Nov 28 2016

Returning to the Desert

The plan was to fly into Salt Lake City, rent a car and then drive down to Moab, Utah for a few days to take in the sites while running the Dead Horse Ultra 50k.  I was going to car camp while there, cooking camp food and living as sparsely as possible since I was truly broke and the only saving grace for me was a couple of credit cards that still had a bit left on them. I was meeting a friend there that had years more experience running ultras, huge 100 mile ultras and I was looking forward to the shared experience we would have.

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Upon arriving in Moab my plan quickly began to fade, it’s cold in the desert! The steady wind made it feel even more cold and the idea of sleeping in the rental while trying to keep warm and actually enjoy the experience while it’s in the 20’s overnight really started to look like a terrible idea. Over a couple of beers we ended up agreeing to share a hotel room and I was so happy to have a warm room and comfy bed to crawl into after spending the last twenty hours travelling to this desert oasis.

The next day was warmer and sunny as we headed off to Arches National Park to take in some light trail running as a warm up for the trail race the next day. The day ended up being a tour de force of running to as many arches  without exceeding the planned mileage of the day. We cruised in to Delicate Arch and enjoyed the views with about 30 of our closest friends that we have never met, friendly strangers. The sun was warm, the air was still and the views were breath taking. Running out I was bouncing around like a person without a care in the world forgetting the 50k trail race I had bright and early the next morning.20161118_110158

 

Having returned to the parking lot we were jazzed to hit the next place, the Devils Garden and its multitude of arches. We planned on running in to the Double O Arch but the mileage would be too much considering the race in the morning and the need for fresh legs to get us through our respective races, so we settled on hitting a trio of arches, Landscape Arch, Partition Arch and Navajo Arch. Running through this amazing  environment was mind bending in its amazing beauty, even the incredible cold wind couldn’t take the smiles from our faces.

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Driving through the park we kept stopping to check out every little place including Sand Dune Arch, Salt Valley Overlook and The Windows Section with Turret Arch and the North and South Windows. It was early evening by the time we left the park, hungry and thirsty we needed to hit town and call it an early day as we needed to be up at 4:30 in the morning to get to our races on time. Eating dinner at what was becoming our favorite spot to eat, the Moab Brewery we decided to grab another hotel room so we could get a good nights sleep before our races and as it went I then concluded that there was no way I wanted  to sleep in the back of an SUV, trying to recover from a 50k trail race, logic overcame budget and that was that.20161118_123819

The morning came way to quickly and 4:00am was very unwelcome but we had races to run and fun to have! Running through the desert is mind bending and surreal, it felt as if I was becoming a part of the landscape around me. The race was almost secondary to my need to just exist in this moment and savor the incredible world around me. I won’t go into detail about the race, that’s another story all together but it was an incredible life changing experience for me and as I sit here writing this I can think of only getting back out to the desert and wind my way through the desert, just myself and a pair of shoes.20161119_082206

After our races we returned to the hotel, took showers and collected ourselves both chatting about our individual experiences and the way we felt about our performances before heading back in to town for dinner and relaxation. Tomorrow was our last day in Moab, she was heading back to Montana and I would begin the arduous journey back to Alaska so we wanted to make the best of the first half of the day. We decided the best way to end the trip was the way it began and when we first met up here three days ago, we decided to hit the two big parks, Arches and Canyonlands during the visit. With Arches done Canyonlands was next on the list so in the morning we ate breakfast at the EKsentric Café, comedy of its own as we waddled around on stiff legs that haven’t recovered quite yet from racing and running into other runners who were suffering from the same fate. 20161118_124533

The drive south took only about 45 minutes and even in the subdued, overcast skies Canyonlands was spectacular, the vast openness, amazing cliffs and rock formations  were incredible and getting in the scenery around us was nearly impossible without pulling over and staring at the world rather than driving through snapping pictures on the go. We hiked very little, giving our fatigued legs a break and honestly I don’t think I was capable of any extended hiking at all giving the exhausted conditions of my legs anyway. Stopping at the Needles Visitor Center we picked up a map and headed out for the remainder of the road to see what we could see in the limited time we had.

