We drove 500 miles near-continuously on the way from Fairbanks to Soldotna. I paced back and forth between the rear seat and the lap of our adventure comrade, Seth, who had temporarily taken over my spot as co-pilot. We made only four stops along the way: 1) to quickly search for birds at our favorite hunting spot; 2) to take pictures of a big mountain; 3) for a snack and pee break; and 4) to pick up our second adventure comrade, Ingrid, who had conveniently found herself at an establishment which boasted the offerings of moose teeth and beer. They would remain inside for some time, seemed like an eternity, while I was confined in vehicular solitary.
Fog and blowing snow greeted us as we reached the peninsula and then the cabin well after dark. This is not difficult to do this time of year as the sun sets by 4:00pm, and sooner every day. They unpacked enough gear to last us a month while I scouted the property making sure that I had, with sufficient spatial coverage, marked our presence.
They swapped stories and swilled whiskey while I gnawed on a bone I found hiding under the couch. Don’t judge. It was perfectly clean and surprisingly untouched by its previous owner. Periodically we would walk down to the lake, frozen and still. The ice talked to us as the below freezing temperatures allowed perpetual layers to grow beneath our feet. A periodic echoed *thunk* could be heard carrying beyond the trees and back as the ice tried to break free from its confining banks. Other distant *thunks* could be heard as if our lake was carrying on conversation with nearby lakes hiding just out of sight. We would wait anxiously with eyes to the heavens in hopes that the faint green glow peering through the tree line would make its way this far south. It did. At 4:00am. A rude but invited wake-up call by our Oregonian visitor who had yet to experience this solar and magnetic concoction.
Our plans to hike glaciers the next morning were foiled in part by laziness and in part by seasonally closed roads. Having been teamed with three indecisive ninnys, I took it upon myself to suggest that we try something closer to the town of Seward. I remembered having been there once and all the glory it had offered. They took my advice and settled on Mt. Marathon; a bitch of a hill with deep and storied past. Upon reaching the top, the skies would open. No doubt with help from pervasive winds that seemed to come straight from the depths of the valleys in an attempt to pluck us from our perch. Needless to say, we did not linger and our stay was short. I had also sliced open one of my paws on the sharp-faceted scree, covered only by a modicum of snow, and was now leaving a crimson-hued trail along our journey. Back at the cabin, he attempted to glue my laceration shut with some difficulty as I conjured the fluidity of a worm and continually escaped with relative ease. The dinner to follow would consist of bacon-wrapped ptarmigan with a pickled lingonberry reduction and parmesan crusted asparagus.
A dilemma served on nature’s stand:
both wood and wave invite my name.
My legs request a journey high
Where sky and land become the same.
Atop these earthen shoulders I sit,
and attempt to make my stay.
But wind with whip and howl so deep
surely the moon would run away.
These mountains ask me many questions,
answers for them I leave none.
Only stories scribble on them step by step,
to be erased by wind and sun.
Still I pursue these things so wild and bare,
by river, by earth, by snow.
Though tattered and tired I oft return,
wilderness shall remain my friend, not foe.
The new day would bring promise of rod and reel. We arrived to water both low and cold, but the day quite beautiful. I chased ducks and found frozen remains of spawned-out salmon beneath the newly fallen snow. The repetitive process of drinking river water and searching for salmon bones froze my ears in curious form. The jingle and jangle of an icy wind chime accompanied my gate as I trotted up and down bank. We abandoned the rivers edge with diminishing prospect of fish and opted instead for a hike to a series of waterfalls a few miles upstream from where we had been mending lines.
We had the trail nearly to ourselves with the exception of a handsome GSP and his three friendly human companions. They split off on a different trail, leaving us to ourselves to enjoy the churning static of a water, stone, and gravity medley. He got all photo-happy and pranced around from rock to rock like his small harem of American Dippers. We reached the car just as night fell and gorged on the frozen leftover pizza we had packed in the cooler. A proper meal of ale-braised cabbage and kielbasa would be shared from the comfort of the cabin.
The next day brought heavy hearts as it was our last. We packed our things, tidied the cabin, and drained the wood-fired hot tub of the water we had spent so many hours filling and heating over the course of the weekend. The mountains gave us fitting farewell as we transitioned from peninsula to inland. The drive back would be quick; quicker than the drive down, at least, having chiseled the number of pit stops down from four to two. We would cover 1400 miles in total. About right, I figure, for a typical mini Alaskan adventure.
The biggest mountain – Denali – near Talkeetna, AK
Oh yeah. A very non-stereotypical Thanksgiving (moose stew and proper homemade dressing) happened somewhere in there, too.