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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Dec 29 2010

A Christmas Day Out

Every Christmas day I like to go out and spend the day away from the house, to fall away from everybody and escape into the timeless wonder of the trail. I am not big on the holidays, I understand that they are meant to bring friends and family together and help us appreciate our lives, and those people we share our lives with, I don’t have any family that live within several time zones of me and I don’t have any friends that I spend the holidays with, therefore the holidays really aren’t meant for me. There was a time I cared for and loved Christmas but those special days vaporized just as my relationship with my wife ended.Now I accept the holidays as a way to evade my laborious reality, it always seems like mother nature wants me to be out on the trail somewhere every holiday. It can be -40 degrees all week but come the holiday it warms right up as it did during the solstice warming to a balmy -10 degrees and Christmas day had become an amazing -4 degrees and wonderful.

 

I decided to head out on the Dunbar Trail towards the west because after a while there are various trail intersections to choose from and I could change the day with just a turn. I had not ski’d out the Dunbar west from my cabin yet this year, and didn’t know what to expect from the trail conditions since the last time I witnessed the creek crossings in late October it was iced over with severe four to five foot drop off’s on either side with heavy debris constricting access. I figured that it would take several months of over-flow ice to fill in the gullies and allow travel, but there has been dogsled travel through the trail so I assumed that maybe the creek beds have filled in enough to travel.

The first creek named “Spinach Creek” was actually not bad at all and I ski’d through with relative ease, but the second unnamed creek was a bit tricky and I could not imagine trying to navigate the entry and exit of the creek bed with an entire dog team. The day went wonderfully as I ski’d along on the Dunbar and Equinox in his typical role of the “trail breaker”, he actually just likes to be way out in front exploring on his own without much interference from me.

 

The light was wonderful and seemed to warm the air around me with an energy that had me smiling at every turn. Once we reached Saulich, which is a maintenance stop for the railroad and also the turn off for the Fire Plug trail, we rested for a bit. This was only mile five and I needed to figure out whether or not we were going to head out the Fire Plug trail or continue on the Dunbar and maybe catch the Cache Creek Loop trail back which has a trailhead a mile or so further on.

I opted to continue on along the Dunbar and turn back at the turn off for the Cache Creek loop since it was late in the afternoon and there was only about an hour of light left in the day. I had brought my headlamp as a precaution and as I reached the turn around point I realized that I may actually use the lamp.

 

I hooked Equinox up to the tow line and began skijoring back. Equinox started off pulling like crazy for about a half mile then slowed to a trot as I had expected him to do. After a little bit of time I had seen what looked like vomit on the trail and realized that my poor dog was vomiting on the run, so when we returned to Saulich I stopped for about ten minutes to let him collect himself.

It was so lovely out, the sun was very low on the horizon and only ambient light from the sun remained in the sky. As Equinox got himself together I threw him back on the tow line and we were off again and flying along through the trees with just enough light to barley cancel out the beam of light emanating from my headlamp.

 

With about two miles to go I usually let Equinox of line to rest for about a half mile and then skijor him for that last mile and a half to the cabin, so after releasing him I began the gentle descent down to the railroad tracks and the final stretch home. It was nearly dark now and all of a sudden when I kicked with my left ski I realized that my binding had blown apart and my ski just fell away from me. I tried to examine the binding but I couldn’t fix it, so I did what any self-respecting skier does, I threw my ski’s over my shoulder and started running the last two miles home.

The run was terribly tiring, I don’t remember ever having to run in ski boots and with ski’s and poles under my arms so I was relieved when Equinox turned and began running towards me, it meant that there was somebody coming from up trail. A dog sled running up on us and I needed to get off trail, so I tossed the skiis and called Equinox over and just in time as the eight dogs were upon us just as I was pulling my dog out of the way.

Everything that followed was a blur and I found myself on my back in a foot of snow with a ninety pound lab on my chest and dogs trying to attack him. I was wrestling with Equinox in a futile effort to get him away from the snapping jaws of the dogs that were on my legs. The musher was able to get her team back on the trail and ordered them out, moving back on trail simultaneously yelling sorry to me and yelling at her dogs about what it meant when she yelled “on-by!”. I was exhausted, and with a mile of running to go I couldn’t help but laugh at myself as I jogged into the darkness, at least it was an amazing experience to say the least. I finally dragged my sorry self up the last bit of the road to my cabin and crawled inside, with Equinox filled with boundless energy I threw some treats at him and collected myself.As my clothes hung over the chairs around the table I sipped on a beer and reflected on the day and I was satisfied with the amazing day I had. It isn’t everyday that things like this happen to me on the trail and the experience was amazing and I realize how unique my day had been, we always seem to remember days such as these so much fonder than days filled with normalcy.  

