Saturday, November 14, 2009

A strange form of life

There is an incredible wind and rainstorm going on outside right now. Boats are knocking around in the harbor. Water is streaming across the road at a hydroplaning velocity. The Sheep Mountain weather tower at 4,000 feet recorded wind gusts of 115 mph, which on the East Coast would be a Category 3 hurricane, with below-freezing temps and daggers of snow. Here at sea level, we're getting gusts to 65 mph. It's entirely too insane to try to pilot any kind of bicycle. I wavered on going out for a run. I'm still wavering.

This reluctance to go out in insane weather has instilled a certain sadness, because it reminds me that I'm not training for the Iditarod this winter. There's a sense of loss, not having that in my life, which right now means I don't have even a remotely rational reason to go out and face the 65 mph blowing rain with a sense of duty. Now, if I go out in the hurricane, it's because I'm crazy enough to go out in the hurricane, not because I have to go out in the hurricane to learn crucial survival skills, and have the wherewithal go out into the Alaska backcountry and experience the scope and awe of deep winter.

I have been continuing my mountain walks, which in their own way bring that scope and awe closer. On Wednesday I headed up Thunder Mountain in the fog with Bjorn and his brother. They wore fleece pants and cotton T-shirts, but I got my first taste of snow-stepping on a short but near-vertical, icy-hard pitch.

Thursday I did a long bike ride out the road - probably the last I'll be able to comfortably ride on the skinny tires this year. The air was nearly calm, and a lingering sunset bathed the mountains in lavender light.

On Friday, I hiked up the Grandchild route in a snowstorm. A thin dusting of snow soon became waist-deep up high. I relished in the brute exercise of wallowing, pitching myself forward like a loping bear, but I was regretting leaving the snowshoes at home. Outside my outside life, it's been a strange kind of week, and it left me feeling in a somber mood, wallowing solo in that frozen, black-and-white world, shuffling through music like Bonnie Prince Billy ... "a hard way to come into a cabin, into the weather, into a path, walking together. A hard one."

The Sun Bowl in a snowstorm. Wind whisked through the trees, but in the lolls, it was eerily quiet. It took me a while to climb up there and I continued upward far too late. I had to climb down a ways in the dark. I was prepared for it with a headlamp, but I haven't yet become accustomed to that deep, penetrating loneliness of the winter forest at night, with its ghost trees looming ominously over hollow black space. I was more than ready to rejoin civilization at the bottom of the mountain, at what felt like midnight but in reality was 5:30 p.m. I put away my pack and ax, changed out of my ice-crusted shoes and shells, and went to see "Men Who Stare at Goats."


  1. Hmmm. I love the lavender light in the third shot. I wonder why in the world anyone would want to go out in 65 mph winds to do anything? Why not stay inside warm and dry? And, did you like Men Who Star at Goats?

  2. Damn, you look good in blue.

  3. Another great post, and the pictures are even better.

    And as others have said, you feel guilty for not wanting to go outside in 65 mph winds (I have no idea what the conversion is, but something tells me that is a LOT of kph!).

    All the best from Rome (pleasant and sunny day here!).

  4. From Spain, Thank you very much for your post and your pictures.

    Sorry, my english is no very good,

    Borja. Sestao. Euskadi. Spain.


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