Apr 4 2011

Wandering Outside

After seven years of existence and living in the land that has become my reality, I have finally been pulled away from everything that is familiar to me. The day was coming and I knew that it was approaching but its startling arrival has thoroughly shocked me creating a numbing sense of disbelief.

Flying above the land I love and staring out across the horizon, the waning sunset has created a ghost like blue-orange crescent above a completely black landscape far below. A star filled night sky sends waves of emptiness and loneliness deep inside my fragile inner self. Locked inside this aircraft for the next seventeen hours was a hell I never thought I would have to ever endure yet there I was staring down at a ground far below that I would be much more comfortable gazing up from.

This place Texas welcomed me with open arms and a heat that stifled me, a humidity cloaked heat that instantly left me seeking anything with air conditioning. I would find out that the temperature outside was only in the mid 70’s, but after six months of living in temperatures below -20 degrees Fahrenheit the 70 degree swing in warmth felt horrific.  As I eventually come to the hotel I breathe a sigh of relief for the security of my room especially after being lost for forty minutes on a twenty minute drive from the airport.

All I could think about was sleep but after thirty-three hours awake I was wired having gained my second wind. I went for a drive and lost again I so too became, but this time I was prepared for the strange land around me. I drove short distances and then returned to roads that I recognized until I was comfortable enough to head out in search of a restaurant that was suggested to me including stupid proof directions. As it happened I was only lost for twenty minutes this time and when I finally found one of my landmark streets I found my way to a place to eat and no it wasn’t the place I had set out for not too long ago.

The hotel seemed so foreign to me then and sleep was difficult at best, now it is a welcome friend each time I return. I laugh at myself from those first couple days of weakness and insecurity given that since then the temperature has been casually rising to the high 80’s in the last few days. Housekeeping doesn’t know what to make of me having the A/C running morning, noon, and night and keeping the room at a comfortable in the mid 50’s.

It’s hard for me to think that everything I love is over 4,000 miles away and my dog is not at my side for the first time in almost six years. Settling in and creating some routine became my mission, normalcy my drive or else I would never calm down and focus on the task at hand. Work was the reason for my Texas trip and the sooner I finished the training assigned to me the sooner I can get home. I began running a path not far from the hotel and being involved with work gently brought me back down to earth and out of the hysteria I was feeling from being so far from everything familiar to me.

It seems as if the universe was conspiring against me and the futility of my existence in this place. First, the inability for me to be able to drive more than three miles in any direction without being helplessly lost and then the second issue, my laptop acquired a virus and the hard drive completely crashed. It took all my savings and a bit of my recent paycheck to cover the cost of this much needed item. The new laptop came at a perfect time when the weather has become very hostile to the pursuits of running, mainly winds with speeds of 30 mph and again temperatures reaching the high 80’s. I know how it seems but living in the desert for thirteen years and with what amounts to endless days of wind, I had grown a healthy distaste for the blasting and blowing beast that waits just outside my door.

Thoughts of home seep into my consciousness whenever I sit idle and only then do I become lost in the thoughts of my best friend Equinox and what he is thinking about regarding my sudden and lengthy absence and how he’s coping without me. I know that as time goes by I will adapt to this place and as routine slowly engulfs me I will feel the need to run away and escape less and less which each coming day.

The woods and hills that surround my home have been replaced by buildings and streets that look identical from one to the next, slowly as I adapt   these things are beginning to be identifiable and I am driving through town with more confidence. Having to replace my laptop also left me without the ability to upload photographs since the software needed to transfer images from my digital camera and cell phone are both in Alaska. For now only words will have to do but I will still take photos and when I return to my home I will edit and upload the pics to the article. All I can do for the time being is slowly expand my education of the surrounding geography and engulf myself in work. I will run when I can run as long as I don’t succumb to heat stroke or dehydration and find pleasure in the more subtle things that peak my need to learn more.

Having returned to the land of high speed commuting, valleys of asphalt, manicured lawns, and predictable retail stores I will breathe as I breathe and live as I live. After all what more can a person ask of themselves?

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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 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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Jan 18 2011

What?

