Into the Wild

Before I forget

November 1, I arrived in Jackson, Wyoming with the prospect to become a musher.

What did I know about mushing? Not much…

Last year I saw 30 or so mushers with their dogs on the Iditarod, probably the toughest sled dog race on Earth. I saw them arrive early in the morning, before sunrise, during the day, and in the middle of the night. Calm, hurt, tired, elated, you name it.

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Aliy Zirkle arriving at Puntilla Lake.

 

I saw them cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a frozen lake for the dogs. The team always comes first. Then they dipped their frozen food into the same pot of boiling water to eat last.

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Mike Williams Jr. preparing breakfast for champions

I saw some beaten teams arrive hours and days later. Mushers with concussions, hurt dogs…

The long way home

Jim Lanier heading home

Never did it occur to me that I wanted to become a musher, although gliding through a winter wonderland propelled by a group of sled dogs looked appealing.

Sometime in October this year I contemplated what to do this winter. I thought about spending the winter on a warm island.

That did not happen, for whatever reason. Karma? Life is a strange sequence of events, leading us to places that we not even dream of.

I replied to an ad on Coolworks to spend the winter in Wyoming as a dog musher. I had visited Wyoming only a few times before, never enough time to climb in the Tetons, or to make it to Yellowstone. Then, I remember a beautiful climbing trip in the Wind River range. All the more reason to go. Although I had the worst cell connecction during my phone interview I landed a job offer to be a musher leading visitors on day trips into the backcountry of Teton County.

What an experience it has been so far. I was very intimidated in the beginning by the howling, barking, jumping and jerking of these sled dogs. They seem so fragile and small on one hand, but they are powerful and energetic on the other hand. And they have personalities you would not believe it. Pulling a sled is their life purpose. That’s what they are bred for, it’s in their blood. Once they see a sled and some dogs getting hooked up to the gang line they are going „ballistic“. „Take me! Take me!“ they seem to bark all at the same time.

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Leaving Puntilla Lake heading for Rainy Pass, the highest point on the Iditarod.

 

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Into the Wild

New friends

Yesterday was my first ride on a sled pulled by a strong bunch of well behaved Alaskan huskies. They are my new friends.

Bailey has seen her share of snow flakes.

Bailey has seen her share of snow flakes.

After preparing sleds, gang lines, and dog houses for 2 weeks, after feeding my hungry and thirsty friends every day, and many other chores I was ready for the inaugural ride. It has been cold for a while now, one major snow storm dumped the first foot of snow, which was then blown around by blustery winds. The trail conditions were wild. Anything from windblown to deep powder and blank rock. My friends worked marvelously. Maybe we rode only 5 miles but that was pure bliss. Yes, I dumped my fellow musher out of the sled once, and I had to run a bit uphill, but it was worth the experience.

After the first run, I got to be the passenger in the sled. Another thrill. Being so low to the ground all seems so much faster. You see these small, strong creatures running gracefully and power, following the trail… Simply amazing.

Looking forward to the next snow storm, more runs, crispy mornings, sunny days, starry nights and all that.

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On the Road

Desert Storm

It is 5 AM in Kingman, AZ. The dust has settled, literally. Last night the weather service issued a sand storm warning, discouraging all driving. A brown wall of desert sand was looming over Kingman, several hundred feet high. Visibility was low. This was my first sand storm. It must have been a baby storm that barely touched us. Somewhere out there it may have been outright gritty…

We also had our farewell dinner with our fellow travelers. A long drive to Los Angeles is all that is left. We had an all-American diner experience with Chicken-fried steak and gravy, molted chocolate cake and such. I am starving for some decent home-cooked meals. Anybody?

After Zion and Bryce, we visited Canyonlands, Arches, Monument Valley, Betatakin, and finally the Grand Canyon. The Southwest in 17 days…

Under water in Death Valley

Under water in Death Valley

A few hick ups here and there, a lot of broken gear, and many great sites. Every day there were amazing moments, even for the seasoned desert rat, mountain goat, or city slicker.

Little time for us, the tour guides, to take pictures, or take a breath. No time to reflect. That has to wait.

My van has been decorated on the outside with dry marker, showing all the places we have seen on this trip. I will take a picture before going to the car wash 🙂

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Thoughts of a young traveler

“Three or four years ago I came to the conclusion that for me, at least, the lone trail was the best, and the years that have followed strengthened my belief.

It is not that I am unable to enjoy companionship or unable to adapt myself to other people. But I dislike to bring into play the aggressiveness of spirit which is necessary with an assertive companion, and I have found it easier and more adventurous to face situations alone. There is a splendid freedom in solitude, and after all, it is for solitude that I go to the mountains and deserts, not for companionship. In solitude I can bare my soul to the mountains unabashed. I can work or think, act or recline at my whim, and nothing stands between me and the Wild.”

Everett Ruess


slot canyonThose are the words of a twenty year young traveler and artist. Those are not just words. Everett Ruess lived his words exploring the most remote parts of the Southwest in the 30s, when the country was in a Depression. Nothing stopped the young adventurer from writing poetry and painting water colors while exploring and experiencing the vast and desolate landscape. Not limited financial resources, not the lack of supporting companions, nor the hardship that came with the rugged terrain and the extreme desert climate prevented him from spending months at a time as a teenager away from his family.
Some historians claim that he was one of the youngest traveler, writer, and painter of all times. He left us with a rich portrait of a lone traveler in the wild, wild West. Everett cites the beauty of the wilderness as the reward for all the suffering and sacrifices he lived through during his journeys. A  beauty he could not really share with any one. A beauty he was willing to die for.
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