I only have a few minutes before hooking up for my next run. This hitch has been the one to get the miles on before the race season official begins for us, and since the last hitch my run lengths have tripled. So I spend most of the day (or night, as it may be) out on the trail.
I’ve been lucky to get to mush in a lot of different arenas. I’ve mushed in Big Lake, where I learned. I mushed on the Kenai Peninsula, albeit not on the coast. I mushed in the Fairbanks/Two Rivers area. I mushed just a tiny bit around Whitehorse last year. And last year a little bit, and this year a lot, I’m getting to learn the trails in Willow. Some of them anyway. I’m impressed how much there is. This is thanks to the folks who go out and groom, like Scott and Linwood and others in the area.
All of these mushing areas are different in their own ways. Fairbanks was surprisingly hilly, depending on where we went. Big Lake is a chain of forests and lakes, and a few swamps. Whitehorse was full of pine trees, something I’d never mushed around before. Willow is flat and open and swampy. We run through sparse gaggles of birch or spruce and wind in, out, and around on circuitous trails to gain miles. Where most previous trail systems consisted of straight trails leading to turn arounds or intersections, Willow is one long winding doodle. I’m really only seeing part of the trail system, because of where weather is restricting access. We’re on the Talkeetna Mountain side. Roman and I live at the bottom of the Talkeetnas, in Hatcher Pass– but on the other side of the mountains from where I am now. Those mountains, whose name I didn’t even know until a couple year ago, have become a constant part of my landscape, both at home and out here. Now I meditate on them for many hours at a time, before the sun comes up and after the sun goes down. The rest of the landscape here is open and dominated by the sky. Sometimes you can see the curve of the earth. To the North, the Great One, Denali, shows its face to the sun for just an hour or two during the day. Susitna, the Sleeping Lady, is not quite in profile. The Chugach Range, which parallels Anchorage, peek just up over the horizon. But these mountains are all on the edges of things– here in Willow is just the Sky. Clouds and sun and dense mist and fog, and stars stars stars. Sometimes, Northern Lights, screaming across the vast darkness. Sometimes a sliver of moon, hanging like a sly yellow eye and peering between the trees.
I wish I could offer you a picture of all of this, besides these words, but I just can’t. My phone is not so happy with the cold. If I pull it out, even if it’s 10 above, even if just for a second, it inevitably crashes. And then, dear reader, I get hours and hours of silence on my run, and still no pictures anyway.
I’ve been listening to audiobooks on my run. Thank you Stephen King for writing novels that take 45 hours to read. Although sometimes I like to do runs in total silence (the quiet after snowfall is so deep that it almost scares me), with only the quiet pad of footfalls on the trail, and the clank clank clank of a metal attachment hanging on the front of the sled, bouncing as we travel the trail. I think, while I’m mushing. I think a lot. Sometimes my thoughts are cyclical. Sometimes I come up with miraculous ideas, and then forget them later. Sometimes I think almost of nothing, and just am quiet. And sometimes, after running the same trail over and over, I get bored, and at those times, I listen to music, and when I get tired of music– I listen to audiobooks.
I listened to the first Overlander book last hitch. It was all right. Also 45 hours long, which was why I picked it initially. I also knew that I would probably not be interested in reading the books themselves. Audiobooks are hard. Like movies, they “freeze” novels (I’m stealing Mr. King’s words here). That’s the best way I’ve ever heard it described. Once you hear a character’s voice read a certain way, it’s hard to think of it any other way. Same with movies. Once you see them played by this actor, it’s hard to imagine them another way. Books I love, I notoriously hate the movies. And I know that if there’s a book I want to read, that I want to really engage in that intimate communion with, then and audiobook isn’t going to do it. Unless the reader is very good, and very close to my own imagination, it’s going to fall short, and what’s worse, it’s STILL going to be frozen in my mind in this horrible, misaligned way.
So I’ve been careful to pick audiobooks that I would never read in real life. Overlander, sure. But, in long hours when I’m starting to fall asleep, I need something that will draw me on. A thriller! The year I was in Fairbanks was when I started listening to audiobooks, and I listed to the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. That was great. I was sucked in. (The reader was okay, but he had the Worst. Voice. Ever for Salander. He was READING the words, “her voice was surprisingly low and husky” or some similar description, and he read her as super high pitched and ditzy sounding. Agh!) I needed another thriller.
I’ve read and loved the Dark Tower series by King, but never read anything else by him. I saw on Audible (I have a subscription, it’s worth every penny) that The Stand, a book I’ve been told I HAVE to read, was a whopping good 47 hours long. YES. I will take it! So I did. And I listened. And it was great. And, no pictures.
Here’s another thing about pictures.
For the first few days of this hitch, I was kind of freaking out about them. For one thing, it was clear and obvious that my phone was giving me the middle finger about the temperature. It really wasn’t that cold, but apparently cold enough. But, I wanted to show this all to you, I wanted to share this with you. I felt a deep compulsive need to PHOTOGRAPH IT ALL.
And then, not long in, I realized– wow. What am I doing? I’ve never NEEDED to take pictures of this before. I’ve seen amazing, unbelievable scenes while mushing, and I didn’t even try to take pictures until… Maybe last year. When I was mushing and had a smart phone for the first time, together. Interesting, eh? And I’m so consumed by the need to share everything, to social media it away… But that’s not the point. That’s not why I’m doing what I’m doing. Not even close.
So I let it go. I stopped worrying about it.
It’s been beautiful out here. And I will share that with you, when I can, how I can. Maybe it won’t be through Instagram, or a Facebook post every day. Maybe my words will have to do it some small justice, if they can. I’ll try.
Meanwhile, I’m still here. Time to hook up the dogs, and go into the world.
(PS the one picture here is literally the one picture I’ve been able to take this hitch… Enjoy)