Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Tofino

Waves off Chesterman Beach (Tofino, Canada)
The Northern Lights were out a few nights ago – just about a week after I fled the Yukon Territory for Vancouver Island.  They looked glorious in the photos that Carson posted to the Inn on the Lake's Facebook page and I could almost hear them crackling through the sounds of the surf crashing outside my window at the Wickaninnish Inn (the Wick) on Vancouver Island.   Nature is like that – elusive and unpredictable – it certainly doesn’t dance to the tune of a regularly scheduled vacation. 

Tofino Waves (Canada)
The Wick was the last “big” stop on a 17-day journey through Canada.  For me, it was the perfect complement to the time up on Marsh Lake and in Victoria.  I’ve chronicled my fascination with waves  and beach living elsewhere in this blog and I’d come to the Wick (with the intrepid Nancy B – aka the B) for three nights of what I had hoped to be some glorious storm watching with big waves rolling in.  How disappointed was I when the forecast for the next day was for sun and balmy temperatures.  The big waves – like the lights – were going to prove to be elusive.   I should define big –there is nothing between Tofino and Japan and I was on the hunt for the elusive 20-foot swell – a wave that would tower over me.

It’s a bit of a trip to get to the Wick from Victoria – particularly during the winter months when flights can often be canceled due to the storms and the mountain pass that separates the East Coast from the West Coast can be treacherous.  Being a New Yorker, I don’t drive enough to tackle a mountain pass in snow (or rain for that matter) and the B, a San Diegan, doesn’t get much practice on snow – particularly on a road that is posted for chains during storm season.  Enter the driving wizards at Pacific Rim Navigators.  

Flyaway (Tofino, Canada)
We were lucky to have Catherine as our driver.  A native of Tofino, she filled us in on the town surfing culture.  If you are there in the summer, you can catch her (she, unlike me, has surfed some really big waves around the world) at Tofino Paddle Surf – her newly launched business where she teaches paddle boarding to one and all.  If you’re up for a surf lesson, she can steer you to her brothers – they with she were the surfers who put Canadian surfing on the map. Want to go fishing – check in with Catherine as her husband can take you out for a go at catching your dinner.  In her spare time (not sure when that is between kids and jobs), Catherine is coaching the Canadian Junior Surf team.  The team is  – in the midst of raising money to go to the Junior World Championships in Panama.  Follow the team blog at -- they are also hard at work on a Facebook page.  I am hoping the Wick will kick in big time.

It was a foggy, rainy day on our drive to the Wick – and so the overlooks were a bit overcast and the Goats on the Roof Restaurant was closed for the season (yes, there really are live goats on the roof).  We had a stop at Cathedral Grove for a walk in amongst the giant cedars and also a quick stop for a crawl down into a ravine to see a small waterfall.  It was all a bit soggy but great fun none-the-less. 

Rollng In (Tofino, Canada)
I had read about the Wick in a New York Times travel article in 2007.  I couldn’t remember the name but I remembered the description of the waves slapping up against the windows of the restaurant and have carried that image with me for the past five years.  How delighted was I when I finally put two and two together and realized I had booked into the very same magical place that I had hoped to visit someday.  Although there were no waves slapping on the window when we dined in the bar of the Pointe Restaurant on our first night, there was a fine scotch, a crackling fire, and an amazing squash/apple soup, and pork ribs just melting off the bones for me with the B opting for a shrimp po’boy and a glass of wine.  If you are a scotch lover, this is the perfect spot for you – the Wick has a seemingly endless list.  A short walk back to our room in the beach building equipped with a fireplace, two big comfy chairs for wave watching, a HUGE tub (also suitable for wave watching) – not to mention binoculars, birding books, and an ever attentive staff ready to assist in any way.   Basically, it had all the comforts of home with room service!

Me at the Beach (Tofino, Canada (picture by the B))
The next day brought the aforementioned sunshine and perfect weather for a walk on the beach.  We left the Wick rain slickers and pants in the closet but happily donned our yellow rain boots that laced up in the back and set off for a ramble down Chesterman Beach.  At low tide, it is a wide expanse of sand and the waves break pretty far off shore.  The surfers, walkers, shutterbugs, and dogs were out in full force enjoying a rare sunny February day in Tofino.  We walked to Frank Island and back – lots of opportunities for this wave lover/shutterbug to practice catching waves and the assorted driftwood that they had left behind.

