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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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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Mar 21 2011

The Death Of Winter

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

Always Thinking About Something

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 3 2011

The Hollow

The air has become very thick as of late, thick with reflection and thought. Though I’m not going anywhere permanently yet but away for a short time non the less, and it has awakened certain emotions. I am amazed how I can see the world around me and say to myself that this is a place to explore and discover what I am capable of. Land that has the potential to show me just who I am and find out what if any boundaries I have, and these boundaries have become very simple. An inability to hunt and kill anything, living without internet and cell phone connections, and television.

The land is different, when it comes to land there is no boundary only capability, what am I capable of and what level of experience I’m willing to endure if the situation suites the course.

The land seems to just be there, filling the void and allowing the sky to have a place of reference, but as it sits idle, breathing gently and allowing all to travel and wander it’s most subtle trails, it has lessons to teach each of us if we just open our eyes and look at the answers. The wilderness is more of a classroom than I ever thought, each day I am coached and taught something new about myself, but it has always been about who I am and what world I love to live in, now things are evolving, turning around and mirroring my emotions. I was stunned the other day as I re-read a story I wrote not even realizing that while I was writing about the weather and a nature that I had absolutely no control over, I was also in a sense describing a world that I exist in but never saw the mirrors in that world that were reflecting images of myself back to me.

Every trip out on the trail I have injected more of myself on to the landscape, so much so that I can begin to see traits of myself in that landscape or visa-versa. Wandering along a dimly lit trail as snow softly falls about me has no longer been just snow fall on a lonely trail, but is now a metaphor for the tears that silently cascade down my face from an empty heart left vacant so many years long past.

Driving home at night has become less a commute in the darkness or even an adventure on a wonderful Alaskan road, but a drive through my own heart, each turn and straight-away a focal point on my emotional life.

The land around me has become my guide in life as I trip and stumble my way through the emotional aspects of my existence. How I went from the land being a part of who I am and myself becoming the land around me doesn’t matter, the results equal any other consideration.

I and it are one and feel the same, it knows what I feel and I feel what it knows, silly as it is that is as it is. Lately each time I go out on the trail skiing along, smelling the snow and the cool dry air, the trees shedding last weeks heavy snowfall and the clutter of debris on the trail left behind by an evil wind storm that tore through the region not to long ago I can sense and feel the adjustments being made by natures hand and the soft sigh of the trees around me, resting from another test of their ability to survive and exist, proving worthy to stand amongst the others.

Traveling along the trail was almost a tour through an alien world where the guide was lost and I was left to explore on my own. As time passed I became more confident I felt stronger and more capable as to be able to travel the winter trails and letting my guard down. I never conceived that my physical self was ever in danger or threat, no contemplation what’s so ever. What I wasn’t ready for was the awareness of where I stood emotionally and what it meant to feel something about myself, another, and the world around me. I knew how I felt about the world around me, gliding through the winter kaleidoscope as often as possible, but I didn’t know about what I truly felt about being alone, truly alone.

Filling in the void of emptiness within me with the pursuits of each day hasn’t solved the issue of my emotional position. We think we are fine, that we have survived this or that in our lives and are mentally breaking through and moving on with our live. True as it might be, we are healthy and stable, moving on in our lives to forge forward and grow into a life we know we are ready for.

I can ramble and babble forever about the emotional emptiness left by the loss of a companion or the want to have somebody in our lives, but as we travel the land and trails via ski’s or with a backpack, we search endlessly for that meaningful person that fills in the blanks, answers the questions and makes those trips on the hills more than a futile attempt at self mutilation.

As everything is I am breathing, learning and growing into each day and every new sunrise that chooses to lift its head above the land and allows me to bask in its warmth and brilliance.

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Feb 25 2011

Falling

Trudging out into the black and white sheath of winters night, stepping, slipping, squinting through the fresh shower of snow, so cold and determined.

Futile acts of cleaning and clearing before pulling out and on to the road, a road vaguely familiar and most lost beneath the shrouded dim ghosts that haunt the measured road.

The way of it seems less clear as lights lose their luster upon reflections of deviant impermanence, this place and the trail ahead is no more a path home in as much as it is a battle of will to stay on a chosen aim.

Resistance persists against the tires, dragging the front end down for what seems like forever just to be released and floating aloft above the innocent snow, innocent snow, drifting this way and that until the tires find their purchase.

Innocent snow, such innocent snow how it slowly instills its dominance on the season, retribution for days of dry bone chilling madness. Resistance, a false sense of security, relying on the tires to push through the encroaching blankets of winters motivated arms.

Soft and tranquil, deceptive in its way, floating through the snow until the direction is altered and reality is turned on edge, pushing and shoving, the vehicle is guided by tracks beneath the snow, touches of previous white knuckled fools.

Each turn opens up to a road most foreign but one that has been traveled on for years, nothing is the same any longer, winter has seen to that. One must be conscious of what we dream of, love of a woman and the soft embrace of her full heart, snow lost early in season replaced suddenly and violently on the landscape of my world. A woman’s devotion, winters cold love all intertwined into one sense and one emotion of appreciation, devotion, affection for understanding and expectation and the unexpected.

A new turn and confusion swirls about the head while stealing a view through the veil of snow proliferating the way ahead. So lovely and gentle the snow falls and cascades in a timely fashion on the hills, fields and roads of my wondering mind. Each flake lands in a thud on my mind, on the place I thought deserved such treatment but non the less never committed any act that warranted so much intrusion by mother natures hand.

So gentle the snow falls, so gentle dreams cloud my mind and wistfully go the thoughts and wants of my desires, never saying they were mearly fanciful wants of a romantic lest these wants become the road ahead and snowfall so blinding that each flake becomes a reminder of a fools loss in love and life, so foolish to reflect on those things I wish I could change but will never alter my path. The snow will continue to fall, simple snow and a simpler understanding.

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Feb 24 2011

Upon More Thought

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

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

Along The Trail

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

  

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

  

  

 

 

 

 

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Feb 9 2011

The Cache Creek Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I missed most was an experience. 

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

Normalcy is my worse fear. 

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

I got it. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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