Nov 15 2014

Last Chances Never Come to Late

20140903_114231NC!AMoments come to a person while traipsing through a world of boundless possibilities, mostly where that fine line actually lies and where we are limited by what nature has decided we are allowed to be a part. I am not a fan of restriction, of being told no, of being forced to turn away. I can’t accept the power of something else controlling my will and yet this was the outcome just a day ago. Parking the car under ever darkening skies, I put the pack on Equinox and then hefted my own pack. Crossing Nome creek was more of a challenge than it has ever been, swollen and angry it attempted to take out its vengeance on my dog and me but we pulled through. I should have known……….

On the Prindle Mtn trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep 24 2012

An Afternoon In The Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep 23 2010

The Longing

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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