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Stopping at the Pothole Overlook we got a short half mile walk in and were treated to incredible views of the canyon around us, it was a perfect way to spend the day. After visiting the turnout at the end of the road which also included some light walking around it was time to get back in the car and head back to Moab. Driving out of the park was just as surreal as it was driving in and I thought it was funny that I believed that after seeing everything I could see on the drive in that during the drive out everything might lose its unique quality but it didn’t, everything was just as magical the second time around.20161120_111857

Back in Moab we packed up all of our gear, threw everything in our cars, hugged each other goodbye and wished each other the best , getting in our cars we drove down the highway, each in a different direction.  Later in the evening as I was sitting in my hotel room in downtown Salt Lake City I was able to take a breath and reflect on what I have experienced over the last four days, nothing was lost on me as the whole visit and everything that took place really left a mark on me emotionally as well as mentally. There was a time I thought that Alaska was my home for the rest of my life, now I’m not to sure about that but I am sure of one thing and that is that ultramarathons are not just something I am doing now and then, they are becoming more of who I am than anything else and the need to continue it is completely overwhelming.

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I’m learning as I grow, yes I am pretty old to think like that but no matter what age we are at in life, the opportunity to grow and excel continues to drive us and this was a new drive I have been longing for. A new devotion has set in for me and the love for this new world has absorbed every ounce of my being, What this revelation will mean for me is difficult to say, could I be moving in the near future? Possibly, but for right now as I sit here at my table staring out the window and watching it snow, I know that this place, like myself is temporary and there comes a time when you know that you’ve worn out your welcome, for me that time is coming very soon.

 

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May 27 2013

Alone With A Stranger

Something has changed and I could feel it before even opening my eyes. There was energy in the air, like static electricity and it was everywhere. Winter has been clinging to every particle of soil in an attempt to maintain its grip on the landscape even snowing for the last few days, but this was April and something new was taking place. Normally this time of year I find myself slowly putting my ski equipment away, packing away all the cold weather clothing and reflectively watch the snow melt and recede into my memory.

This month nothing is going in the direction that we are accustomed to, it’s continuing to snow and the temperatures have remained slightly chilly this spring. Soil would begin to appear beneath the trees in the woods, the sun warms the landscape just before clouds silently slip over the horizon engulfing the skies and the snow gently falls on the melting snow blanketing the rotten old snow in a fresh, healthy shade of white. The snow continues to fall and the air remains colder than normal frustrating all of us who are itching to see springs arrival.

Falling Snow Early Spring

Willing winter to disappear and bringing forth the birth of an overdue spring isn’t doing it, as the seasons really don’t listen to us humans with our pathetic miniscule and selfish needs. The seasons move along at their own lazy pace, deciding for themselves when they are ready to move on. Impatiently, we struggle to fight off the urge to give in and pull the equipment back out of the closet to hit the trails for what could be one final ski of the year. Experience has proved that letting the season pass, quietly remembering the last wonderful ski trip with all its amazing memories is a far better way to move on to spring than heading out on this horrible snow. Floundering in the soft, melting crud that offers no purchase to my kick wax would only prove to be a futile attempt at reliving that same great day I last experienced on the trail.

Late Spring Snow

Late winter, early spring the snow continues to fall. Nowhere is any dark soil to be found, this winter that refuses to fade away relentlessly dumps more snow each day driving fear into our hearts that spring may never come. Even now with all this fresh snow it just isn’t worth pulling out my ski’s, this wet powder only covers the chopped up cruddy ice that lays just beneath it and would give way to the trash beneath at the hint of any weight. Staring out the window or standing on the porch, I watch this stranger whom I’ve never met maintain a stranglehold on my world. I’m over it, I want winter to end, the soil to dry up, the leaves to unfold on the trees, and the flowers to bloom.