Bobbing up and down in the waves just beyond the surf break, I can see the little yellow boots of the Wick guests trotting down the beach.  The Inn is quite famous for storm watching in the winter months and people flock from all over the world to catch a glimpse of the waves in a big storm.  I have lived here all my life and grew up surfing Long Beach, Cox Bay, and Chesterman Beach.  At this time of year, unlike the Wick guests, I look forward to the rare sunny day that I can grab my board and head out for the surf without a care in the world.

Surf's Up! (Tofino, Canada)
It’s crowded out here today – for Tofino that is -- but it’s the kind of town where we don’t fight over the waves – there are plenty to go around and a lot of folks come here to learn how to surf.  I’m suited up in my heavy wet suit with a thin layer of water insulating me from the cold winter ocean.  I must admit those yellow boots look toasty after an hour in the water but only for a moment as I spot my next wave – it’s my turn to ride like the wind.

As the swell hits, I begin to paddle and then in one smooth motion I’ve made the drop.  I cut across the face -- on this ride, I’m going aerial.  No doubt, this will please the photographers who’ve been hanging all morning with their tripods and cameras at the ready.  In my mind, I can see the run along the lip, a twist, some air, and then I’ll drop back down on the face of the wave.    I can feel the pulsing of the water through my feet and then I’m up and airborne and life is good.  

Wish this Was Me (Tofino, Canada)
The next surfer up is my best friend – he has his eye on a smallish wave that is coming fast – like a steam train. He hits the drop perfectly.   Unlike me, he’s content to ride the face – it’s a longer ride he notes and although he likes the adrenaline rush of air, it’s more about keeping ahead of the crest and being sure to pop up out of the wave and not wipe out.  He hates tumbling around in the waves and having to paddle back through them to get to the line up.  He’s not really keen on surfing any place other than Tofino – he thinks our surf is perfection.

Me, I want to surf the waves of the world -- Hawaii, Panama, Australia, Costa Rica, South Africa to name but a few. I can see myself bobbing gently in a boat off of the north shore of Maui the next time Jaws rolls watching as Laird Hamilton tows in.  There are legends out there that I need to see.  I don’t think those places or people could replace Tofino in my heart but they call to me in my dreams.

Waves Rolling In II (Tofino, Canada)
There is a tactile experience of surfing that movies like Step into Liquid and Riding Giants can only go so far in capturing.   Even the best of directors can not recreate the smell of the salt air or the feel of the sand crunching under my feet as I jog to the surf break.  They can film but not truly capture the first cold splash of the water on my face, the swell of the ocean under my perfectly waxed board, and me bobbing up and down in the line up with my buddies chattering about nothing and everything.  The movie goer can’t feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins as I paddle in or the weightlessness of hitting the drop.  They can see the power of the waves but they can’t feel the water running under and over my board as I skim across the face of a wave with the sun on my face.

It’s getting later in the day and there are more yellow boots skittering across Chesterman Beach towards Frank Island, Cox Bay, and beyond.  I know that those who come here at this time of year are drawn by the power of the ocean.  They may be anchored to the beach but in their hearts and minds they are soaring with me across the waves of our Tofino, of my Tofino.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Victoria Melange

Victoria Harbor at Dusk (Canada)
Victoria -  somehow I missed it on my last two trips to the Pacific northwest.  It's never been that high on my list but there I was hunkered down in the Fairmont Empress with Nancy B for a wee taste of city life before heading on out to Tofino for some wave watching.  It's a small, easily walkable city by the sea.

We've flown from Whitehorse to here -- the last 15 minutes on a small prop plane that seemed to be making  descent before it was fully aloft.  Here are 13 things to do in Victoria if you've got a day or two:

Check into the Fairmont Empress -- a grand old dame of a hotel albeit a bit shabby around the edges (nothing I can point my finger at -- just a general feeling of elegance gone by).

Supper at the Bengal Cafe at the Empress -- Have a Bengal Tiger and some shrimp curry.  They do it colonial style -- near as we can figure out that means less spicy and somewhat creamy.   