Slipping and sliding along the line of the trail, trees pass by moving gracefully to the rear of my vision. I see the trees pass turning my head occasionally as one branch or the shape of a certain tree catches my eye and stimulates my curiosity just to be lost to my inattentive nature of the time. Nature of the snow prevents the trail to be even, pounded relentlessly by various users mostly the sleds and dogs pulling the musher along, the sleds runners seeking purchase along the lowest point sliding to and fro’ shaping the trail and producing a personality to the way of it. 

Along the way my ski’s slide seemingly uncontrolled this way and that, yet as the way it is the trail guides my ski’s to where they’re suppose to be and not where I want them. I learned early enough not to fight the trail, that cold, hard bitch wins every time. The best I can do is allow myself to be led down the trail like a child held by the hand by mother showing me the right and wrong way of things. 

I can feel my ski’s warping and bending to the contour of the trail, dipping, hitting bumps, turning a corner, bouncing over the frozen defecation of passing sled dogs. All of a sudden I’ve entered a straight flat section of trail, neither climbing nor descending, pure and level. I start gliding longer, I begin kicking harder pushing off with my ski’s, I thrust my poles into the trail violently stabbing the snow with all I can and I am flying along the trail. Everything has gone from recognizable scenery to a tunnel of white and green, the steady forward motion and pleasure outweighs the slowly encroaching fatigue that is just waiting for my mind to consider. 

As swiftly as the high-speed run down the trail began so did the rapid end fall upon me as I change course and turn to follow a new trail with tracks left days ago after a snow. Moose are always present here, a moose cow that inhabits the area has a thing for stomping trespassers that wander into her world so I tread carefully through the next mile of thick Alders and low black spruce. 

The shadow of the hills darkens the valley floor for most of the day until the low laying sun makes its gradual appearance on the horizon and graces the surrounding land with a soft pink orange glow that sends the tops of the hills on fire in a yellow and red blaze. Cooling air from the coming night begins hardening the snow on the trail turning the ice crystals into a friction that feels like sandpaper and slows down the travel. Fresh urine markings dot the side of the trail from animal tracks that lead back into the woods, my dog turns off to follow the donor. Left alone for the time, silence again sweeps the narrow trail clean of all disturbance and falling back into a cadence I drift off in a rhythmic cycle of skiing and breathing, I’ve become more of an addition to the wilderness around me than merely another visitor, I’m more comfortable here now than I ever thought I could. 

Considering my world and the diverse land laid out for me to live out my days I’m never left to wonder what it would be like to be anywhere else…….. 

wait, what was the question? 

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Jan 12 2011

Not All Days Are Equal

Every day on the trail is never quite the same as a previous days experience. Not all days on the trail are filled with magic and youthful romantic thoughts of natural beauty and worldly splendor. Some days are terrible, days meant to be forgotten and gotten over with as soon as possible. It isn’t often that these days or misery come about, but about they do come. 

I remember a day some time back where I was about twelve miles from home and out in the middle of nowhere, I had just broken a pole and was slowed considerably by the absence of that pole. I thought about what it would be like if I had fallen and suffered some catastrophic injury that rendered me helpless on the trail. There I am laying in the snow, maybe slowly dying while my dog who is oblivious to the gravity of the situation bounces off to frolic and roll in the snow.

Not all days are that dreadful, but they are exhausting and I can include today’s ski out past the Fire Plug trail. I started a couple of miles closer by beginning at a road intersection that saved me about twenty minutes one way and though I really enjoy skiing the section I just excluded, I was more interested in what was further out beyond the Fire Plug trail. By the time I had gotten to the intersection at the end of the Fire Plug trail I was forty minutes ahead of my average time at this point. The snow was fast and my cross-country ski’s were squirrelly, slipping left and right and I would have loved to have had edges more than anything. The day wasn’t especially unique or wonderful just an average day actually and the weather was a bit warm being around 4 degrees F above zero.

Today was nothing like the other day while I was skiing on the Cache Creek Loop, now that was amazing, gliding on an amazing trail and sharing the trail with a couple of very considerate dog mushers. That day was special and skijoring back in the indigo light was like traveling into a Salvador Dali painting, mind bending.

