Nov 13 2014

Running the Rich

People pass through places they see all the time viewing the world through the windows of their cars as they drive along the road. More often than not, people rarely stop and explore that amazing land that caught their attention in the first place. It caught my attention as I bid my time and waited for the right time to see a fantasy, a daydream come true. In 2004, I first drove the Richardson Highway to shoot black and white photography of a land that is pushed up against multiple mountain ranges, I was staggered by the immensity and beauty that I had immersed myself. The area was completely obscured by smoke from the worst wildfire season Alaska had ever experienced so I never realized just how incredible the area is. Having returned the next fall, I had a better view of the area, getting amazing photographs of the landscape and still thought very little inclination of how this place could affect me.

First look

At the time I had no thought of running the road, the highway, instead I was more intrigued with hiking the area, and in time I did do that and the only time I savored the area was in passing, heading to further destinations such as Valdez or to drive the Denali Hwy making this place a passing fancy. Ten years later, this place the Donnelly Lakes Region of the Richardson Highway was my destination and running the highway for the almost 5-mile stretch of road was my mission.

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Stepping out of the car and into the warm sun was electric, the normal wind was an afterthought and the clouds evaporated leaving the unspoiled land to dry out and absorb the rays of a sun that is fading slowly into fall. Running along this stretch of highway, I could feel every footfall land silently on the asphalt with every twist and turn of the road. I kept smiling as I travelled along the road even the climbs couldn’t diminish the pleasure and sense of freedom I was feeling inside of me.

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The air is different, things seem simpler, life back there in worker/personal life world doesn’t matter, don’t exist for the moment. The contrast of the black asphalt against the rich green grasses that line the road and fall away to the many ponds and marshes in the area accent the slowly yellowing leaves of the birch tree woods that compete for beauty with the spruce trees.  Feeling the energy of this world creates a newness within myself and evaporates what was, and created a newness that I have craved for a very long time. This place holds a magical key that opens your/my mind to what is possible in the present and in the future. This amazing place, so full of life, beauty and an ability to let me see within myself as my feet fall on the road show me how to see the growth inside me and where I am aimed to be.

The Rich

 

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Sep 1 2011

Poop On A Log

I love the feeling of good soil beneath my feet, the soles of my shoes can transmit every nuance of the ground upon which I step.
Firm but at the same time there is give, subtle and gentle I can feel each step and it’s warming to me like walking through the front door of home after being away for a long while. Walking along one of my favorite trails, favorite not for the run, favorite not for the challenge, and favorite not for the distance, not indeed anything that you might think but favorite for the quality of experience. This trail is magical in its short-lived beauty, it‘s subtle nature and how it shows that it knows that you aren’t really out in the depths of the
wilderness but if you were, if you were this is sort of how it would be.

This soft and well-travelled trail isn’t special or unique, but it is enjoyable all in one, for this place enliven the senses with wonderful woods and musty soil odors. A wonderful abundance of nature shrouds the trail for its singular short length, walking along this trail causes a pause in the mind-set, every turn of the head produces a new image in the mind. I think these feelings brings back memories for me in a place I once knew and once loved, shared with the one person I loved most, both are gone now.

There is a place along the trail that is quite ordinary, a dried up creek with several different channels. This creek is a temporary
waterway, buried beneath the watchful eyes of the birch and black spruce trees. Rose Hips vines, horsetail grass and all other manner of green things living carpet the constricted area. Created by seasonal snowmelt, when the water has no place else to go it follows this temporary stream provided by the forest. There’s energy in there that I can feel, every time I pass be it running, walking or skiing I always come to a moment of pause and glance into that little pocket of awareness. For some unusual reason, when I continue on I always feel refreshed and renewed, ready to see everything in a new light.

Tree roots crisscross the trail and a multitude of different species of mushrooms litter the trails length. I always consider all views and perspective of things I witness in my world, the mushroom has become an odd partner in my experiences, their view(if they had the conception and ability for vision and the intelligence to understand the world around them)interests me. Maybe the view that they have might, in turn help me understand my world and how I view it. Size after all is relative and how I see my world is only a few feet higher
than how my fine little fungi friends perceive their world, again if they could in fact do such a thing.

The micro-world of the vegetative life is amazing in its complexity and diversity, the human race could stand to learn from such an amazing organism. We all live to see our lives progress as successful as possible and regardless of what that progression is surviving to see things through is something all species on this planet share. Life on the trail is no different, for humans, animals or for plant life.

All things positive occur on the trail, nothing negative happens here and as long as I have been travelling this way I have always been greeted by smiling faces and tongue drooping dogs. This trail is like many of other trails in the interior but for me having a trail like this right outside my door changes my perspective of  a certain quality.

