Sep 20 2011

Falling Into Autumn

Like storm clouds drifting on to land from the ocean, once barely visible on the horizon, without warning they have overtaken the
beautiful sky above and darkening the land all around. The Birch trees leaves, in the most subtle of ways have turned from rich greens to a green/yellow and have begun to softly fall from the branches and in a causal manner wattle to the ground. Over the days, the leaves of the high brush cranberries have turned to pinks and reds.

The Autumnal Equinox is gradually approaching and the trees and plants are definitely in full swing to celebrate this amazing time of
year. For years I’ve had an image in my mind’s eye, an image that I wanted to turn into a photograph, but over the years I could never find exactly the image I had in my mind. The image is a composite of a multitude of images I had witnessed while living in Alaska, the trunks of bleached white Birch trees in a forest, a carpet of colors encompass the ground, greens, browns, yellows, and reds. I spent years searching for my image, driving everywhere I thought I could find it but it never came to me.

Until the other day, the other day was nothing special and nothing more than a lazy day off, and a day without plans. Instead of running or hiking I decided to walk my dog up the road from the cabin, the sun was fleeting and the clouds drifted continuously in front of the sun and changed the light at every glance. After about a quarter of a mile I just happened to be looking in the woods across the road when the light changed and I saw this wonderful combination of green’s, yellow’s and pinks. I ran across the road and burrowed through the hip rose vines scratching up my legs without care, and before me stood my image.

There it was, everything I had buried in my mind was completely laid out in front of me, even the Birch Trees had the most wonderful
white trunks that highlight the forest floor. I pulled out my cell phone as fast as I could before the light changed and took four or five images to study, I figured if it looked good on a smart phone, the image would be incredible on film. I stood on the forest just forty feet from the road for maybe ten minutes after taking the pictures, amazed that the picture I’ve imagined all these years was a mere quarter of a mile from my cabin when I have been travelling hundreds of miles indiscriminately for my image. Apparently, if you’ve envisioned something long enough it will, in time make itself visible to you.

Waves of leaves fall from the trees to the ground of the small roads and many trails that weave their way through the woods surrounding
me, I stand on the trail truly stunned by the majesty that has erupted around me. Running the yellow-carpeted trails I can’t help but lose track of my direction on the trail, the leaves distract me with a “Wizard Of Oz” feel that also hide the tree roots beneath their beauty waiting to trip me up. Driving down the road is as close to deadly distraction as I could possibly find, my head swinging from right to left trying to capture as many views as possible out of fear of missing one thing.

This time of year always slows me down a little, bringing me into a much more contemplative awareness about myself, my life, and
the world around me. I often write about the world I live in and how it affects me personally and spiritually and this is no different. As one season diminishes, all the qualities that have defined the beauty of the year ebb into our memories and hearts, we bare witness of the change, and in so being we are altered and reduced to the eyes of children seeing a new season for the first time. Time never allows us enough time to come to grips with the emotions we feel from the impact a season has on us, trying to understand our perception of this world is frankly a waste of time it would seem, as time would soon pass us by in natures brash hurry to move on to the next act.

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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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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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Aug 3 2011

Less Than Ideal

Every summer seems the same to me as I go through the same regime. I get all built up for the running season, the races that come
seemingly every weekend and the extraordinary amount of time work demands of me. I feel as if with the crazy workload from the job and the training I go through for the races I don’t have much time at all for inspiration and flowered writing prose.

Sad it is for me that writing is fundamentally the basis of my sole existence, only in that I am inspired to write for maybe seven months out of the year. During the summer I am in a sense trampled upon by responsibility, the idea of getting out to live becomes an effort in futility.
I think it is a matter of being overwhelmed with activity and work. The running and training compiled with the many hours of work really takes a toll on me mentally and the idea of writing becomes more labor ridden than pleasure.

Now that I think of it, I don’t believe that I am less inspired because it’s summer in as much as it is that the opportunity to get
out on the trail and into nature become fleeting moments of an hour or two here and there. I think it’s very odd that this is the case in summer because I work just as many hours in the winter yet somehow those great adventures are more
available to me then. Still days do come when a simple trot out to the trails becomes a small window of intrigue but not quite an adventure filled
with passion and emotion. Most of the trails around my home are only accessible during the winter since the soil is primarily peat bogs, muddy, wet, uneven muck that leave you gasping for a breath of air. As you battle your way around the many obstacles that at times can slow forward progress to a crawl.

I’m sure that many people feel the same frustration from something they love doing is restricted from them by daily obstacles, and
the frustration they feel that comes from it. This is my world the minute I open my eyes, the need to be out there and being a part of the world around me is an overwhelming sensation and being trapped in a job that has the sole purpose of paying the bills with no intellectual stimulation what’s so ever is maddening. I find that when I am not involved in a high output physical activity I lose the ability for abstract thought. My mind tends to withdraw into a form of mental hibernation to save itself for a more productive time. I spend my time letting my dog Equinox get in on the action, watching him bounce and play as I plod along on the local trails down below my home and across the valley. It’s still a wonderful experience hiking those trails, it’s just getting to the firm soil is a bit arduous.

Trekking over tussocks that survive in a quagmire of peat and mud, bushwhacking through the over-growth until my feet discover firm soil that waits for us across the valley, patients is definitely a necessity in this land I love. I think it is a frame of mind when it comes to the summer for me, so much sun light and hours upon hours to spend outdoors becomes very overwhelming after a bit. These days though the economy has left
me less than capable of going out on more extended adventures, preventing me from seriously doing what I most love, exploring. Oh and my dog ate my expensive sleeping bag and can’t afford to replace it until early winter, also keeps me from strapping on the pack and putting one foot in front of the other.

The worse feeling I have is when I know I should be out running or doing something, but injury or illness is preventing me from going out and getting it done. I always substitute my running with other activities, this being the hiking and local exploring. I have truly felt that not being able to pursue my running during the summer I have really evolved in the knowledge of the world around me. As I delve into the world of all the different forms of mushrooms I am startled and amazed by the unique nature of these strange and necessary fungi.

I live my life by insuring that I live it as full and wondrous as possible. If I can’t be involved in one sport, activity or function I will fill that void with another.
With all that said I can firmly say without any hesitation that winter is three months away and I am counting the days until I will be stepping into
my bindings and slipping down the road to the trail. Most things hibernate in the winter, I begin to breath and to live devouring the world with my hunger.

 

 

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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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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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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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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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