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Dec 15 2010

Frame Of Mind

There was a time that all I wanted, every waking moment was to be outside skiing. It never mattered what the weather was like or how cold it was, it was everything just to be there, as if I was going to be left out of some great secret that I couldn’t miss out on. This was only a couple of years ago and not so much a part of my wonderful and distant past. 

Now today I am quite particular in that it is no longer quantity but a question of quality that I seek. I only want to go out skiing when I was sure that the experience would be fantastic and memorable. I haven’t forgotten that every moment is special and unique, since yesterday is just as real to me as is today and tomorrow.

I look outside and peek at the temperature and have to really motivate myself to step out the door. The days of ultra-extreme cold and having a choice to go outside or not to go outside has seemed to validate my new found laziness.

Why trudge through a foot of freshly fallen snow? My skis are never visible sliding along beneath the snow, grinding along at an agonizing slow pace as sweat soaks through my layers of clothes, I can just wait for an extra day as dog sleds and snow machines break the trail out for me.

I spend almost fifteen minutes putting on the four layers of clothes and boots to be ready to go outside for a couple of hours of skiing, and another ten minutes to undress and hang up all the clothes to dry.

Tomorrow is suppose to be around -45 degrees Fahrenheit so I ski’d today while it was only -22 degrees, it was still cold but considering the idea of not being able to ski for the next couple of days while waiting for the temps to come back to a respectable grade, well it seemed the logical choice. Some people say why go out at all then, why put yourself in to such uncomfortable conditions if your so miserable. 

I still laugh at them and their unexperienced comments, not knowing how amazing the world is and actually living in it. Yet even now throwing these questions and thoughts back and fourth answering the questions just as easily as asking them, they still promote thought and they show that I have a complex attitude towards the winter. The idea that today is the warmest day of the week is ridiculous until you remember that tomorrow will be -45 degrees, and there I am on the trail unable to move my face or mouth. 

There are times that I am jealous of my dog, while we are out on the trail and it’s terribly cold, my lungs are burning and I can’t feel my tongue but my dog is oblivious to the cold, bounding through the trees occasionally stopping to bury his face in a small drift of snow attempting to find some weird odor buried below the surface. Then there I am sweating and freezing at the same time, muscles exhausted from the work watching my dog laughing and playing as if it is a fine summers day. The colder the air gets the more course or “grabby” the snow gets, gliding is reduced a great deal making it more difficult to ski efficiently and the trail becomes very long, but for a dog it’s perfect for flopping on his back and flailing relentlessly. 

When the sun is low on the horizon and there are very few clouds the light filters through the trees and reflects off of every grain of snow. Just hearing the sound of my ski’s on the snow, my poles stabbing into the snow to push off with, and the sound of my breathing, nothing else stirs and this world is perfect.  

I am complex in my choices of days to go out and experience my world and sometimes those choices are the opposite of how I feel but once I’m out there on the trail and regardless the weather, the experience is always unique and unforgettable.

My choices of when I go out on the trail are confirmed as preferring the nicer days and I am becoming better with this considering those days are days that most people wouldn’t even open there doors if they don’t have to. The fact that I’ll still go out on the miserable days only because all the other days are even more miserable shows me that the spirit of following my heart is still alive and well. 

Breaking trail is slow and tedious but incredibly rewarding, looking back on a fresh set of tracks and setting the line of the trail is amazing, especially knowing that on some trails like the Nugget Creek Trail Loop, those tracks will be there all year and anybody else who ski’s that trail will follow the line I set and ride the tracks I laid on that trail. Finishing the day under the light of a headlamp really sets a tone on these short days, with only a few hours of sunlight the times to be on the trail are short and dark. Pulling up to the cabin with the headlamp on and the glow of lights flooding out of the windows is a warm welcome and fulfills a need for accomplishment that overwhelms me sometimes and times like these that leave me smiling far after the snow has melted from my ski’s.

