Oct 27 2010

And So It Begins

It was just a matter of time before I began writing about my skiing exploits, and here we are. The snow I had called on came and laid down a soft blanket of love across the landscape of my consciousness. I know that this snow is only temporary and will soon be gone, so in the last week I haven’t missed an opportunity to get out on the trail and get some skiing in. I was up early going through the process of waxing my ski’s and an hour and a half later I was standing at the trailhead into my bindings wondering just how sore I was going to be by the end of the day.
I had forgotten how good it felt to get on the ski’s. how amazing it is to glide along the trail.

Everything is so clear and the senses are heightened, the smell even changes when I’m skiing. It is amazing how we perceive things from moment to moment, even something like snow that has a specific odor while standing on it, changes when you’re involved in an activity breathing it in on that same snow and in the same environment.
Everything changes when you include yourself in a place, you see things differently, smell things, taste things all differently.
I expected that I would need to rest due to lack of conditioning, but as it was the only thing I was having trouble doing was wiping the smile off of my face.
Every kick and every glide was as invigorating as if I had been locked in a cell for the last seven months and have been finally released.

As I got to the turn-around I stopped an stared at everything, I mean everything, the trees, snow, the trail that leads down the hill to the Dunbar Trail a quarter of a mile away. Reluctant blades of grass and the occasional leaf poke out of the snow, tree branches are heavy from the fresh snow and bow down forcing me to duck and avoid a cool dowsing of snow.
I love how calm it is, it always seems calm out on the trail even my dog seems to be drinking in the serenity out here.
For the last several days I have been revelling in the pleasant sun and welcoming snow. Skiing on the Parks Ridge Run Trail and the MDR Trail have been wonderful, a massive release to all the pent-up energy that has been built up inside me over the last month.
It always seems that one of the most amazing moments occurs during the turnarounds and this was no different. I was coming to a stop on the Parks Ridge Run Trail at the quarry when I looked out across the horizon and the most amazing view of Denali appeared before me. The mountain seems so close I felt I could reach out and touch it. I stood there for a time staring at the wonder in front of me. Every time I’m on the trail this world shows me something unexpected and surprising.

The snow is thin and just covers the soil allowing me to get out early this year and I have been taking full advantage of it. Over the last week I have skied every moment I could and each day the snow has become less and less as the snow is melting away. In a couple more days the few trails that have had enough snow on them will no longer be skiable, and my ski crazy friends and I will have to put our ski’s away for a short time and be patient just a bit longer for more consistent skiing.
The sun is out and there isn’t a cloud in the sky, warm and pleasant, I can watch the snow recede from the trails exposing more and more rock and soil.
In a week or two we should see more snow arriving and the trails will receive better coverage and everybody will be happy, and as it is now that I have gotten enough of an appetizer to sideline my hunger for a bit, I can wait for a while longer for more snow to cascade own on my world.

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Oct 16 2010

Understanding The Season

I wonder what it is like to love your job, to wake up and race to the start of the work day. I trudge to my job daily like clock work, going through the motions, meanwhile my life outdoors is idle. I truly want to devote more time to writing and photography and have no idea how to get out of the cycle I’m in. It strikes me that even at the age I am I still haven’t found my niche or what I should be doing with my life. I’m cruising along attempting to fall into the place where I belong and its been so long now that I’ve lived this way that I’m not sure if there is a way out of it for me anymore.
I am always trying to find ways of expressing what nature means to me, what it feels like being out on the trail or being in the backcountry be it backpacking or just hiking around shooting photography.

Over the last few weeks my job has consumed nearly every waking moment of my days. I wake up and gaze outside into the trees and hills thinking to myself that’s where I should be, exploring and hiking in that environment.
I watch it snow and retreat into my mind to daydream about what it will be like out on the winter trails.
In the pre-winter cool I tend to wander the trails and hop the tussocks along the bottom of the valley. The snow drifts across the tops of the dark spruce trees and highlight the grass blades in the meadows that dot the valley floor. Snow slowly encroaches on the foliage and forces its standing upon the last of falls refuge. Silence is the master and forces me to steady my breathing so as not to intrude on the delicate balance of wind and calm.