The end of April comes and goes but the snow stays, weighing down branches in the trees, weighing down the thoughts in my mind. Never mind that the temperature has risen to just above freezing, the snow continues to fall. To what end this season will come is anybody’s guess, the strangeness of the season is so foreign to us all. Alone I sit and wait for this madness to subside and anticipate the return of a more rational spring to step in and push aside this craziness that consumes my life for the time being. In time, the snow will melt leaving the land to itself once again. The soil will dry and the clouds will fade away to a strengthening sun. The mosquitos will return and annoy all in this land while we duck, swat and wave at invisible and imagined insects that are seemingly constantly attacking our heads. The trees will turn green and the flowers will bloom, spring will arrive and the world will be right. Time will pass and we will forget what it felt like to go through the experience of winter’s intrusion into our spring, shortening our summer and erasing our perception of what was once a predictable change of season. Alaska just reminded us that though we know what to expect from this land we must always remember that everything is subject to change.

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Jan 29 2012

Finding Myself

As time has gone by and I through time, I’ve looked inward to myself and the person I have transitioned into. Having spent these last few years engrossed in the advancement of my experiences on the trail, I have learned a great deal about the land about me, and even more about myself. More people think I’m crazy than those that understand my devotion to the world I live in. For those that can’t comprehend why I love the trails and allow myself to “suffer” as it were on those freezing winter trails, I try to show them in the pictures or videos I take.

Certain forms of contemplation confront me during the mid-winter; trails I am travelling on aren’t just winter trails to me as they have been in the past. I know what these trails look like in the summer; I know what is living beneath the snow. Now and not as before I think about the floral and fungal life still living beneath the snow that I am enjoying, the plants are hibernating and are completely healthy but I can’t help wonder what will come of this six-month sleep the life below the snow is in.

I have only been skiing half as much as I usually do this winter; the responsibilities of life have been pushed to the front of my time against my will. I am spending more time just walking the trails, mostly at night with Equinox bounding away out of the view of my headlamp. However, not being able to ski every day as I love to do hasn’t really hurt me as I thought it might. In previous winters I have ski’d every day humanly possible and even some days that most humans would shut their door to and cuddle up to a warm fire.

Only one thing bothers me when I go out to ski when it reached temperatures below -20 degrees, the snow is unbearably slow. I can handle the cold air with clothing, with gear that covers my face and anything that is exposed to the severe cold, but the colder it gets the dryer the snow becomes. When the temperature drops below -20 degrees the snow becomes very course and ski’s lose their glide and a ski trip out on the trail essentially becomes a walk on ski’s.

Now when the temperature drops to cooler temperatures I just go for a walk, skiing would be slower anyway. I feel impatient at times with this slow mode of movement through a world that I usually kick and glide. The wilderness along the trails don’t care how I travel and neither does my spirit, I am a part of the world there knowing that I have that connection changes my entire outlook on the world around me.

I was skiing the other day, videotaping a moment on the trail to share with people who want to see the world as I do, well I was standing in the middle of a lengthy bit of overflow ice, walking along talking about the area and the ice conditions when my ski boots finally slipped on the ice and I fell to the ice. There I was laying on the ice in the middle of the trail a mile and a half from anywhere with my gear flung about with reckless abandon, me laughing my butt off at myself for looking like such a fool. A thought came to mind, what a moose hiding in the bushes might think of humans as that moose watched me flounder about the ice just to roll around creating that irritating noise.

We judge quality of life, success in life by material gain in a human society. The wilderness see’s success as surviving to see tomorrow, taking advantage of every moment that presents itself and appreciating the world around me knowing that this is a special place. Successful living for me is finding a place I love and living in that place, experiencing the world in a natural way, not controlled by social pressure. However, that is something that anybody that has a bad job doesn’t need to be preached to.

It, the whole of every aspect of the wilderness experience is everything that creates a specific quality in my life. The quality of appreciation is about understanding how life works, how we no longer are allowed to exist in nature because of what we have done to it. Being allowed to appreciate the natural world to feel it in your heart and breathing it in with every beat is a gift very few are allowed. Wandering the trails unhindered is a level of acceptance that even less understands, those that do aren’t sitting here typing on a laptop.