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Nov 10 2010

A Man, A Dog

I skijored with my dog for the first time this year on a short trail near my home and it was a wonderful and refreshing experience. Skijoring is a sport that incorporates dog mushing and cross-country skiing, the dog pulls a skier along a trail or course via a tow line attached between the two. The dog and skier work together as efficiently as possible to attain the highest level of speed for the longest distance as possible without tiring the dog or dogs. Assisting the dog by pushing with your poles (known as polling) or kicking with your ski’s allows the dog to continue further on since you assume the majority of the work as the dog tires. The dog will be pulling just fast enough that “kicking” is ineffective, so polling is the only way to maintain momentum.

 

 After having been skiing for the first couple of miles I hooked up my dog “Equinox” and we took off as a team. I was curious to see how well he would perform or if he would remember what his job is. It turned out that he not only remembered this activity, he in fact loved charging off with me in tow. We flew over the first half mile before he began tiring, since Equinox hadn’t pulled in over seven months I expected his endurance to be low. It was wonderful travelling along the trail polling when I could, kicking up the small rises to maintain momentum and leaning into the harness to absorb the energy of Equinoxes lunges. I could see the joy in my dog’s body language, the pride in what he was accomplishing pulling me along the tree-lined trail, his quick glances back at me to ensure that he was doing a good job. I had forgotten how incredible the union between my dog and myself feels during moments such as these.

I always forget that dog’s do not care about the little things like branches hanging out over the trail, small dips, logs or roots on the trail so constant diligence is a must otherwise those branches hanging out will whip the bejeezes out of you, and if you don’t pay attention to those roots or other foreign objects you’ll find yourself being dragged by your dog after being tripped up and face planting the ground. These times we share are silent, swift and fleeting moments of joy for both of us, being out on the trail loving that precise point where everything coalesces and becomes breathless. Gliding along the trail, dog kicking up pieces of ice and snow, the dog’s body stretched out and reaching forward, its beautiful following behind him watching a dog explode in canine bliss and energy.

There are day trips where I will ski for twenty or more miles and skijoring is more a matter of shortening the miles than a convenience. If I merely ski those twenty miles I could be looking at four hours, which is fantastic for a day long adventure but if (as in my case) it is the middle of winter and we have only a few hours of day light this could become a serious issue. So on the longer trips I would ski for five miles or so then hook Equinox up and skijor for four or five miles and then ski the next five miles and so on, to allow the dog to have a rest cycle. This technique reduces the time to less than three hours over a twenty-mile ski and slows down the fatigue factor a great deal.
The long days are the best, a true understanding or relationship forms with your dog and yourself. The sharing of physical effort seems to create a tighter bond between the skier and the dog, I guess that comes from the pack mentality and being stronger is an Alpha dog mentality.
The Fire Plug trail is wonderful for skijoring and after five miles of skiing to get to the trailhead its well worth the effort to get to it. This trail is only about four miles long and is a bridge from the Dunbar Trail to a trail that is known only as “sled dog trail” on the maps. This sled trail eventually hooks up with the original mail route leading out of Nenana and travels all the way to Nome Alaska. The Fire Plug trail is amazingly technical, not in difficulty but in its twisting, turning, climbing and wooded wonder that is fabulous to ski until you arrive at the intersection where it links up with the sled dog trail. Including the climbing involved it takes roughly half an hour or so to complete the Fire Plug trail but skijoring back the distance can be covered in between fifteen and twenty minutes and every time it leaves me panting with exhilaration.

After running the Fire Plug trail I always give Equinox a rest and then let him go on his own for the next couple miles until I hook him back up for the final couple of miles when I’m most tired.
Usually these trips end in the dark and under the light of a headlamp, but Equinox shows his pleasure and happiness by jumping at me and nipping softly at my gloves, still playful after twenty miles of insane wonder and physical effort.
Physically exhausted after a long day on the trails always has an impact on me, not physically but emotionally. I’ll return to the cabin exhausted and barely able to lift my ski’s to set them against the wall and my spirit will be soaring, almost rejuvenated and young. I’ll finally get a shower and step into dry, warm clothes, pour a strong dark beer and regale in the days events, all the while Equinox will be throwing toys at me wanting to play, to bond further and cement the friendship we strengthened during the day on the trail.
Meanwhile I’ll be considering where next to travel, to expose myself to and experience the world outside of my home.

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