Every time it snows I get so excited, people laugh at me, they don’t understand what it means to me. Even when I was younger I stared at the snow in wonder and every day was a holiday for me. Winter is definitely my thing.
I recently stopped by the local outdoor shop to pick up wax supplies for my skis and enjoyed talking with several people who are infected by the same addiction as me and their enthusiasm is plainly visible. They have the same spark in their eyes as any skier, skijorer or mushers I run into this time of year. The several inches of snow on the ground really isn’t sufficient enough to ski just yet but never the less it does get the juices flowing to hit the trails. More snow has been forecast for early next week, maybe I will finally be able to hit my early season trail before the end of the month now  and that would be amazing. My early season trail is a trail I run on during summer and skate ski or classic cross-country ski on in the beginning of winter for its cleanliness and lack of tussocks or tree roots.
It is a terribly short trail for skiing being only about four miles long round trip but it will keep me at bay until the greater trails fill in later on. This trail only requires about four inches of snow to be able to ski, versus many of the other trails which need at least two feet of snow to fill in the tussock fields, holes, tree roots, logs, ponds, sloughs, and stream crossings. Stream crossings are another issue I have learned to be patient with, many streams are impassable early in the season with deep drop-offs, or are very difficult because of erosion. I’m still waiting for the streams and ponds to freeze up to allow me to gain access to the more distant trail systems like the Nugget Creek Trail, Cache creek Loop, or the Fire Plug Trail. All these trails are accessible via the Dunbar trail, via numerous streams, ponds and tussock fields.

I have sacrificed much in my personal life to the season here, to ski the trails and learn more about my limitations and who I am. There are people here who have this same need or drive, and sacrifice everything to live the way they want to regardless of the cost, to within limits of course.
I meet people who share my love for the trails in the winter much more often than I do in the summer. The summer sends people to work earning as much as they can to afford to play in the winter. With the coming of winter come my brethren, out of the woodwork stocking supplies and getting the dogs back in shape. The occasional early season ski tracks are beginning to appear on the trails and almost leave me feeling violated as if somebody had broken into my home and stolen away with so many precious things.

Winter here in Alaska is so calm and silent with very little if any wind and clear skies. The birds are not out very much and people tend to stay indoors more often to avoid the cold. I make a point of skiing during the winter solstice, and since it’s the shortest day of the year I spend most of the day in the dark, but when the sun does appear around mid-day I stop skiing to soak in the short-lived light. There is no warmth, the light is more for effect than anything else but it’s such a special moment being far out on the trail skiing from darkness to light and back to dark in just a few hours.
There is a spirituality out in the wilderness that absorbs my being. I feel it and it consumes me and in just a couple of weeks the trails will begin to fill in and my days will be filled with hours of exploration and pleasure, the like of which few appreciate but for me this is what my life is all about.

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Oct 5 2010

Waiting

I hate waiting for the season to change, this time of year is so slow and boring. I don’t have any patience when it comes to these lulls I experience. My world is in transition and it’s really not as pretty as any other time of the year, everything is the same withered brown color and nothing is green, even the pine tree’s needles seem more subdued.
Living in this mundane day-to-day cycle is so disheartening and it drains any motivation out of me to do anything at all.

Everything around me is idle, fall fell and winter is just a tomorrow away. I typically take this time of year off to allow my body to recover from being beat up all summer from trail running, races, and backpacking. I reduce myself to day hikes and the occasional trail run now and then.
I tend to be more reflective during this time of year, thinking about what I did or didn’t do during the summer and what I could have done if I had pushed myself to commit a bit harder. I keep attempting to travel north but something always prevents me from making the trip as if I’m not suppose to be up there just yet.

I’ve noticed that people seem to mimic nature and this time of year it is so visible. In anticipation of the coming winter the animals are stocking up on food, and the bears in the area are getting nice and fat, preparing their dens for hibernation and the birds become more scarce.
People are mowing their lawns for the last time and getting their final gardening done before the snow falls and covers everything up. Homes are being tended to, repairs being made and winter protection being completed.

My preparation isn’t quite so elaborate,  I have no home repairs, I Have no last minute cut of the lawn, nope I’m just sitting around watching plants die. My seasonal rhythm is reduced to considering whether or not to get the new ski rack for my car, or when is the best time to buy a new set of cross country ski’s, which wax combination will work best once the snow base is deep enough to fill in the trails.
I inspect all of my winter clothing and discard what is no longer safe or functional to keep me warm in the below zero temperatures I’ll be facing for the next six months.

Every time the sun shows itself I feel like I should run outside and stand there in its rays and soak up every ounce of light that I can, and I feel guilty if I don’t.
This time of year always toys with me and my emotions. One day the weather gets nice and cold, the sun disappears for a week at a time and it begins to feel as if winter is truly on its way. I break out the heavy jackets, hats, gloves and then it goes backwards and becomes nice and warm again.
Now the country around me is all prepared for the coming winter but its nice and toasty like an early fall day and those nice hard, frozen trails that I’ve been traipsing about on have become wet and mushy.
My patience is wearing out and I’m an emotional wreck waiting for my winter to get here, waiting for the snow to fall and waiting to explore those incredible winter trails.
So until winter comes to me I will sit here, staring out the window like a dog impatiently waiting for its master to come home and wait for the snow to fly.

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