Today was a day of work only to include eight or so miles of fanciful exploration that was a true pleasure and the trail was a wonderful continuation of the Fire Plug Trail that made me feel as if I was never there before. But, I was there before, two years ago dragging a forty pound sled behind me and another forty five pounds on my back. The snow was deep with about a foot of fresh snow the going was slow and tedious, I ski’d until I ran into an unbroken trail just past where I had come to rest there today. The snow machine that had broken the trail for me that day had mysteriously changed course across the valley heading towards Standard creek. I was left with over a foot of unbroken snow and I was bushed. I carried on for several more miles before calling it a day and set up my tent to camp on the trail since the weather was a lovely -8 degrees F for a mid March day. That night the temperature fell to around -35 degrees F and I didn’t get any sleep, I had started my cook stove outside and then brought it inside the tent to keep from freezing to death. Fortunately I didn’t burn the tent down that night and at first light I turned tail and returned home some twenty five miles away.

The snow today felt greasy in comparison to that day, slippery and fast and covering the miles were quicker than I have ever thought I was capable of. I was beginning to fade quickly in the shadows of the remaining hills to the south of me and the trail was beginning to ice up as the air was cooling in the late afternoon. I can catch glimpses now and then of Murphy Dome behind me in the distance, the hills that the 14 mile trail follows continue to stalk me across the valley from a safe distance. I can actually see the beginning edge of the Minto Flats still miles away, and those miles are twisting, climbing and wandering making the miles stretch out into forever.

Standing in the middle of the trail on my ski’s only a mile or so from my old camp site with the casual weather amuses me with memories of the last time I was here, I turned around and put Equinox on the tow line and put him to work. Equinox pulled like a king for the next three miles, the first mile is tough with fast descents and grueling ascents constantly turning and twisting, never a flat spot on the trail so I’m being push on the left side or right side of the trail where ever the trail was at a low spot my ski’s follow and for Equinox it’s always a disturbing feeling for him to have what he’s pulling shifting the angle of his pull so erratically.

Equinox finally fell to a trot after about a mile and a half and by the time we were back at the Fire Plug Trail we had saved another five minutes and I took him off line for a well deserved break. I ski’d the Fire plug trail back letting Equinox run free and thus allowing him to recover before I threw him back on line at Saulich for the final leg of the trip. This is the way of it on the long trips, I’ll rest him as much as possible and use him to pull on the flat, straight sections to increase a sustained rate of speed, or we’ll alternate every five miles or so.

I ski’d the four miles of the Fire Plug Trail in twenty five minutes and by the time I hit Saulich I was shot, exhausted more so than I’ve experienced in a long time telling me that I was very close to passing the twenty mile mark for the day and there was about four miles left to go. 

I hooked Equinox back up, switched out my frozen hat and gloves with fresh dry ones and led off for the final leg of the day. Equinox went straight into his trot and didn’t change pace all the way back, I could tell he was tired. I kept catching frozen ruts in the snow, my own ski tracks ironically and my ski’s were trying to roll on to their sides whenever I hit the ruts causing me to start falling one way or another. I would jam the snow with my pole preventing me from falling and also tiring me further, just another long day filled with the normal tumblings. 

During one of my pole stabbing saves I managed to break one of my pole straps and making my life a little bit more complicated. I had to keep my hand gripped tightly on the grip of my pole with a thumb pressing on the top of the pole for every push. The last half mile was awful, skiing uphill with a damaged pole, a dog not able to pull any longer and ducking Alder branches bent nearly to the ground by the weight of snow on the branches. Tunnels of branches cause me to squat to my knees while sliding from one side of the trail to the other, usually the side where all the bent branches are, me rising up just long enough to squat right back down and knock branches out of the way, I was exhausted.

When we finally got to the car and pulled our harnesses off, dropped my day pack and recovered a bit I was able to breathe and think of the day and the warm cabin waiting for me down the road. No not everyday is a magical trip to wonderland but the land is still extraordinary and the events of each day are still an education, an experience to be remembered and treasured.

