently until Equinox attention span would cause him to turn, move, shuffle, cough, something! Then he moved turning to a sound or smell that he could only hear or sense and then my picture was complete, but he would still win because there was some sort of frozen moisture on the lens of my trusty camera phone that I use when I ski and it ruined the moment for me a couple of hours later. 

As I turn in to the sun and begin skiing Equinox bolts down the trail happy that I finally began moving again so he could generate some body heat and thus sprint down the trail. Tracks abound on this trail, moose and what look like caribou or deer tracks or some other hoofed creature that I never see but they always leave these wonderful prints fresh and new every time I turn around. Arctic fox tracks are wonderful and more like dog tracks than fox so they track erratically down the trail stopping here and there to smell the scent left behind from the previous wanderers along this trail.

Crap! No really, crap is smeared all along the trail, sled dogs relieve themselves on the fly, no time to slow until the rest stop but here they were flying and the poop never lies. One dog has the runs, poor guy, another is apprehensive and his trail is a pattern of start and stop and start, they go when they go at the last possible moment and their mood can be seen in their “on the fly” release. 

 

Dodging the frozen refuse is a dance I’ve grown accustomed to it is a part of the personality of the trail I am endeared to. Rhythm falls upon me as I speed past the evidence of humans passing, then the trees take their place again. The trees always force their authority upon me blending and melting, they become one great thing, until the sun breaks through and settles matters. Some trees filter the light differently than other trees, the scene begins to change and the personality of the woods shines through again. Flattened, torn up snow greet me, evenly spaced hallows of snow line the sides of the trail, a multitude of piss holes and stains and up turned snow and reeds are all signs of a dog sled teams rest spot. 

 

Like a thing alive the personality of the trail changes, no more snow machines, no more ski tracks, no more animal tracks, just dog sled tracks work the trail, the trees seem foreign, the woods seem victimized and I feel all at once like an intruder. The gliding is good and the snow is warm so I continue on, and on with the tracks of the sled before me trusting that whoever the driver was knew where they were headed and that they also knew this trail. The trail changes with the ground beneath it, adjusting and moving above the frozen soil, the give and go is a change I don’t really enjoy since I’m not allowed to get a rhythm started and any speed created. Slipping to the left, to the right just to be pushed to and fro by the whims of the trails altering wants.

Each moment that I am allowed to witness on the snow, blanketed by the trees creates moments that I reflect on for years after having experienced the event. Something special has occurred during that time on the trail, why else spend so much time contemplating the experience? Each moment that the trail allows me to witness is an experience to treasure and revel in, and the dog that travels with me in all his knowing knows more than I with knowing everything and yet knowing nothing he doesn’t think about the snow, the trees, the cold. He only enjoys the present, the experience in front of him. He takes nothing of the moment for granted, stopping to taste, smell, pee on, poop on, and burrow into in a glee that I feel rarely and treasure even more. 

  

  

 

 

 

 

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Feb 9 2011

The Cache Creek Trail

I had actually began a totally different article to post this week and in fact it is almost complete, but after today and the recent last week or so I thought I’d start over and refresh the brain as well as body. 

This recent time has been very difficult on me, as my job has consumed almost every waking moment of my time so much so my days off last week were everything more than time to relax and enjoy quality time away from that world. 

So much of that world had infiltrated my peace and tranquil existence to such a degree that even the thought of co-workers, being at work, or even getting a text or phone call from work would rattle me nearly into an anxiety attack. I hadn’t been able to escape for more than an hour here or there lately, even my favorite trail was devastated by thoughtless snowmachiners. 

My thought processes were slowed and my ability to type a single word of expressiveness was a torturous education in futility. Sometimes it’s better to thoroughly wash our hands of the whole mess and start over but I am way to impatient to wait out such a demanding task. I needed to get away and get away fast but then with the economy in such a state as it is for the time being I lack the funds and time to truly escape away from the events of the day to day crud that has been suffocating my ability to breathe. I’ve settled on escaping away on the local trails, fleeting moments of unimaginable pleasure bundled up in a compressed experience. 

Sometimes no matter what we do we become trapped in a maze of tired routine, lost with no light in sight we become blind to what drives us in the first place. I had not forgotten that writing is the second most important part of my life, and the outdoors is the top of the list. Finally today I was able to breathe again, work still tried to suck me in, a voice mail to call in but I ignored it with an anxious beat of the heart and moved on to find my sight again. 

