Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rainy Pass to Farewell Lake.

You know it's gonna be a good day when you wake up to this:
Obviously bluebird even in the pre-dawn gloom, and it only got better and better all day. In retrospect this day featured some of the highest highs of the trip.
After extricating myself from the disgustingly comfy confines of the tent, I did something that in 10+ years of Idita-travel I'd never even considered: I hiked away from the bike. There's a little bump of a ridge that sits just east of the pass, and I indulged a little to get the bonus view from above the trail. The cerulean sky so perfectly framed by layer after layer of peaks and ridgelines made me briefly but seriously consider leaving the tent where it was for the day.I consider it a pipe-dream to spend a motionless day in a spot such as this. Although the idea gained some serious momentum in my brain I ultimately decided to keep moving, knowing I'd need every calorie and then some to make it the full distance to Nome.

Walking back to the tent I picked up two sets of wolf tracks, obviously an adult and a pup. They meandered in the same general direction that I was headed and my heart beat a little faster as I followed them right back to the tent. Roughly 40 feet away they'd done a slow semi-circle around me sometime in the night, and then, no doubt bowing to their intense curiosity, the adult had tiptoed up (really tiptoed--you could see the difference in the imprints in the snow) and leaned way forward to sniff one of the tent guylines. Then (s)he'd taken a bold step forward and urinated on the base of the guyline.

As many times as I've seen wolf tracks, scat, and wondered at the shadows moving through my peripheral vision (juuuuust outside the range of my lights) while riding through a night, it'd be hard to come to any conclusion other than that they are intensely curious about us as well as just a bit baffled by us. If they remotely understood us they'd simply stay far away and that'd be the end of it. Staring at the small yellow hole in the snow it occurs to me that maybe this one was being not only protective of it's turf, but perhaps just a bit cocky in showing off to the adolescent that trailed it. Pondering that, with a grin I turned and 'marked' over the top of his/her scent. Touche.

The trail down from the top of the pass featured severely wind-affected snow that was tempting to try to ride. It was just soft enough underfoot that I was skeptical that I could pedal the bike (even downhill) and glancing at the craters all along the sides of the trail reaffirmed this suspicion. So I walked and gawked, happy just to be in the mountains and through the pass.

My happiness was soon replaced by frustration, caused mostly by the nerd-herd of Euro racers I found myself caught in the midst of. I wasn't surprised that none of them spoke a word of English, and since my Italiano is limited to poor pronunciation of a few choice entrees along with "Scusi" and "Grazie" it wasn't really possible to converse. But the language barrier shouldn't stop someone from returning a wave or a smile, nor should it encourage a lack of consideration of basic trail rules.
These photos should serve to remind me of the stunning alpine scenery that I was privy to on this morning, but instead as I look I find myself thinking, "Oh yeah--that's the jackass that dumped his trash trailside" or "Here's the jerk that impatiently and wordlessly shoved his way past me only to immediately stop in the trail and change layers, leaving me the option of waiting til he was done or postholing around him".

I'm embarrassed to admit that I let these petty little things foul up my mood for a few hours. But then I remembered the solution:

With a refreshed attitude I continued pushing downhill toward the Dalzell Gorge, stopping once to fiddle with a constricted hydration hose, once to slather super glue onto the biggest holes in my feet, once to unload the bike so that I could splash through an open creek and once to trundle it up a steep hill.These brief breaks allowed the nerd-herd to move ahead and I enjoyed the trail into and through the gorge alone.Dumping out of the gorge and onto the Tatina River pimp-slapped me back to reality. I'm even more embarrassed about my Euro-fueled moodswing back up in the pass now that I'm down here and I get to see this:Although these pics get me salivating to be back there right now, they do nothing to capture the ethereal rawness and remoteness of the place. And that's as it should be.
A friend and fellow racer refers to trail/situation-induced highs as 'white moments' and in the fleeting alpine light of the ensuing afternoon they flowed freely. These moments are, to me, so priceless and so rare that it's difficult to find words for them and photos do nothing to bring them back. They merely get enjoyed in situ and then you move on, glowing. Glowing is the most appropriate word I can think of, now, to describe the way I felt as I passed through Rohn, traversed the South Fork of the Kuskokwim, then worked out past the Post River and Egypt Mountain before bivying on one of the Farewell Lakes. I have no recollection of time passing, nor of energy expenditure or caloric intake, they all coalesce into one fluid moment that lasted for hours, the recollection of which brings out goosebumps and a certain detached/glazed expression punctuated by a vacuous grin.

Just priceless.


  1. Maybe it's the camera angle, maybe it's the 'stache, maybe it's the laugh.

    You remind me of Nicholson in "One Flew Over..."


  2. Quote...

    "I did something that in 10+ years of Idita-travel I'd never even considered: I hiked away from the bike"

    And we're glad you did! Excellent pix and story telling Mike. I'm beyond jealous!

  3. Love the mood change video. Classic.

  4. As usual, awesome write-up and photos.

    In my view, anyone who dumps trash on the trail should be DQ. You're out, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

    Why a person would travel across the world to experience a beautiful wilderness, only to dump their f'in trash there is way beyond me.

  5. I found you through Jill Homer and Geoff Roes -- I've been reading Jill's blog for awhile. Anyway, I am not a cyclist, but I've been intensely enjoying your posts. I was going to wait until the end to thank you and comment, but I absolutely had to tell you that the fourth picture on this blog (the one with you and the bike against the sky/mountains) is absolutely phenomenal. Thank you for sharing!

  6. not bad... not bad, a little more wordy than Mel's but different all together. Maybe it was the touchy & bitchy that did it, or the mention of the "Italians"

    I'm not going to put one over the other... there are happy glasses moments in all of us ;)

  7. Great post. Thanks for sharing. amazing pictures, I can only pretend to know the feelings that go along with them.

  8. happy glasses, hey I have pair too, found them during a long ride that was mostly inspired by your writing

    love your posts.......

  9. Your description of 'the glow' brought me as close to my own glowing moments as any words I've read.

    Nicely done. Though it still falls short (as you noted) because there are no words.