Dec 18 2011

White Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Nov 8 2011

Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oct 23 2011

A Sense Of Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep 20 2011

Falling Into Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Jun 8 2011

The Cries Of The Marmot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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May 18 2011

A Reflective Homecoming

I’ve become very complacent as of late since my return from my experience outside. I’ve had
time to consider what being there may have meant to me, and how it may or may
not have changed me. I thought of how returning to Alaska would be this
enormous homecoming, the vast region of hills that I live in just north-west of
Fairbanks envelope me, the woods of the birch trees blanket me with welcome,
and a rejoiced feeling would warm my heart.

What in fact I did experience upon my return was more of a feeling of reunion with an old
friend. It felt like it did a long time ago when I returned to my old high
school after having been gone for about ten years. The memories of moments I
experienced become fresh and new, as if they occurred just recently.

Driving down the road from the airport, I had a friend drive for me as I expected that I
would rubberneck every twist and turn of the road. It was a homecoming, it was
a reflection of things that I witnessed or something that I was a part of like
the trails that no longer have snow on them and are no longer passable yet I
was just skiing on them a couple  of months ago before I got on the plane to Texas.

It is so odd that even though I was gone for only six weeks, it seemed as if I was gone for
a year. Having been home now for ten days it still seems surreal to be home
again, I stare at the still bare branches of the birch trees with the tips of
the branches just beginning to show the buds that will soon become leaves that
will be a vibrant lime green. I think it is very flattering that spring decided
to wait until I returned home and settled in before exploding on to the scene.

Spring is swiftly gobbling up winter’s leftovers, the pathetic patches of snow that cower
in the shadows of trees and ditches on the roadside are disappearing as I watch
them. The ground is still matted, brown and dead, waiting for the moment when
new life will erupt from the withered refuse of last year’s growth. I spent the
day wandering down a trail I ski on in the winter and run on later in the
summer, it was so drab and unassuming I was wondering if I would be able to
forget this place whenever I chose to move on. Today answered that question for
me as I was running down the road from my home. It was an education for me
because as I was running down the road under an amazing spring sun and clear
skies, the world around me whistled and sang with the life of the birds. The
trees just beginning to expose the buds of new leaves sit idle in preparation
of the great show that is soon to come.

Seven miles down the road at the ponds, Equinox and I traipse about the shore of the ponds
swimming in the warm sunlight absorbing the energy and loving the life that is
flourishing around us. I walked about the shore while Equinox went for a dip
all the while an angry seagull lay strafe to the dog’s head, trying to protect
his or hers nearby nest. Silly as it is, it was just a training run that would
take a couple of hours to complete but the time I spent on the road really opened
my eyes again just as this land tends to do when you stray a bit from the trail
or path you’re following. This place calms the soul, sharpens the mind and
rejuvenate the self within you.

After the training run, I found my way into town to visit the weekend farmers market, and
upon running into friends within the little stands that held knickknacks,
homegrown produce and other foods. People wandered about happily in the sun
with the annoying first generation of mosquitos buzzing around drunkenly
bumping into whatever is in the way.

The market was closing but I found the person I was looking for in a nick of time. We
talked for a while and laughed at things that truly are wonderful, these people
and this place is something I could duplicate anywhere. This homecoming was
somewhat awkward and complex just as my departure had been, the difference
being that I am a child to this place and this place is my mother. Good mothers
always take care of their children………..

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