Regardless of the season, I find myself returning to this little trail and exploring the birch tree forest that the trail penetrates. Sunlight always finds a way to filter through the branches and leaves of the birch trees, striking the trail at one angle or another leaving a wonderful soft glow on the ground that I now travel. The trail gently guides you to an abrupt pause as you come out of the trees and on to an Alaska Railroad access road (dirt road) and if you run across this barrier, the trail continues for and additional half mile before splintering off in several directions. One of those directions being the winter trail that casually directs you back on to the Dunbar Trail. If you decide to stop at the railroad “road” a fun little trail leads to a wonderful pond always filled with a collection of ducks and a pair of very moody swans.

During the fall, the brilliant yellow leaves of birch trees carpet the trail in an insane version of the yellow brick road. The reds and yellows of fall create an “Alice in Wonderland” type of feel. The amazing feeling I get from travelling on this trail can only be described as if I am crawling from bed on a winters morning and going down to the living room just to be warmed by a wood stove and a hot cup of coffee. The comforts of a warm and comfortable place, the familiarity of home is a sensation felt anywhere that we choose if we spend enough time there.

So here I am entering into the trail that most satisfies my immediate needs and there is a fallen birch tree log, out of this log is growing a mushroom a genus of which I’ve yet to identify, but that isn’t the point of which piqued my curiosity. What most caught my attention on this log, which encompassed a protruding mushroom, was in fact topped with poop and something I would like to have understood. Some creature, quite possibly a fox felt it necessary to leave his “matter” on this lowly log, that just happens to have a lovely mushroom attached to the end of it, hmmmm.

A trail is always nothing more than a trail, a feeling is nothing more than a feeling, and a unique place that can alter our perception
about the reality we live in is a special thing. A special thing is just what I have outside my window, a window that opens up for a view inside of me just as I look out that window to find myself.

 

 

 

 

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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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Sep 19 2010

Running From The Weekend

One of my favorite events to run is the Equinox Marathon, even though I’ve only ran it once I realized what a special race it was. I ran the marathon in 2008 and finished it respectably in a flourish passing some guy with about 200 yards to go in a mad sprint that I later would discover intensified the destruction of the cartilage in my right knee. During the winter I went through the pleasure of treatment including steroids, cortisone injections and physical therapy, this also meant the I wouldn’t be running at all in 2009.

Fortunately I have a fall back, cross-country skiing and that allowed me to still get my sports fix and not think about my lack of running. I spent a year wearing a knee brace and was scared to do anything without it. Finally in early spring of 2010 I tried running again, just a short three-mile jog to see how the knee held up and it was fine, a little sore with a half mile to go but it showed promise. I started running each with a little at a time until I was ready to really train.

Within a couple of months I was able to lose the brace all together and begin racing again. I ran four or five shorter races and for the first time in two years I had the marathon in my sights, but sadly I would fall victim to an awful summer flu bug that would first take me out of a wonderful 16.5 mile trail race and then an 8 mile trail race. The final stroke came when I recovered from the flu and began training again, I succumbed to yet another virus that I contracted from coworkers working sick. I missed a half marathon that I use as  a stepping stool to the marathon and lost out on about three weeks of much-needed training.

That second illness dashed any hopes I had of returning to an incredible race experience and I vowed to myself that I would bury the memory of the marathon deep inside of me, pretending that the race never existed. As the days passed I managed to forget all about the race and went on with my life, until yesterday.

While on the way to the store I passed a large pullout that is along the race course and there were many cars in it, and as I traveled down the road I began to see a runner here and there, flag people, yield to runner signs and people on the side of the road. It finally dawned on me that it was the marathon.

I felt so alone, so left out. I felt like a kid who wanted to go to a friend’s birthday party but was the only one in the neighborhood that wasn’t invited. I felt like I was missing out on something special and I wanted to be a part of it. When I returned from the store I went for a run on a local trail, pretending I was running a portion of the race but about two miles in to the run I caught my foot on a tree root, spun around and strained my back. With each stride came a sharp pain from my pelvis, I was cursed, prohibited from experiencing in any way the feeling and pleasure of running in the race. I tell myself that there is always next year, but in my mind I know that this year was supposed to be the year and it wasn’t.

All I can do now is face the facts that summer is over and with it the end of the racing season. A new tomorrow is coming and with it winter approaches and skiing will dominate my life. So now I’ll put this horrible experience behind me and believe as I have in the last two years that spring is only eight months away and I can set my sights on the marathon once again, maybe next year is the year after all.

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