Breakfast at Floyd's Diner (on Cook's Street)-- Two eggs over easy, bacon, best breakfast potatoes ever (baby red, roasted with crispy skin and just the right amount of salt), sourdough bread and coffee -- can't beat that.

Do laundry -- drop it off at a local laundromat and save $.  They'll even deliver it back to the Empress where it will miraculously appear back in your room.

Chinatown Red (Victoria, BC)
Walk around Chinatown -- it's Canada's oldest -- and don't miss Fan Tan Alley which was originally a haven for gamblers and even housed opium dens.

Shop -- if you're lucky, you'll score a pair of purple shoes with extra laces -- in orange!  Mix in a few art galleries, antique stores, and souvenir shops.

Fairmont Empress Tee
(Victoria, BC)
Have a proper English tea at the Empress -- ok, it's expensive for tea -- but you can't beat the finger sandwiches, the scones with strawberry jam and cream and the assortment of delicious desserts PLUS there's the tea which is specially blended for the Empress and the china has crowns on it.

Have breakfast at the Dutch -- it's the sort of place where a woman of a certain age comes in and sits at the table adjoining yours and just orders "the usual" and remarks that she likes that it's always the same.  Slightly more expensive than Floyd's for slightly less food.

Lady of the Manor
(Victoria, BC)
Visit Craigdarroch Castle -- Built by Robert Dunsmuir atop the highest point in Victoria.   Alas, he died before it was finished and never got to live there.  His widow (Joan) and their three daughters moved in after brief travels in Europe.  Be sure to read the family history along the way -- it's fascinating.
Organ Music
(Victoria, BC)

Visit Christchurch Cathedral and be sure to check out the massive organ -- new in 2005 -- and built specifically to fit around the rose window.  It took some 28,000 man hours to complete it!

Visit Miniature World -- OK, it's a bit run down but you can't beat the dioramas and the man hours that went into making them.  One woman even recreated her own home -- with a true to scale exact replica of the dining room.  I no longer aspire to decorate a really large doll house after this visit.

Walk around the harbor at night and be sure to get a picture of the Parliament building before the sun is fully set.

Parliament Building (Victoria, BC)
Dine at the Superior Cafe -- banging pork ribs with a hoisin glaze and mean dungeness crab fitters, not to mention the root chips made on the premises -- crunchy and salty just the way a chip should be.  Top it all off with a  glass of red wine from the Moon Curser Vineyard and you've got a fine meal.  Afterwards, visit the art gallery in the back.
Portrait of the B (Victoria, BC)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Of Ice Fishing and S'Mores

Snow Shake (Yukon Territory, Canada)

I am on the plane from Whitehorse to Vancouver where we will catch our connecting flight to Victoria and the next leg of our adventure.  It’s hard to believe that I’m not further along in my blogging given how much free time I had at the Inn on the Lake.  There is a languor that comes from days that flow seamlessly from one into the other.  Days where the only appointments are those you make with yourself to renew and reconnect with the world around you.   

Marsh Lake (Yukon Territory, Canada)
For some reason, Nancy B (the B) and I are not seated together (we are not sure how that happened) and so my seatmate is a young woman who moved to the Yukon Territory from Edmonton.  She had come with her boss on a work gig these past two summers and just liked it there and so she has moved.  She’s giving it a whirl for three months and then if all goes well, she’ll bring her son up and make a life for herself in Whitehorse.  I learn a little more about the housing crunch in Whitehorse – they are predicting a 4% rise in population due to the resurgence of the mining industry.  One thing the territory government is doing is building senior housing so as to free up the land for new housing.  I ask what the seniors think about that and so far, so good.  Only time, and the opening of the first complex, will tell if this is true.

Whitehorse seems to have a lot of transplants from other parts of Canada and from the world.   The Yukon Territory has a population of some 36,000 and 26,000 of those folks live in Whitehorse with the others spread throughout the territory.  And what a territory it is – the Alaska Highway cuts through here and is well traveled in the summer by Americans heading north to camp their way through Denali and the other great natural wonders of the 49th state.  Now, in the quiet of winter, it’s mostly Yukoners and the big trucks passing through.  One can easily slip across the highway and onto a trail without worrying about missing an onrushing car for those are few and far between.