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Dec 18 2011

White Mountains

Frustration has been clouding my mind these past few weeks with a total inability to conceive a single abstract thought to put down on paper. I have had wonderful days exploring my world on my ski’s with Equinox beside me to share the experience, adventures everyday but not even the smallest word refused to erupt from my mind to help me explain the world around me, the experience I envelope myself with, what it does and means to me. These past few weeks, almost a month now have been a nightmare of infertility.

I venture out daily in pursuit of inspiration to put pen to paper, after hours of skiing on the trail, exhausted and stunned I couldn’t bring to words the images and environment I’ve just been witness. Today on this winters Solstice I travelled to the White Mountains to ski in to a place known as “Lee’s Cabin”. It is a mild seven mile ski in, but the views and the world around you are stunning, this being only the second time I will have ski’d in to the cabin the experience is fresh and new like the ski above that had been hidden from me for the last couple weeks.

The wonderfully soft glow of the afternoon sun sits low on the horizon its light filtering through the twisted, and warped snow-covered black spruce trees. The snow glowed from the low angle of the sun’s light and it seemed even the shadows refuse to be left out from the gentle and warm gift, myself absorbing every ray of light into my heart and mind. The world around me is two worlds living in tandem, the land around is silent and still, as lifeless as any world could possibly be in the dead of winter yet this place lives.

Animals tracks are everywhere, squirrels, shrews, snowshoe hare, red fox, moose, tracks ramble and flit from one way to the next always it seemed a hurry but the moose and fox tend to step with purpose, relevance, thought. The trees watch me, study me, wondering, considering me, coming to mind of whether I am a friend or foe, a lover of this world treating it with respect, or am I a user of the world inconsiderate of the this magical place.

The snow crunches and gives beneath my ski’s as I glide within and through the wilderness about me. The first couple of miles has a grueling climb followed by a wonderful decent that is followed by a fabulous casual ski up to the first knob just four miles or so in to the trail. The view from that sheepish knob provides a wonderful view of the trail ahead and the land that has enveloped me. Soft descending through a dazzling forest of spruce lead to a very stressful climb to the high point of the day, almost five miles in. The climb isn’t so brutal in its sheer steepness as such, but the length tends to weigh heavy on the shoulders after a spell.

The wilderness falls away in only the way a romantic could perceive it, mountains hug the horizon to the north, the Wickersham Dome looms in the distance behind me, and the White Mountains Recreation area falls away before me. We lead off and glide down the wonderful heart lifting decent down the backside of the hill and before I knew it I had arrived at the junction the forks off to the Wickersham Creek Trail to the left and Lee’s Cabin to the right. We had been following two other skiers’ tracks for the whole day, and now those tracks turned and angle to the cabin as well. For not being one to intrude on some bodies privacy and wilderness experience, we called it a day at the sign that directs you one hundred yards up to the cabin itself.

Light has receded as an afterthought, and my headlamp has found its use to my need. The light was just enough to guide the way but the detail of the trail is lost in the increasing darkness that closes in on my shoulders. My dog and I laugh and play on the long and fast descent, trees flashing past; the snow beneath me has become more of a blur of white than a plain of substance. With each enlightening descent brought with it an ever-increasing onset of fatigue as the next climb would wear me down and the miles bore into more and more.

Equinox was on-line pulling and we skijored our way up the last few miles to return to the trailhead when at last we finally ran into people heading in on their snow machines. They moved off to the side yielding to the dog and I and we swiftly glided past with a hardy wave of hands and smiles gleaming in the darkness. Friends of the trail without ever having truly spoken, but with the like understanding of how special the world is we live in and the need to be there drives us.

 

 

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Nov 8 2011

Questions

I want to know why winter affects me the way it does, how it has such a controlling grasp on every sense of my being. The first dusting
of snow is an alarm clock waking me up from a summer’s sleep, no matter where I am, I can’t stop staring out the window. Just as autumn has dazzled me with its brilliance fall came along and depressed my thoughts, my imagination, my internal eye, everything. The snow falls and finally sticks to the earth, the sun is rising less and less each day and the color palate is becoming more refined, pure and distinct.