For some reason lately I have been keeping my travels on the trails shorter in distance for sake of time constraints and a busy work life. The fear of not getting enough done in two days, the house chores, paying the bills, all the little things that drive our lives like the small business all of our households are. 

I’ve thought a lot about the desert I moved away from in 2004, thoughts of seemingly barren landscapes, windswept limestone ridgelines, and root beer brown varnished walls of Aztec sandstone that seem to reach into space. I miss the simplicity of the desert, running the unimaginable trails that wind through the sandstone canyons, brushing the needles and branches of the bristle cone pines. I miss the smell of the desert, the soft sand and the deplorable heat. I miss driving an hour away and being completely isolated, alone and totally exposed for the world to see. 

What I missed most was an experience. 

For the last couple of weeks I have been going through the paces, it happens every winter. Ski this trail, ski that trail, have an amusing experience here and there, slipping and sliding along to a point where all these trails become normal and expected. 

Normalcy is my worse fear. 

As I had said work has been beating away at me with a pick axe and slowly tearing me down and I needed a moment of awareness. 

I got it. 

In 2008 I first traveled the Cache Creek Trail, awed by the idea of a long day skiing into the unknown, after all I had just began cross-country skiing. I didn’t know about the Cache Creek Loop or even the Fire Plug Trail both trail heads are most dominating during their passing. 

I ski’d as far as the creek itself but being in March the creek was melted out and access across was impossible. It was a magical time of exploration and all these trails below my cabin were still new or even completely unknown. I passed by overflow ice that stretched for hundreds of yards, witnessed leftover reminders of pioneer’s passed, subsistence existence in the way of signs notifying passerby’s of line traps that can string out for miles and injure or even kill your dog if it’s running free. 

I never returned until today, it is a long day and understanding the commitment this trail requires since one never knows just how far they are going to travel until they reach the point that is enough.

Fast snow and warm temperatures provided me with a swift ski out past the Cache Creek loop trail head, and in passing Saulich and the Fire Plug trail two miles later was but a blur. A mile later I speed past the exit point of the Cache Creek Loop and begin the long climb up to Old Saulich and the remains of the sole settler who failed to make it as a lumber man and eventually died in futility.

Now I’ve gone back in time skiing along a trail I haven’t seen in three years easily forgetting everything but three things, an old rusted 50 gallon barrel on a flat area out in the middle of nowhere, the brutal overflow ice that stretches out on the trail for a hundred yards or more, and the awkward Cache Creek itself.

Today the overflow ice was buried under an inch or two of snow and Cache Creek was but a whimper of it’s former self. Passing the creek was a bit of a graduation for me in that I had not been beyond this point before and the juices of exploration were truly flowing in my veins.

After passing through a region of Alder choked woods we came out upon a wondrous world of old growth spruce trees and a wonderful winding trail that rivals the magical Fire Plug Trail. Having crossed what I have deemed the Cache Creek Basin, a fanned out valley that drifts out of the hills below the distant Murphy Dome I finally came upon that place that I would return from. I arrive at a four way intersection at the far side of the valley known as Left Creek. The intersection seems out of place to me as I stepped from my ski’s, take off my skijor tow line and removed my pack. Finally looking around I was amazed by the beauty of the hills in the distance and the magical forest of spruce trees that encompassed me.

Late as it was I drank some water from my pack and walked around to look at the area. Fresh sled tracks on the trail tell me that I’m not too far from some sort of civilization but sometimes the unknown is best left a mystery. After a few pictures Equinox and I were off for the return and the realization that this was a day of days that has been far and few as of late and one that should be cherished, but as the time wore on the next leg of the journey was infiltrating my world, exhaustion.

After a mile I put Equinox on the line and we skijored for the time being, tiring him as little as possible I only have him pull for a couple of miles at a time as I kick and pole as much as possible to speed up our travel. 

Back at Old Saulich I let Equinox rest after having pulled for the last three miles. Ten minutes later we were off skiing the twisting, climbing, descending ride of the trail for the next mile and coming to rest at the exit trailhead of the Cache Creek Loop, six miles to go. I hook Equinox back up and we take off heading for Saulich down trail and swift is the way of it noodle arms and jellied legs in tow. 

Resting in Saulich Equinox tumbles in the snow, burrowing his belly in the snow to cool down, a native Alaskan couple pass by gently on their snow machine with a portage sled in tow, we wave and all are smiles. 

