Friday, April 17, 2009

The Commute...

I just stood in my driveway and listened to the foreign sound. It had been months since I had heard it -- the incessant dripping of water running down the rain gutter at the corner of my house. My first emotion was panic. This was it. An entire winters worth of snow was gradually beginning its demise. I wasn't ready for my early morning ritual of skiing to work to come an end. Or the the weekend trips gliding across the snow with my friends. But then I remained still and concentrated on the rhythmic nature of the sound. This was the prenatal voice of summer. At that point a very subtle ripple of excitement came over me as I thought about the endless daylight, birds singing through the night, tundra crunching under my feet, the rumble of thunder across the valley, the fragerance of wild roses in the warm June air.

As I look back at the past 6 months, perhaps some of my fondest memories of the winter were collected during my daily commute to work. A simple trip on a network of groomed trails that extend from my neighborhood to the University. There were no big mountains to traverse or challenging terrain to contend with. Only the conical world that existed just within the beam of my headlamp, the crispness of the arctic air, the cold squeeky snow, the northern lights exploding across the sky, or the occasional moose that blocked my path.
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Music - "Litter Bin" by Grand National

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring on the Quest Trail

Brian hauls ass down Rosebud Summit on the Yukon Quest trail

The Yukon Quest sled dog race took place almost two months ago. Since then there have been several heavy snow and strong wind storms that slammed the portion of route just northeast of Fairbanks. I figured that any remnants of a trail may have been completely obliterated by the active weather back in March. Brian and I decided to gamble and attempt to ski the section that traverses across the uplands between the Steese Hwy and Chena Hot Springs. We found an absolutely stellar snowmachine trail linking the two roadways.

The unassuming 35-mile stretch between the Steese Hwy and Chena Hot Springs Rd is often overshadowed by the treacherous conditions encountered over Eagle Summit. But this segement is also notoriously known for horrendous winds and snow conditions as the trail climbs Rosebud and Boulder summits. The trail has some gnarly descents and steep pitched climbs, ice patches, and wind scoured tundra - which all pose major challenges for a dog team.

Dea is back in action with her new kidney! She is peeing like crazy now and looks healthier than ever since she is no longer undergoing dialysis 3-times a week. She and Ben shuttled us out to the trailhead on the Steese Hwy. This gave her the opportunity to do her first out of town ski since the transplant.

Brian and Jose ski down the Birch Creek valley.

Brian and I are all smiles. I forgot how easy skiing can be when the trail is nice and the weather is warm.

Leftover patches of sastrugi on Boulder Summit are a reminder that this is a harsh, wind-swept environment for most of the winter. A lonely piece of lath marking the remains of the Yukon Quest trail is barely visible.

Brian descends into Boulder Cr...which form part of the headwaters of the Chena River.

A continuous accumulation of overflow ice during the winter had completely innundated portions of the Boulder Creek drainage. This made for bullet-fast skiing.