White Pass & Yukon Railroad
 (from an earlier SUMMER cruise to Alaska)
In earlier days, this frontier town was the terminus for a railroad that begins in Skagway on the Alaskan coast (some 90 minutes by car these days).  The Whitehorse station is built right on the Yukon River so as to more easily disgorge passengers and cargo headed further north on the river in search of gold.  On our first day, we walked to the station but it wasn't until Carson relayed the history of the railroad that I was reminded that I’d ridden the White Pass and Yukon railroad on another trip.  We were ferried on a bus from our cruise ship in Skagway up to Frasier (or was it Carcross?) from where we embarked for a leisurely journey on an old fashioned railroad back down to Skagway.  It is one of the great narrow gauge rail train rides.  It crosses two trestle bridges, speeds through tunnels, and curves around mountains with all of the Canadian and Alaskan wilderness eye candy that one could want – viewed safely from an old-fashioned train car where the windows still open.

Christian Making Our Fire (Yukon Territory, Canada)
One of our adventures from the Inn was to go snow mobiling with Christian who is a transplant himself.  He came to the Yukon some three years ago having worked as a guide in Antarctica prior to that.   Originally from Germany, he’s settled here in the Yukon – marrying a French girl and acquiring a son and a cabin in the process.  He hasn’t quite tamed his wanderlust though nor does the Yukon quite fulfill his love for Antarctica.  It’s in his blood the way Africa is in mine.  I am sure he will go back.

He is quite charming Christian – easily entertaining the B and I while watching out for our companion – the well-traveled Japanese woman.  We are convinced that he would do well on Survivor – he has a good social game and mad survival skills.   The first order of business for our snow-mobiling adventure is to outfit ourselves for the cold and for the potential tumble off of the snowmobile should B hit a bump and lose control.  We get yellow (B) and green (me) helmets.  The B looks like she could be doing tricks at the X games – she is of the same stature as many a rider there.  We don our many layers until Christian pronounces us ready to go.  Then it’s off to the lake where our chariots await.

The B is driving and after a quick lesson, she is off for a spin on Marsh Lake in order to acquire her ski-doo legs (so to speak).  At first slow, she is soon speeding along like a little speed demon and I’m wondering if I should be driving my own ski-doo.  She has banging driving skills that one – far better than mine – so I really just need to hold on tight.  Right? 

I Better Catch a Fish after this
(Yukon Territory, Canada)
Soon we are heading up onto terra firma where we speed our way down an access road to line up to cross the Alaskan Highway.  Then it’s up a snow-tree lined path – swishing through curves and keeping up with Christian as we climb steadily up towards Caribou Lake.  Finally, we spot it – following Christian’s tracks to a spot somewhere in the center where the first order of business is to make a fire.  Two heavy logs go down on the ice and kindling is piled on top.  Christian notes that when he first got to the Yukon he would have tried to get the fire going without any artificial help but now he uses environmentally friendly lighter fluid to speed things along.  While we wait for the fire to catch, he pulls a massive auger from his bag of tricks and shows us how to make an ice-fishing hole.  We each gamely try – leaning into the auger with one shoulder while trying to turn it with the other hand.  What was a true and straight hole is a little atilt but we got some nice photos along the way.
The B Fishing
(Yukon Territory, Canada)

Now, it is time for the ice fishing with a tiny bit of corn on our hook.  We watch has Christian reels it out and then sets it to the perfect height for catching a wild lake trout – or so he says.  Best fish you’ll ever eat he tells us –but the first fish goes to the guide which is going to be a bit of a challenge for us three ladies given that none of us have ice-fished before.  We gamely try though – in between sips of barley soup and bits of everything sandwiches, which are delicious albeit an assortment of what Carl had in the refrigerator that morning.  Aah, dessert is homemade cookies or toasted marshmallows.  Can’t beat that on a cold crisp day on Caribou Lake.

Then it is my turn to try driving the skidoo – there is something exhilarating about breaking through new snow at high speeds (ok, not 60 miles an hour).  No need for the brake on this machine – it’s all about the throttle and leaning into the curves.  Then it is time to pack up for the trek through the quiet forest and across Marsh Lake to see the stress crack.