The pleasure of the day is becoming lost in the rhythmic cycle of getting home before my legs and arms completely fail, everything way too apparent to me and I hook Equinox back up and we travel on now just going through the motions. A glimpse here and there of the shy sun that shelters itself behind ever encroaching clouds from the west. 

We reach the trailhead for the Cache Creek Loop trail and rest again, well the dog beast that is Equinox rests. Each stop causes me to sweat more thus cooling me down more as I have already changed out my hat I neglected to include a second pair of gloves in my pack so now my hands are slowly going numb. Funny enough this is the norm’ and not really a reason for complaint or whining. 

After a couple more miles we hit Martin, the last stop before the last mile and a half leg on the trail before getting home. This is the regular rest area for the dog, for the next half mile I cross stream beds and over flow ice until the last mile where I have the dog hooked back up and Equinox pulled like a whimpering champ but he pulled through good enough. 

Days like today are rare and far, days mixed with familiarity, labor, the expected exhaustion and the satisfaction of completing something you can be proud of. This trail goes on for as far as the imagination lets it and as far as I am concerned my imagination is left wanting…… 

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Jan 27 2011

Lower Angel Creek Trail

It has been two years since the last time I had laid tracks on the Lower Angel Creek trail, that was an incredible introduction to this amazing place. Since that time I have hiked a small portion of the Chena Dome trail that begins at the same trailhead and rapidly rises up along the eastern skyline of the Angel Creek valley. I have spent two days backpacking the entire 32 mile Chena Dome trail all the while the Angel Creek valley was in sight and during the summer the sun can be seen reflecting off the waters of the creek itself.
I’ve ran the Upper Angel Creek Trail, a multi-use trail that had been under construction for three years and travels just above the valley floor, climbing and descending along the east side of the valley and passes along beautiful groves of birch trees, artesian wells and marvelous spruce tree forests.

The lower trail is only accessible by foot, or ski in the winter time, the rest of the year it is a bog of water, tussocks and mud. In the winter it is magical and very unique, a trail that is smooth with very little variation and can be quite fast and enjoyable.
The last time I was here with my ski’s it was later in the season so more people had accessed the trail leaving ruts and grooves along the trail and made it a very long day of trying to control the directions my ski’s tracked, all in all not the best of days. Don’t misunderstand me, I still loved being on the trail and experiencing the wilderness in this magical place. I was just frustrated by the conditions of the trail itself and the over use of it late in the season.
This time was much different and much more special since I didn’t expect that there had been very much traffic on the trail this soon in the year. I was right, the temperature was about -10 degrees F and the sun was shining without obstruction making me jumpy and excited to be off on the untracked trail.
Since the trail was untracked and there was a thin layer of fresh snow about an inch or two thick, the skiing would be a bit slower because of the cool air, the snow crystals had not been compacted or even slightly melted. The snow in the interior of Alaska has very little water content so this dry snow develops a great deal of friction when ski’s travel on top of it.
Today I didn’t care, I even began the day early expecting slow snow conditions and very happy when I was proven right. After skiing the first quarter of a mile to gain the trail proper I was pleasantly surprised to see that a snow machine had been on the trail recently and that meant the trail would be faster than I had thought.
The first mile was wonderful as I ski’s along the sun was a constant witness watching my every move, my every stop and I welcomed the sun with glances over my shoulder to catch the rays on my face. Equinox was running free and he took full advantage of it jumping into the powder, flashing down the trail only stopping now and then to smell the occasional markings.
After the first mile ironically the snow machine broke off to the left on its own trail leaving me to ski the trail untracked. Right at the same time the sun dipped behind the hills to the west never to be felt again and bringing the air temperature down easily another 10 degrees to a cozy -20 degrees F. The trail wasn’t at all bad having been broken out some time ago, I can tell by the two inches of untouched snow that nobody had traveled on the trail in atleast a month since that was the last time there was a significant snowfall.
Skiing along it all felt like I’ve been here a dozen times in the past as I ski along I look up along the ridgeline recalling traveling along the top in the summer two years ago, or the upper Angel Creek trail and regaling the amazing six mile run I had along it last summer turning back at a wonderful artesian well. There is much more snow here in the valley than in the valley my cabin resides in, and I feel somewhat jealous at the thought of it.
The trees are rich here and grow full and wonderful without any clustering or competition from other species, no alders to be seen in site and the birch trees have their favorite spots while the spruce tree grows where ever it chooses.
I’ve arrived at the gentle climb that I remembered from my previous trip, a slow ascent up through a small grove of birch trees that constrict the trail enough to make you feel as if you were traveling through a tunnel.
It’s energizing when I exit the trees an descend the other side of the climb, it’s almost as if I had wandered into some portal that delivered me to someplace different and new but at the same time similar to the previous land. All the open land dotted with spread out spruce trees is now full of a thick woods of spruce and the occasional birch tree.
Just up trail is the public use cabin located at about the four mile point. It is a lovely cabin that can hold maybe six people easily and more in an emergency. The cabin made for a nice rest stop before heading on along this pristine trail, a mile or so later I was brought to an interesting decision. The trail finally crosses Angel Creek for the first time, and the overflow ice was like a wave flowing over the trail, but very soft, I can see water welling up from the weight of my dog stepping on the ice.
I was not in the mood to step out of my skis, walk across the ice then sit down and pick ice out of my boots to clear them so I could get back into the ski’s bindings, so we called it a day there. I turned back and ski’d up to a point on a small rise to hook Equinox up on the tow line and we skijored back, making the distance back to the cabin in wonderful time. We stopped there to let him rest for a bit but the cool air was beginning to take a toll on my sweat soaked layers of clothes and their insulation qualities were diminishing rapidly, so I sent Equinox on his way pulling as he could to close the gap of distance and time and still enjoy the view.
Eventually we came back on the portion of trail with fresh snow machine tracks and thus improved our speed, and not a moment too soon as Equinox had faded to a gentle trot, so we just worked our way home to the trail head and the car.
Magical, mind bending, eye opening, everything that I could imagine a trail to be this trail lifted me up to see the world around me in a fresh light and as always this is the only of my world I want.