During the summer, I can’t stop staring down to the ground, all consumed by the wonderful life successfully growing and living on the forest floor. The fungi, lichen, mosses, tiny little freaky flowers that litter the tundra on the barren hills of my world fascinate me, and identifying each and every one of them is intoxicating. As winter dawns, the snow falls, all the land and plants I treasure have been locked up for the unforeseeable future and all I can think about is when the next snow fall will occur and how long it will take for the snow to accumulate and fill in the trails making them accessible for me to ski and explore.

For reasons unknown to me, I always feel a sense of urgency when I travel on the trails during winter. Not in such a way that I need to
hurry because the day is short, or I’m getting tired, maybe low on water, or I’m soaked through from sweat and it’s getting cold out. No, it’s something outside of the typical and ordinary sense, in fact something non-physical all together. Out on the trail that sense of urgency is more of a drive that burrows into the inner self of my being. Here is a drive with a voice that speaks to me quite often, and most times is but a whisper, a whisper in my ear: “pick up the pace, you need to see what just past these trees and around that corner”.

Every time I get through those trees, every time I get around that corner I see the trail meander off into the distance and through more trees or climbing up the hillside and around the next corner. Every time I reach that place that only I can hear, that voice of urgency calls on me to continue on before it’s all gone. Dreams constantly interrupt my daily goings, fantasies of deep snow packs, trees heavily laden with snow, the frigid air still and creating a canvas of colors and imagery with every turn of the trail. Every place that the woods would relent and the valley view is exposed allowing me a picture of the wide spaces that I crave for.

The season between seasons offers none of the romance that I can find during the winters season. This place between fall and winter,
a place with no name is cruel, and un-imaginative. From summer to fall there is autumn with its amazing colors, temperate weather and reflective air of transformation. What grasp has winter woven into my being? What is it that makes winter such a core of my inner self that I can’t comprehend a life without it?

I have the questions, the understanding to consider my reality, the intelligence to know that though this season can be ugly, cold, cruel, and that I will experience weeks of uninterrupted darkness and a cold that will keep me locked up in my cabin. Winter can and will beat itself upon my bones and will, but I still drive to be out there, less people walk outsides and fewer will wander past their car doors from the house door.

I’ll be left in the kitchen with the rug rolled up in the corner, my ski’s laying over a couple of shop horses. I’m pacing back and forth from the ski’s to the ski supply box attempting to determine with wax combination will create the best glide and survive the longest in the -20 air and snow with the consistency of sand. Choosing the right kick wax will be the difference between secure forward propulsion and flailing mercilessly out in the middle of nowhere.

Winter grips my heart, tearing away the fabric of everything that I think I am. Just when I think I understand how I am adapting to the why’s and how’s of what winter does to me, everything bites me in the butt. The winters are beginning later and later every year, the snowfall is less and less every year, and winter is warmer and warmer every year. I live in the moment of the season and love what I have, having less of the year makes it more special to me than not having it at all, I am what is around me and what is around me is all that I can be.

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Oct 23 2011

A Sense Of Winter

I went for a short hike across the valley today, sunny but cool it seemed like a fine day to for me to wander out on the trails.
Trails that wander across the valley are very a way of wet bog like conditions, something not less than testing during the summer have become quite solid and freezing with the coming season encroaching from the distance. Across the valley, the air is becoming much more silent, and thickening with the retreat of living things. With winter yet more than a month away the stillness and peace that winter brings is becoming more noticeable these last few days.

As the land begins to prepare to hibernate for the coming months ahead, everything around me is going to sleep, pulling the covers over
their heads for a six month nap. I feel a stirring inside myself that is quickly awakening, like a slumbering grizzly shaking off the uneasy tiredness of a long sleep. I recognize a new energy growing within myself, a sense of oneness of my-self and the land about me. Jumping around the black spruce trees and foraging about the lichens and mosses that have become frozen monuments to a late season bloom I sense the change that is looming on the horizon.

All of the sloughs and ponds have a thin shell of ice forming on the surface; it is funny that it wasn’t there yesterday. The land during the summer is bloated and lazy without care of need; everything necessary to live has overgrown the very land it feeds. The shrinking land has atrophied and degenerated to the meekest of nature’s true character, I have to travel into special places to feel as if the world around me is still alive and well. The trails most near to me offer very little for living things, the views are less than tedious.

