Life after the Trail

It had been almost two months since I summited that looming lone mountain.  58 days since I completed my Thru-hike and I was just as busy as I had been on the trail, there were many differences though.  I had gotten a job just a stones throw from a future adventure, The Continental Divide.  I had moved to Snow Mountain Ranch, just outside of Fraser Colorado.  In less than a month since my return to Delaware I had left again.

I found my time there brief and just a bit too short, in truth I needed a week or so more to get my things in order.  The transition to Colorado was like many of my previous moves.  I found myself going through the same motions, as I had done for decades.  Packing, downsizing, condensing everything I owned, I managed to get most of everything into two bags.  I lived by a simple standard, if I hadn’t used it in a year I got rid of it.  That thought was ever more prevalent as I moved west for the winter.

Surely I found my new rhythm again, I would get up between 5:30 and 6:00 every morning and head out to the trails, ready for my work for the day.  You see, I did not have an ordinary job this winter, I had lucked out.  Dog sledding, was my normal life.  Up at the crack of dawn, training and running the dogs, so that when the guests went for rides they were in tip top shape.  I was back, back into the old life before it all fell apart.

For those who have never gone mushing on a dogsled it can be a spectacular experience.  Just after dawn, the white snow covered landscape diminished by the towering snow capped mountains that surrounded the valley.  The air so quiet and still from the snow, muffled most sounds.  The sheer peacefulness of the morning, disturbed only by the occasional bark or yip from the excited dogs.

Once they were hooked up and were down the trail the experience was only heightened by the atmosphere.  The early dawn hours driving on the back of the sled, gliding almost floating across the landscape.  the only sounds to be heard are the rhythmic breathing from the dogs. Moving so stealthy over the trails, through the tall pines, then to the clearings.  Always surrounded by the Continental Divide, you felt small in the vastness of your surroundings.

My training runs were a a stark difference from guiding.  With the hustle and bustle of switching riders, drivers, and dogs, there was never a lack of commotion and noise.  I was at peace on our off days and in high gear on our real working days.  We had to be perfect, the dogs in their jobs and me in mine.  Talking with guests, driving the team, reading the terrain, and syncing up with the other team of dogs took a large amount of effort.

None of this compared to trying to stay on top of the weather for grooming.  The trails were consistently being eroded, snowed over, requiring constant maintenance.  That wouldn’t be so hard, except for the fact that our snow machine was completely unreliable.  between breaking down, driver error, and grooming sled problems, there was never a day without a headache.

On one occasion I had gone out to groom after a snow storm.  this required us to cut the trails again, then to pack them.  I had gotten almost everything cut and was at the farthest point from home.  It is always when you are the farthest away that things break down.  Sure enough the snow machine shut off and slid of the trail a bit, the weight of the sled pulling it to the side and into the deep snow.  Nothing could go right from there, no one was able to come out to help, the machine wouldn’t start back up, and it was too heavy for me to drag.

I sat there for an hour, digging out the machine, trying to free the sled, praying the engine would start.  To no avail, I was screwed, by the time I got it back up and running, I suddenly found myself in a blizzard.  Miles from home, dragging a weighted sled, I had to navigate my way back in the white out.  Taking extra care to not go off trail or miss my turns and get stuck again.  If that happened it would be a long walk back in the snow.

This was how I spent my time, gliding across the snow, caring for dogs, and interacting with the guests.  I was still on the trail, while so many of my friends had returned to the “normal” life, I was still on the adventure.  Relishing in each day, taking the lessons from the AT, I had anew outlook on life. A shower was no longer just a shower.  Fresh now mean clean repaired trails, and a warm bed was a luxury.  I still slept in my sleeping bag, but hell it was more comfortable then the sheets I was provided.

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