Hopping off the upper bunk down into the cooling cabin I turned off my headlamp and peered through the scratched and smudged Plexiglas window to see the dawn like light of aurora low on the northern sky. Stoking the fire, carefully dressing then walking out into the still, winter night and noticing the thermometer reading -10F but thinking it felt colder. Stepping away from the black bulk of the cabin my eyes were drawn not toward the northern lights but to the star filled southern sky. Head back, eyes wide open wondering how something so familiar could seem so alien, suddenly feeling out of place, how unnatural to be where the air it's self could bring death. Visions of warm summer nights as a child lying in the grass and looking at the stars, accepting the life giving warmth without question, an unnoticed background to what was. The weightless pressure of cold draws me back to the present and I imagine soaring up faster than light with no regard to motion or time, up among the stars and their unfathomable indifference. Cold, silent, surrounded by light but swallowed by emptiness, past fear, past caring, past feeling until for an immeasurably brief moment I just am. The moment passes and I turn to watch the aurora, the moment passes but in it's wake remains the uneasy feeling of being out of place. A pop from the fire echoes up and out the stovepipe to remind me of how narrow the gap between heat and cold, life and death can be in this beautiful but unforgiving place.
The sticky door reluctantly allows me back into the life affirming warmth, shedding clothes I sit at the table quickly scribbling these words by the light of headlamp and candle. While still slightly ill at ease I do appreciate the chance to visit this cabin in the woods, temporarily escaping our noisy world of fabricated fears and desires, allowing my mind to wander even if it arrives at an unintended or unwelcome destination.
While writing the last words a shrew skittered across the floor and returned me to mundane thoughts of securing the food before bed. How like nature to inspire one to soar among the stars and then kick you in the pants and remind you to watch where you're going.
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Moonlight and Aurora
Decided to go for what was probably the last moonlight ride of the season. The days are quickly lengthening and it's not really dark (or refrozen after the days thaw) until after 11pm so I downed a cup of coffee during the "X-Files" to seal my fate, I'm not much of a coffee drinker so now I might ride as I sure as hell wasn't going to get much sleep.
Left the trailhead for Colorado Creek Cabin a little before midnight and was a bit worried as there was a mushers truck parked there, and they were either at C.C. cabin or Stiles Creek Cabin. The trail was rough as hell from all the hikers and dogs using it during the heat of the day but past experience had shown that many hikers turn around at 1.5 ml. where the first real overflow is. At one mile the trail splits and it was obvious the dogteam had gone to Stiles Creek.
At the overflow the band of N. Lights went nuts and I was treated to the best display I'd seen in years, horizon to horizon a multi-tiered curtain of dancing lights lit up the sky. They were so intense the bright moonlight didn't even diminish the effect. Bright green with an occasional wave of violet which left a wake fading back to green as it passed from end to end. I stopped in the middle of the overflow and wowed a bit, then turned my cap around backwards to allow a better view as I rode on.
The trail really didn't improve (lots of deep dog tracks) but now you're far enough in that the might-as-well-go-all-the-way mindset kicks in. The lights slowly faded as the trail climbed into the cabin and were gone by the time I arrived. Got the woodstove going, went for water and by 2am was in the sack where I read until almost 4 am thanks to the caffeine buzz. Got a few hours of fitful sleep and then was up and eating breakfast. Had a cup of coffee with a stout shot of vodka which someone had left to clear the cobwebs. Packing was quick as all I'd brought was some food, headlamp and book. No sleeping bag needed for this warm cabin, my jacket serves as comforter.
Riding out I was surprised that I was able to ride in without lights considering how torn up the trail was. Definitely ready to get the f/s back after this rough ride.
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Drove out the Elliot Hwy. (a frost heaved, curvy, 2 lane) bout 30 miles from Fairbanks to ride a ridge trail that I got turned on to last summer. The trail was soft but with low pressure and snow cats no problem until about 1/2 ml. in when moose tracks made the trail almost impassable, worse yet a trappers sign warning of traps and snares on the trail put the final kibosh on that ride.
Ok head back and look for other opportunities. 10 miles back the road crosses Washington Creek, a small heavily overflowed creek that I'd looked at longingly for years and today it looked very ridable. A light dusting of snow the other night encouraged me further as it helps in spotting fresh overflow. Climbed down and started riding downstream with strange thin layers of overflow making the first 10 or 15 mins. interesting. Walked part of it after continued breaking through 6-10 inches of the layered ice. Breaking through was accompanied by loud set of dishes smashing type noise that was disconcerting to say the least. Almost turned around but it started getting better and better with only the occasional punch through.
Riding overflow ice is such a treat for the senses, it's absolutely beautiful with many forms to look at and can produce a chorus of different cracks, pops, creaks, rips, and hollow groans that keep you alert. Often I'd watch a crack appear and race off in front of me almost faster than my eye could follow. Going down I rode slowly with my hands and thumbs on top of the bars in case of breakthrough. As the minutes ticked by I was able to see the bad spots coming and only had to walk around a couple of areas. Riding over some overflow can give you a creepy feeling as 10 or 20 ft. surrounding the bike will slightly sink and form cracked marble patterns under you.
