Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Into the range.

Moist fat flakes fell intermittently through the night.  We woke to a humid, monochromatic world.  The only upshot is that wet snow packs easily: trail conditions were surprisingly good as we ascended into the Alaska Range.

We rolled up to Puntilla Lake ~midday and set about drying gear and feeding our faces.

We took a brief intermission to entertain Stevie's dog (aka He Whom Must Be Obeyed) before we rolled down the hill and across the lake, bound for Rainy Pass proper.

Although the trail is rarely steep between Puntilla and the pass, it's never packed hard and mostly uphill, so at best your progress is slow.  I was resigned to a slog but cheered because the clouds seemed to be lifting.  For the first time in days we might get some views to go with our touring pace.

We voiced our exultation, emulating our most recent Youtube hero, as each rise afforded bigger, more inspiring scenery.  We also shared our best treats (cheese doodles!) in his honor.

Brian might seem to have a game-face on here, and to some extent that was needed.  The flat and failing light combined with last night's snow meant that there was no visible trail to follow.  We found it with our feet, with the help of the resident fauna (hares and those that eat them don't want to posthole any more than we do…), and often by simply staring beneath our shoes (where the shadows of our bikes fell, creating a rare spot of contrast) to suss out hints.  Once on it we lasered our focus to stay there.

Tripods were mere hints, more often than not having little to do with the actual trail alignment.

Note how much easier it is to see the track within Scott's shadow.

Dark enough for lighting made it easier, but still not easy, to spot hints of where the trail might lie.

Eventually, just inside the mouth of Pass Creek, we called it good for the night.  Trenches were stomped out, snow was melted, meals rehydrated, highlights of the day recounted.  Although we hadn't covered many miles we HAD spent a lot of time searching, anxious, focused.  That kind of day can be as exhausting as double the miles on a marked/packed trail.  

Sleep was great until it wasn't.  Which is one way of saying that I woke in the wee hours to Jeff Oatley standing over my bag, facetiously suggesting that if we wanted to 'punch up' more of the trail ahead, we oughta hurry.

He and the rest of the lead pack were in great spirits, although only Jeff seemed inclined to wake us merely to mess with our heads.  With a laugh and a 'stay on the gas!' we bade them all adieu.

As the sound of their bikes receded up the valley we rousted ourselves for the day.  On a touring pace there was no need to rush into the darkness, but we had the sense to realize that we were awake for good.  Might as well make some miles.

Working our way up to Rainy Pass lake.

Scott firing up the engine with a mouthful of something good.

Brian on the final push to the pass.

Scott couldn't be Scott without pedaling every last rideable inch.

The trail down the backside of the pass was soft, unconsolidated at best.  Watching Brian stumble, flail, and fall (while trying to pedal) encouraged me to walk lightly and keep my eyes open for photos.

Dropping lower the trail got firmer.  Hard to believe we were riding at all in such a place.

Pics like these next few go a long way to illustrate the draw of this route.

All of this and the sun hadn't yet crested the ridge.

We crossed a handful of slide paths, avy debris thick and hard as you'd expect.  Despite the natural terrain trap, I know of only one avy fatality here and I've always been amazed at that.

Then as now, I'm at a loss for words on how to describe much less process this scene.  Huge, wild, indifferent, stunning.

There--I tried.

We often stood and stared, slackjawed, at the unfolding landscape.

(you put your left leg in, you put your left leg out…)

No matter how many times I pass this way I always feel the same powerful sense of 'this is where I was meant to be'.

Mashed willows = slednecks passed this way.  Where a snowmachine leaves a trail in the snow, whether by accident or on purpose, we can ride.

By this point I was borderline delirious.  The trail surface had been so often solid, so easily ridden, the temps so warm, the scenery and company so good.  I encouraged my compadres to stop and take as many pics as they cared to--to savor this as deeply as they could, for they were never likely to experience it in quite this way again.

They were enjoying it plenty without my help, but I don't think either of them 'got' how truly special this day, and year, were shaping up to be.  What rookie could?

Meeting the Mayor and Sheriff of Rohn, and having the time of our lives getting there.

Stay tuned...