Me on a Skidoo! (Yukon Territory, Canada)
This crack is nature at it’s best.  A ragged mountain of ice where the shifting water has created the equivalent of a tectonic shift in the earth.  Jagged blocks of ice gleam from beneath the new fallen snow – thrust into the air with a power that I can only imagine.    A mad dash to home where we can warm up our fingers and toes in the steam room before sharing another glorious meal with our fellow travelers who are temporarily calling the Inn on the Lake Home as they join us in watching for the elusive dancing lights of the great white north.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Yukon Impressions

Ice Road..... (Yukon Territory, Canada)
It is a journey getting from New York City to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory.  Not as long of a trip as those who come here from Japan – often for just 3 nights – on a quest to see the Aurora Borealis.   That’s a full day of travel on each end and most come only for the lights and nothing else.

My journey has been more leisurely – 9 hours of flight time broken up by an overnight in Vancouver and another at the Gold Rush Inn in Whitehorse before the hour drive up to the Inn on the Lake at Marsh Lake where we’ve camped out in a two-bedroom apartment for the past 4 nights.  Today (2/8) was to be our last day but Nancy B (aka the B) and I have extended for an additional night so that we can enjoy the food and the great room and have one more chance to see the lights before heading off to the next leg of our journey.

Hanging On (around Marsh Lake,
Yukon Territory, Canada)
There seem to be two ways to see the northern lights here in the Yukon Territory.  One is to hunker down in a town like Whitehorse during the day and then take an excursion out to a cabin (or cabins) in the woods around 9:00 at night, returning to town at 2:00 am.  They make the cabins sound cozy and inviting – hot chocolate and snacks while you wait for the mysterious lights to appear.  Seems anxiety inducing this method of seeing the lights – waiting together in a group hoping they will appear.  And, what if they don’t show up until after you’ve gone back to your hotel – what then? 

The second way is to find someplace like the Inn on the Lake where from some rooms you can see the lights from the warmth of your bed.  Now that is luxury and if the lights don’t appear – which has been the case for three of the four nights we have been here – that is OK because you’ve got the splendor of the wilderness to occupy you outside your door during the day.

Marsh Lake on Ice
(Yukon Territory, Canada)

Carson, who owns the Inn, spotted a diamond in the rough when he brought the shell of a gigantic log cabin some 17 years ago.  It’s an imposing place with spectacular views of – and frontage – on Marsh Lake.  The day we arrived, the Inn was hosting the senior management of the town of Whitehorse on a two-day retreat where they were grappling with how best to meet the needs of the growing Whitehorse population.  Mining is seeing resurgence in this neck of the woods and the economy is booming.  The biggest issue seems to be the housing crunch – there is scant little land to build on in these parts.   Condos are one solution and others are sure to follow.   

Other guests during our sojourn have included two young Canadian couples up from Whitehorse for romantic retreats and a number of Japanese travelers who have come for the lights.  There is a trio of Guatemalan women ensconced in a cabin nearby who are here for ten days and I am sitting in the great room with a Japanese woman who started her journey around the world in October and whose next stop is Seoul, Korea.  They’ve all come to enjoy the warmth of the Inn and in search of the elusive dancing Aurora.

A snowy walk int he Woods
(Yukon Territory, Canada)
The Aurora is being shy this week – all of the scientific mumbo-jumbo about solar magnetic fields boils down to it’s just being a quiet week here in Whitehorse when it comes to Aurora sightings.   It’s funny that I could have come this far and be “ok” with the paucity of lights but I am.  My days have been filled with photography (snow is VERY hard to photograph), quiet walks, and adventures in dog sledding and later today the B and I are to go ice fishing – hopefully to catch a wild lake trout to be cooked over an open fire.

At night, we’ve been well fed by the Inn staff.  Dinner always includes a wonderful soup, a salad (last night was Meyer Lemon and cucumber in a sesame dressing) followed by a choice of main course.  So far, I’ve feasted on steak, bison stew, fish, and pork ribs.  There is always a dessert.  Lunches are equally yummy – with perhaps the best being a simple grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup.  Can’t beat that for a mid-day snack.

