Friday, November 10, 2006

Improbable

Date: Nov. 7
Total mileage: 18.8
November mileage: 151.9
Temperature upon departure: 39

Geoff and I made plans with friends to go cross-country skiing in the afternoon, so of course I went for a bike ride in the morning so I could actually do something fun with my day.

Not that I hate cross-country skiing - entirely. It's just something that I have spent a year trying to learn, without the benefit of any gained skill. And it's hard to willfully to do something that involves spending half the day at varying levels of out-of-control, usually preceded by horror and followed by pain. But I go and I try to be a good sport, even when the little voices in my head remind me how much easier it would be to just ditch the useless sticks and walk.

We started out at EagleCrest, crossing a muskeg bog and weaving through the forest. I don't remember exactly how many times I fell (and for reasons I'll later explain, I thought a lot about it later in the evening.) But it was quite a lot. One of those times, my wallet fell out of my coat. I didn't realize it at the time.

We finished the route and decided to drive all the way across the valley to the frozen-over Mendenhall Lake. The snow-covered ice was fast and fun, and without any hills or logs or gravity to trip me up, I was loving it. As we approached the glacier, a dark animal crossed our path. We argued for a bit about whether it was a wild animal or a dog, but as it loped gracefully across the ice, we slowly began to realize that it was a lone black wolf.

If you squint really hard and use a large portion of the right side of your brain, you can make out the little black dot in the lower right side of this photo. That's the wolf, as captured by my crappy camera. He looked a lot closer in real life.

We glided all the way out to the glacier and back, returning to the trailhead well after dark. When we arrived at home it was 7:30 p.m. I had spent an hour and a half on my mountain bike and five hours on skis. And that's when I realized my wallet was gone.

I tore apart the house looking for it, hoping beyond hope that I had left it home all along. But as I began opening and closing the freezer and dishwasher, the dark reality had already set in - I had lost it, somewhere between my house and miles and miles of frozen wilderness.

So, sore and tired from a daylong adventure, Geoff and I headed back up to Eaglecrest with our headlamps and two bicycle headlights, retracing on foot each gliding step we made earlier that day. I stopped at all of the spots where I could see obvious body imprints, digging around for a while with no luck. The wind that tore through the treetops all day had finally died, and all we could hear was the squeak and crunch of our footsteps in the snow. Above our heads, the crystal sky opened up into millions of sparkling stars, more than I think I have ever seen since I moved to Alaska. "At least it's a nice night for a walk," Geoff said. I just growled.

We returned to the car and Geoff began to walk toward the second half of the figure-8. "It's not that way," I said. "I only took one fall on that entire stretch, and Holly was right on my heels at the time." I remembered that fall perfectly, and described it to him: Going down a hill, I hit a buried log and fell forward on my own skis. She said something about how I my body stance stayed the same even as I went down, like I didn't know it was happening. Geoff told me he knew the exact place I was describing, and it wasn't that far down the trail. I wanted to put up a fight. I was fatigued and hungry and ready to go home and cancel all of my credit cards. But I relented.

We walked a half mile down the trail as I continued to describe all the other things that managed to stay in my pockets: $1.95 in change, $4 in one-dollar bills, 2 fun-size Kit Kats, 1 granola bar, an unused wad of toilet paper, and my giant archaic digital camera. I was still trying to convince myself that I never had the wallet on me, and started to launch into another florid description of my fall when he shined his light right down on the now-exposed log - and next to it, a little black rectangle with the tell-tale rubber band wrapped around the back. My wallet ... a little frozen, a little snowpacked, but still wrapped around each and every one of its valuable contents.

A wolf sighting and a the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack, wallet-in-the-wilderness ... in the same day. What are the chances?