Snow teases the land, casually covering the soil with a sheet of white that quickly melts off by mid-day. A taste and smell of snow energizes me in ways that don’t seem familiar to me, every winter I am becoming more and more hungry for the cold, the shorter days and the incredible trails. I run on the trails every chance I get especially with the little bit of temporary snow that has settled on the ground. Being active on the trails, running as it is this time of year connects me to the land in such a way that the activity is merely an excuse to head out on the trails in the first place. Even as the light short-lived snow survives, the character of the dormant world around me stands up seemingly welcoming the inevitable season soon to come. The season is always in transition, blink and the world around me has transformed completely.

All the signs of what awaits for tomorrow is evolving quickly and I can’t keep up. A splattering of snow covers the ground for a small time before melting away into the soil, and yet days later and just as I had begun the give up hope, in the middle of October the snow arrives furious and vengeful taking over the landscape. The snow smothers the soil with only a couple of inches of cover but suffocates the world with its weight, the land suddenly collapsed upon itself instinctually realizing who the new master is.

The air cools rapidly, the grasses collapse and the trees sleep, all attempting to catch up with the late arrival of winter. Times are changing, the world is evolving and the seasons can’t be trusted to act as predictably as they have in the past. Winter is beginning later every year, the temperature has warmed significantly over the last seven years that I’ve lived here. In years past, we would regularly see the temperature drop to -50 degrees Fahrenheit and occasionally down to -60 here and there, but recently in the last couple of years we haven’t seen temperatures below -48 degrees.

Snowfall has decreased significantly and if we see a couple of feet of snow all year, we will be lucky. As climate change continues on the
land attempts to evolve and adapt to the nature of the seasons baring witness to this amazing world is my goal, living in it is my dream, and being a part of the season is what I am.

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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 25 2011

Wandering Around

It began as a three day get-away from work, from town, from the daily grind that I‘ve been going through over the past year. As a coincidence
this three day escape just happened to fall on my birthday and just to make everything interesting I am also sick with some kind of flu-like bug thing. The plan was to run away, well drive away down to the Donnelly Dome region that lays just past Delta Junction Alaska and just before the great Alaska Mountain Range. The goal was to camp out for a few days, hike into amazing areas and photograph the way I’m meant to photograph, but this isn’t what transpired.

Waking up in the morning it became readily apparent that I wouldn’t be camping for three days, I felt like total crap. However, feeling like crap never kept me from a good drive and a good drive is definitely something I was craving.  The weather has been, and is quite uncooperative coming home with a successful day of photography would be iffy at best. Driving out of town and getting on the highway instantly relaxed me and the idea of not seeing town for the day felt so good. Once I arrived at Birch Lake the world melted away, I’ve always loved relaxing at this rest stop and watching Equinox swim in the water amongst the massive lily pads.

All week the rain has been falling seemingly non-stop, clouds trapping the days and nights from expressing their true selves. Today the clouds parted, they gently drifted apart in massive clumps of grey and white behemoths of floating demigods, staying back and seemingly retreating
from my advance. Driving into Delta Junction is always a breath of fresh air, so wonderfully laid back and simple. Delta junction isn’t simple in mind in as much as it is in lifestyle, kind of a throwback to a much better time. This town is so similar to an old west town by way of structure, the majority of the town is down one strip of road the highway, and you get the same feeling of arriving here.

The Donnelly Dome region was a quagmire of sharp light and fierce walls of rain that cascade down from the micro cells of storms that have escaped from the grasp of the brooding mass that is the wall of the Alaskan Mountain Range. Fall has come here faster than I thought, the leaves
are changing very quickly and the grass and bear berries have all turned to yellows and reds. Entering the great Alaska Mountain Range I always feel very small, insignificant at best. On the right and across the river is the Alaska Mountain Range jutting straight out of the ground, and on the left side of the road is the wonderful Delta Mountain Range smaller in stature but just as incredible. Rivers flow down from the mountains; melt off from the many glaciers high above, glaciers like the Castner glacier, such things that cause the blood to boil in any person’s body that houses an ounce of adventurous spirit.