Life here is low-key – a well-stocked library, kayaks for summer lake explorations, and plenty of trails to hike.  Carl, Carina, Arnold, and Christian (the main Inn staff at this writing) are always accommodating – don’t want to snow mobile today, no problem, there is always tomorrow.  I could return here in other, warmer, seasons --- hiking the trails and kayaking on the lake.  Returning to the Inn for a glass of wine as the sun gently sets o’er the distant mountains.  Spring will bring the bears out from their winter hibernation and fall will bring the bright colors of the turning leaves.  And then there will be winter with its long cold nights and the potential for the dancing lights.

I can see passing this way again, yes I can.

View from the Inn (Marsh Lake, Yukon Territory, Canada)

Friday, February 10, 2012


Making Tracks
(Lake Marsh, Yukon Territory, Canada)
It's February 6, 2012 and I am sitting in the great room of the Inn on the Lake (Yukon Territory, Canada) looking out at the snow falling gently down with the potential for seeing really active northern lights fading with each passing moment.  Nancy B (aka the B) is contentedly smash booking at the dining room table and the other inhabitants of the lodge are in their rooms.  The ladies from Guatemala have gone off for a dog sled adventure – inspired by my noting that they will let you ride in the sled if that is what you request.

We did see the Aurora Borealis spread quietly across the night sky on the first night we were here.  Up at 4:00 am, we pulled on our heavy winter clothes and dashed out the front door.  There is something splendid about a swath of green in the night sky as the almost full moon glows brightly behind and the stars twinkle overhead.  It reminded me of the full moon walk along the boardwalks and paths to Iguazu Falls in Argentina.  It’s a special moment albeit sans the bells and whistles of a truly active Aurora.  You have choices in life on trips like this.  You can worry and fret that you’re not seeing that 10 (on a scale of 1 to 10) Aurora or you can take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty that the night hands you.  I am content.

On Sunday, we went dog sledding with Alayuk Adventures – led by the able Julien with Gil bringing up the rear and Beatrice holding down the home front.   I have new respect for the mushers who take on the challenge of the Yukon Quest – a journey of 1,000 miles that runs between Fairbanks and Whitehorse every winter.  This year they took off from Fairbanks on February 4th and are expected to land in Whitehorse round about Valentine’s Day.  They will pass through eleven checkpoints and are required to rest for 36 hours in Dawson City.  Marcelle, who owns Alayuk, is competing in the Quest.  At 56, she sits about mid-way between the B and me.  She and her 14 dogs have trained for a year and, at this writing, she sits in 7th place. 
The B Driving Her Team
(Yukon Territory, Canada)
Our little quest was quite a bit shorter and I will state up front that I did not complete it.  Balancing when standing still has never been my forte and on a moving sled – while, let’s just say it’s a recipe for disaster or a lot of snow angels on the side of the trail.   The B did spectacularly – falling off only twice and then getting the hang of when to brake and when to let the dogs run.  There is a picture of her here flying along with her four-dog team. 

I on the other hand never quite mastered the art of slowing the dogs down and curves were my undoing as I braked when I should have let the dogs run and didn’t brake when I should have slowed them down.  How I wished I had spent more time doing the tree pose in yoga – particularly when face planting in the snow.  The times I was up and running were truly glorious.  The gentle sound of the sled rails whishing through the snow and the dogs clearly excited and happy to be out running the trails instead of sitting at home. 

Having said that, there are advantages to riding bundled up inside of a sled as became clear once I had settled into Julien’s sled.  As he mushes his team off to a start, I am free to take in the snow covered trees as they fly by our swiftly moving sled instead of concentrating on keeping my balance (or not!) as my team flies to keep up with the others.  Life is good from this vantage point.

Nancy Squared (Yukon Territory, Canada)
I see the car pulling into the driveway and I know that I may be on the cusp of a run on a morning where the trees are aglitter in frost and the sun is shining brightly.  I bark and prance about my small kennel – pick me I call.  Pick me.  There is nothing better than being among the first dogs chosen to run the course.  I watch closely and note that there are only two would-be mushers today – only time will tell if they will be able to stay on the sled and I’ll be able to run free.

