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April is famous for it’s unreliability. As Robert Frost puts it:
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
Except I would have to say it’s more like we are back in February. Below zero at night, cool and windy during the day – but downright hot anyplace that is sunlit and sheltered.
My daughter Kaija and I took a short trip with the dogs for a couple days last week, doing some exploring in a big loop to the north and east. The dogs love going new places almost as much as I do. We had near perfect trail conditions, even in the afternoon. Everything was frozen up and white, all the stream crossings where uneventful – until we got to the last part of our loop. I was puzzled about the lack of new tracks on the trail, which is normally well used. Nobody had been on it for a week or more from the looks of it. It didn’t take long to find out why!
There is a maze of sloughs and beaver ponds back off the river. The trail takes advantage of all these ponds to keep out of the brush. The whole thing is bordered on its northern edge by a nice south-facing bluff – the perfect solar collector. The ponds along the bluff were wide open. Beautiful crystal clear water. Often it’s hard to decide where to camp for the night, and I am famously picky about campsites, but sometimes the decision is made for you. That’s it, we camp here. I had hoped to camp further west, with a Denali view. Instead we had a beautiful evening watching the light on our immediate surroundings.
Spring travel is full of surprises and contrasts. Fast icy trail in the morning can give way to posthole hell by noon. Sunscreen and shirtsleeves in the afternoon, then waking up next morning to a frosty zero or ten below.
Good dogs, good trails, beautiful scenery, great company.
His coloration makes it hard to get a picture of Ajax that really shows his eyes. Elf has managed to get a good one that captures this guy’s personality nicely!
Even though Ajax is always spotless (unless you count the eyebrows), his name actually does not refer to the cleaning product, but to the mythological greek warrior. Ajax, also known as Action A. Jackson, usually runs lead, and always wears his impeccable tuxedo.
“The problem with normal is it only gets worse.”
Continued from part five. Having wisely decided to move to a more secure location, the question now was where? The trail to town was submerged, and the security of the town itself was an open question. So south wasn’t looking good. North looked a lot more promising. The Chase trail is on the west ( downstream) side of the tracks/dam and was still dry north of the bridge. We decided to move just the short distance to the west side of the rail grade and make camp there. If things worsened, we would be in a good position to retreat north, even literally head for the hills if need be. Just a short move, but if we stayed at the cabin and the water got significantly higher, we would be cut off from the only good escape route.
So how hard can it be to move seven sled dogs a few hundred yards? For those of you who don’t know sled dogs, I will tell you – pretty hard. These guys are very very good at the things they do, like pulling sleds – and getting themselves into trouble. And they are very very bad at the things they don’t normally do, like swimming, coming when called, or behaving remotely like domesticated animals. And they were all of course very worked up – another one of their major skills. It took about an hour. Or was it two hours? Think rodeo. African wildlife documentary, stampeding wildebeasts. Mud wrestling. Rugby. My one lasting image is of Ajax, standing chin-deep in water in his wet black tuxedo, 10 feet from the correct shore, deciding he couldn’t do it, and heading back the 90 feet he had already come – while over his head sails “free willie” Ivory, on his sixth crossing as a dolphin-gazelle, screaming dog yahoos at the top of his considerable lungs.
We reached our destination, all hands accounted for and no blood.
With the dogs all curled up in the woods, on nice fresh leaves actually better than their dogyards, a fire going, and darkness closing in, we settled down for the night. It was actually very nice. And if we had to, we could have been on the move in about ten minutes. The wheeler was parked facing north, gangline hooked to the front end , and harnesses already attached. It didn’t come to that, but we were ready.
Night passed with gentle rain, the roaring of the river in the darkness, and the odd absence of trains – the track had washed out at Gold Creek north of us. A fiery dawn revealed the river down just a bit, and hope that the crisis had peaked.
In our flight from the cabin, Annie had managed to pack exactly what we would need to spend a comfortable night and have some food, -and the all important coffee- in the morning.
Over breakfast, I talked to family and friends on “the outside”, and reassured those who had last seen Annie headed INTO the flood that she was fine and taking pictures.
That turned out to indeed be the peak of the flood. For days the river remained at levels that would previously have seemed ominous and now felt strangely reassuring. And it slowly, slowly, went down, revealing a devastated and much-changed landscape. I will post some more pictures of that soon.
We went back to the cabin that day, all was well, and the dogs enjoyed their outing very much. In another day the Chase trail was navigable by wheeler, although I did pass a salmon swimming by me in the other lane on my way in to town.