It seemed as if nature herself was attempting to thwart any chance of shooting a single quality photograph. As I drive along the highway I come upon something I want to photograph, something beautiful and temporary. I love the light and as I get ready to pull around and find a spot to park it begins to rain, it clouds over and kills the light I was enjoying just a blink ago. I decided to just drive and wait out the sun, raining here
and sharp sun between the clouds blind and darken the world around me. My best pictures are the ones I quickly take on my cell phone. A stop at Summit Lake gives me a pause as my buddy Equinox runs down to the water to taste the crystal clear water. It’s sprinkling and a wall of water is waiting for me, stationary with my moment of pause.

There’s something about the smell of a lake in the mountains while It’s raining it finds itself inside you and becomes a part of you almost in as much as you become a part of the world around you. With a now self-reflective mood Equinox and I board the car and shove off chasing the
clouds. Paxon explodes on us very quickly, one turn and there you are just in time to make a very sharp right on to the Denali Highway. Today we are not going to drive through the highway, even though that would be wonderful since it is my favorite road trip in Alaska. Today the goal was to get within a few miles of the Tangle Lakes Region, just close enough the see the McClarren Glacier and the amazing land that I’ve pulled in close to me like a soft and comfortable blanket.

This land feel both ancient and new all at once, the world is stretched out everywhere I looked. The land finally relented and the sun exposes the world around me for a brief moment, a moment that was stunning. I was staring at the McClarren Glacier far off in the distance, a lake fills in
the fore ground and the land has fallen away from my feet. A moment of clarity surrounds me and I take a quick picture with the cell just as it starts raining again.

Brief moments of amazing splendor, brief moments of dazzling light and land have reminded me how special this land is. The drive back felt almost busy, the sky had closed in and the rain was constant. The light had flattened out, the wind was picking up my day of photography was
over. Places that I knew that were great locations for shooting were now wind-washed and covered in the darkness of the clouds. The world is ever changing in front of me, one moment the world is calm and at piece then I see a stream with a light twist through the soft hills, the color of fall hangs over its banks succumbing to the balance of the season. I slow to a crawl, and then the winds come and the rain drips slowly into my vision, poignant moments flooded by a reality I can’t control.

Returning to the Donnelly Dome Region the light was very sharp and fleeting as the clouds jockey for position in the evening sky. Pulling into the little space on the side of the road I strapped on my hand gun and loaded the pack for the hike in to Donnelly Lake, the light is changing and the clouds have pulled back. It seemed like a small island of light between the mountains and off to the north to Delta junction have opened up and with it a small window has also opened up to allow me a moment to photograph a brief bit of the world I see.

I was able to get a single frame of film that offered a view of my world, with it dark, grey clouds hang back in the distance, waiting patiently for me to close the shutter and put my camera away. I hiked around a small spot of the lake in the sharp light that would be here one moment and then all the light is gone the next. I fired off a few more frames of film and packed up, moving on back out to the car and the road. Hiking out was a pleasure, calm and serein a storm in the waiting and waiting for me to get my butt off the trail. As I hit the trailhead the first drops of rain begin to fall and quickly I load up the pack, unload the hand gun and get Equinox to jump back into the car. The rain falls as if it had been held back for a lifetime and the drive is narrowed to what is visible between two lines. Driving home I thought about this day trip, sadly short and terribly difficult to locate a time to shoot. It was a great time and a great escape from, my world of work and sleep, mindless droning of going to work,
doing the time and returning to my home to breath.

Breathing, existing, satisfied about my life, this place is a double edged sword. I live exactly where I am supposed to be doing things that I am meant to do but with it comes pay back. Work buries its ugly head into my world, not unlike a lot of people in this world. Life is out there waiting for me to explore and it is there for me to discover my role in it, a role I am slowly adjusting to. The land about me is begging me to introduce myself but at the same time it protects itself from me, I get a bit close and nature recoils but if I don’t commit enough the land begs me on. This place contradicts everything I thought I understood but I learn that how I see this land and just how much I devote myself to this world determines how welcome I am.

 

 

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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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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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