They head into the cabin to do whatever humans do and we all quiet down – no sense in wasting our energy barking and dancing when there is no audience to hear and see us.  After what seems like an eternity, they re-emerge outfitted in heavy red coats, big mittens, and gigantic boots.  One sports a fur cap and the other some creature that I don’t think really exists on the face of this earth.  They look like they might be ok and so I bark and I dance in the hope that they will pick me.   I want to run fast with my pack mates and pretend for just a moment that I’m running  a long race in pursuit of glory. 

Aah, there they come towards me but it’s just for a photo opportunity.  I oblige and hop up on the roof of my kennel and pose.  Preening for the camera between the two bundled up humans who are going to learn how to mush today.  I remember when I was young and learning how to work together with my musher and my pack mates to pull a sled and how hard that seemed to channel my energy into that activity when I’d much prefer to chase my tail and roll in the snow.  Now, I live for the trail and for the run.  Pick me I yelp and so they do.

Soon we are off and running until the first of five falls.  We stop as the humans regroup and reset onto their sleds.  We are chewing at the bit to borrow a phrase from the horsing world – mercifully our harnesses fit comfortably around our chests and our mouths are unfettered so we can howl and bark as we wait to get going again.  Restless to run.  And we’re off.  Oh joy, we are running as a pack in perfect unison.  Our human cargo appears to have gotten the hang of things.  This is going to be a good long run.  And then the other one falls.   We are so excited that we keep going right on past the fallen musher – until our own human finally catches the brake and brings us to a halt.  We bark, we surge, we can barely tolerate this stopping as the humans reset.  Again.

Finally, the brake releases and off we go --- the joy of running free.  What’s this, the sled feels lighter again.  Could it be that our human who we thought had gotten the hang of things has fallen again?   We continue to race on until we run up against the sled ahead which has come to a stop while these pesky humans rest.  Again.

We repeat this scenario two more times – trying to adjust our excitement to be running free to the expertise of the human cargo we carry.  This is hard work though – we were born with a boundless appetite to run through the silent forest with no sound other than our own barks, the quiet commands of an experienced musher, and the swoosh of the sled rails against the snow.  Oh no, our human is down for the third and what proves to be the final time.   She converses with Gil and with Julien and before we know it, we are mixed into Julien’s team.  Oh drat, that damn pesky princess of a dog is behind me.  I’ll need to keep an eye on her and send a bark or two her way.  

What a difference it is to run as a part of Julien’s team.  We are now 9 dogs and we are running smoothly through the snow.  Oh drat, we are upon the turn that signals that it is time to go home.  We stop and wait as Gil runs ahead on a noisy sled with no dogs and makes us a path to turn around in.  We fight that turn – the snow is deep and it’s hard for us to make our way through it --- we much prefer the packed snow of the trail.  Julien hops off his sled and leads us firmly onto the trail and then we are off and running.  We pause just a few times for the other team to catch up – this human has gotten the hang of driving the sled and there are no more falls to mar our day. 

We run quietly – our earlier excitement has disappeared as we settle into the smooth rhythm of a morning run through the snow.  I am looking forward to the end of this run and a well-earned meal, perhaps a bit of a nap.  This was a good morning to be out and about – if I’m lucky, I’ll get to run again with this afternoon’s humans.  If not, there is siren call of a nap in the kennel where I will dream of running fast and strong with my pack-mates, with my friends.   Dream of running the Yukon Quest – 1,000 kilometers of open trail and a musher who doesn’t fall down.

Other Notes
view from Alayuk (Yukon Territory, Canada)
The folks at Alayuk live the musher’s life – occupying a small cabin nestled near Annie Lake.  A giant wood stove heats the place and assorted equipment adorns the weathered logs outside the front door.  If you go, don’t miss the tiny sketch of Gil adorning the cabin’s walls and don’t forget to ask what’s up with the Quest and whether anyone plans to take it on that year.  This year (2012) was Marcel’s third quest – with the advent of google earth and GPS, all of the teams now carry beacons and we could track her progress from the warmth of the Inn.  In the summer, Alayuk leads long meandering canoe trips on the Yukon River – trips where you can follow the path of the gold rush and sleep under the stars.