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Jan 6 2011

Remembering Where I Am

I am exhausted, my arms feel like wet noodles and my legs are wobbling as I stand still. As the sun begins to set I can feel the air begin to cool and my sweat soaked layers of clothing begin to freeze. Standing there I get colder and colder with every minute I’m idle, but I need to rest for a minute I’ve got quite a bit left to go.

The trail is darkening and the trees and woods become more mysterious, each stretched out shadow could be a sinister creature ready to devour me if I wanted to let my imagination have it’s way with me. I’m on the Fire Plug Trail about ten miles from home and somehow I managed to ski out twenty minutes faster than I ever have in the past. With the extra effort put in to the fast travel time I’ve left myself overly fatigued for the trip back, but as I stand there at the intersection of the Fire Plug Trail and a dog mushing trail I get a moment to consider my place in things. Staring down the dog mushing trail I get to let my mind wander and think about how this trail leads another twenty two miles to the edge of the Minto Flats and the great Tanana River. Just down this trail is Nenana fifty miles southwest, and the Tolovana Roadhouse once in heavy use by river goers traveling up and down the river during the gold rush. Dog mushers delivering mail would run the trail out of Nenana and run through dropping mail to villages along the way, stopping at the roadhouse to rest the dogs before the next journey to Manley Hot springs another fifty miles away. From there the musher would travel what became known as the mail route to the village of Tanana and then lead out to Nome five hundred miles away from here. This trail is now known as the Iditarod dog mushing trail and the annual race is the biggest attraction on the trail.

For me on this day, this is as far as I go, there won’t be any exploring for me as I put on my ski poles and try to shake some warmth into my arms. Heading home I can barely believe how beautiful this trail is, how it is in a constant state of change and motion without ever moving. The land changes continuously as I go from a forest of black spruce trees and then suddenly thrust into a grove of massive birch trees.

Traveling under the trees creates a little problem as a results of warm weather that passed through the area recently. The warm weather caused all the snow to melt out of the trees and the water to fall on the trail. This transition causes ice to form on the trail with the texture of a cheese grader and every time I ski under a tree there is the experience of a rough grinding sound and I’m nearly brought to an immediate stop but I continue to push through thus tiring me more each time. You learn to use a technique to reduce hitting the ice by lifting one ski or the other to avoid the ice and it helps a bit. The trail has very few straight portions and is predominantly a constant twisting, turning, rising and falling wonderland and a vigilant eye will keep you from flying off trial into deep snow and even possibly an impact with a firm tree. Equinox gallops ahead of me and keeps an eye on me, not letting me get to far back as each mile wears on me at an exhausting rate.

After a couple more miles I get to the gorge, a thirty foot deep miniature canyon created by the Goldstream creek over the years. The gorge is about a thousand feet long and usually is farely easy to transition through but occasionally overflow ice and cracks can impede travel through this feature. Dropping in and exiting out of the gorge is and can be an exhilarating experience, and being only a half mile from Saulich, a lovely end to the Fire Plug Trail adventure.

In Saulich it’s a five mile ski on the Dunbar Trail back to the cabin and had become dark enough for me to turn on my headlamp. I was so tired after skiing the last fifteen miles and including all the climbing involved with heading out on the Fire Plug trail I was definitely feeling it so I hooked Equinox up on the toe line and let Equinox help get me home.

I had not let him do any pulling so far to save his strength for just this reason, I was bushed. Equinox started out just as he usually does taking off like a bat out of hell for the next half of a mile and after a fashion faded back down to his typical stroll. With Equinox picking up the slack for me when I miss a pole plant or have a slight climb here or there I was able to conserve some strength and actually recover a bit.

I thought about the days events on the trail and the joy I feel with being so far out away from everything and a world that I can’t get enough of. The final five miles reminded me that this was where I am meant to be, the sun just falling behind the horizon, leaving an orange hue along the tops of the hills and a crisp glow in the air above my head. I fall back from time to time believing that I sacrificed so many other opportunities to live here, jobs, comfort, love. A day on the trail away from the rest of my world opens my mind and reminds me of what is important and that there is no sacrifice when it comes to some one or some place you really love.

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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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