After about 1 1/2 hrs. the fresh overflow started getting rude so I turned around. Now I could pick it up as my tracks mapped out the spots to watch for and allowed me to clean sections where I'd walked the bike coming down. Warning, get off the bike once you start breaking through, taking a couple of steps while straddling the bike can be painful if your feet break through while the bike stays on top.
Upstream from the bridge it was weird as the overflow changed completely to thick ice pushed up in the middle to form a ridge with 10-20 feet of ice on either side flowing out into the woods. It was fun but I was only able to ride about 1/2 mile up before hitting fresh overflow about 6-10 inches deep. Time to call it a day. The weather was nice, overcast with temps in the mid twenties. Followed what I took to be coyote and lynx tracks much of the ride.
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Dry Creek Riding
How can one let two years go by in visiting your favorite place? Drove out 150 miles southeast of Fairbanks to a lovely cabin tucked up against the Alaska Range with a sauna out back and a creek for a front yard. A piece of Alaska I've been visiting for 25 years that offers up great summer and winter mtn. biking besides the chance to let your mind be quiet and listen to your heart beat. Do to a minor injury this was the first real winter ride of the year.
Have you ever been privileged to watch a small creek freeze up? It's nonstop performance art from the first spot of ice to the last view of open water, to standing on the ice months into winter and listening for the hidden sound of moving water. Being able to discern at a seemingly subconscious level even a trickle of water under feet of ice makes me wonder if we are hard wired to find life giving moisture.
There was about 5 inches of crusty snow on the trails and no one had been on them yet, I tried riding it but it was too much work. I spent a few minutes riding the roads around the cabin but wanted to check out the river which has miles and miles of gravel bars that can provide hours and hours of riding fun. I drove down to the river as I was trying out my brand new winter tires for the first time and didn't want to ride on the 6 miles of gravel and pavement to get to the river. These are the first non-studded tires ever designed for snow, I saw them at All Weather Spots a while back and they looked to be everything I'd put in a snow tire if I designed one. Boazobeana made by Nokia, Simon (who did help to design them) has them at AWS.
Down by the river I noticed a mailbox at the head of one of my favorite trails, this seemed to nudge a memory of hearing that Sonny was living out there again. Rode over and there was a trucked parked there with the trail looking well packed. My heart jumped as this is a great summer and winter trail that goes about 6-8 miles into Sonny Lindner's cabin. Headed up the trail and could see it was put in with 4-wheelers and there was lots of running dog shit (sleddogs shit on the run) but no sled tracks. Beautiful trail with lots of ice from springs which make it very challenging in summer. A couple of spots walking across the ice I could see bubbles ten foot away under the thin ice dancing to the beat of my footsteps. A small bridge here and there, opens areas with nice views of the ever nearing mountains and sections of trail winding through thick, dark spruce.
Close to the cabin I heard the wonderful sound of a dog lot in getting ready to run uproar. Pulled in as Sonny was hooking up the last of a big team to a Polaris 6-wheeler piloted by one of his kids I think, (later I found out it was his new wife). In low snow conditions mushers use 4-wheelers to train as they have control on trails that would be asking for serious damage to musher, sled and the dogs if they used a sled. She took off and we talked for a couple of minutes, he's training two teams for this years Yukon Quest and had been living back out there almost two years for the first time since the early to late 70's when he built his first cabin here. Sonny won the first Yukon Quest and has placed high in the Iditarod a number of times. I don't know Sonny well but I had let him know in years past that I was biking his trail as he still trapped it most winters.
Rode back out and jumped down to the river for a little ice and gravel bar riding. I tried to stay away from the rocky areas (the tires have lots of open area between lugs and didn't want to tear them up) and managed a hour or so of exploring. Lots of frozen sand bars which are a gas to ride. Good start to another riding season.
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Sucking mud, sucks the air out of your lungs, sucks the strength out of your legs. Rode the old Cleary summit trail even though one look upon parking the truck at the trailhead almost made me turn around. Little ring 2nd gear mud in and after getting over the first big climb a little snow and ice on the north side. No guilt over tearing the trail up, yahoos have driven trucks on it.
Coming back had my attention caught as intensely as I can remember. Pulling a muddy hill and focusing on the trail suddenly heard a strange sound (odd breathy growling) looked up to see a cow moose and the smallest calf I've ever seen. I'm talking medium-large dog small, it still had a bushy red coat and fit well standing stiff legged under mama. It was way too close for comfort, maybe 20-25 ft. That sound sure got my blood pumping and I dismounted and headed off the trail away from the moose while talking to it. Once I was behind a tree I tried to yell and get them to move, she would have none of it, just kept giving me the stink eye and made me bushwhack around them. Never heard a sound like that coming from a moose or anything, if it was a warning it was very effective.
Running into a moose with a calf is usually cut and dry, they see you and take off, they hear you and take off. I can only remember a few moose not taking off if you shout at it or on rare occasions chucking something at them. The moose I saw today wouldn't move and I think it's because the calf was so young-small running off was not an option.