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Jan 18 2011

What?

Slipping and sliding along the line of the trail, trees pass by moving gracefully to the rear of my vision. I see the trees pass turning my head occasionally as one branch or the shape of a certain tree catches my eye and stimulates my curiosity just to be lost to my inattentive nature of the time. Nature of the snow prevents the trail to be even, pounded relentlessly by various users mostly the sleds and dogs pulling the musher along, the sleds runners seeking purchase along the lowest point sliding to and fro’ shaping the trail and producing a personality to the way of it. 

Along the way my ski’s slide seemingly uncontrolled this way and that, yet as the way it is the trail guides my ski’s to where they’re suppose to be and not where I want them. I learned early enough not to fight the trail, that cold, hard bitch wins every time. The best I can do is allow myself to be led down the trail like a child held by the hand by mother showing me the right and wrong way of things. 

I can feel my ski’s warping and bending to the contour of the trail, dipping, hitting bumps, turning a corner, bouncing over the frozen defecation of passing sled dogs. All of a sudden I’ve entered a straight flat section of trail, neither climbing nor descending, pure and level. I start gliding longer, I begin kicking harder pushing off with my ski’s, I thrust my poles into the trail violently stabbing the snow with all I can and I am flying along the trail. Everything has gone from recognizable scenery to a tunnel of white and green, the steady forward motion and pleasure outweighs the slowly encroaching fatigue that is just waiting for my mind to consider. 

As swiftly as the high-speed run down the trail began so did the rapid end fall upon me as I change course and turn to follow a new trail with tracks left days ago after a snow. Moose are always present here, a moose cow that inhabits the area has a thing for stomping trespassers that wander into her world so I tread carefully through the next mile of thick Alders and low black spruce. 

The shadow of the hills darkens the valley floor for most of the day until the low laying sun makes its gradual appearance on the horizon and graces the surrounding land with a soft pink orange glow that sends the tops of the hills on fire in a yellow and red blaze. Cooling air from the coming night begins hardening the snow on the trail turning the ice crystals into a friction that feels like sandpaper and slows down the travel. Fresh urine markings dot the side of the trail from animal tracks that lead back into the woods, my dog turns off to follow the donor. Left alone for the time, silence again sweeps the narrow trail clean of all disturbance and falling back into a cadence I drift off in a rhythmic cycle of skiing and breathing, I’ve become more of an addition to the wilderness around me than merely another visitor, I’m more comfortable here now than I ever thought I could. 

Considering my world and the diverse land laid out for me to live out my days I’m never left to wonder what it would be like to be anywhere else…….. 

wait, what was the question? 

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