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January 20, 2013

Solo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a young adult, I had many dreams.  Among these was visiting Europe with the love of my life --- probably focusing on the Alps.  I did figure anybody I’d marry would also love the mountains.  Time passed and romantic relationships of any sort actually became fewer and farther between.  With this, I realized that if I wanted to get to Europe at all, I should consider just heading there by myself.  Which is what I did---only once so far but since deciding to go ahead on my own, the limitation has been dog related rather than waiting for a companion. 

One of the themes that runs throughout my life is my inability to find partners.  In fact, it’s not a total inability.  I have always had good friends.  And I’ve kept them---they include a few who date back to high school and even earlier.

Still, with all of my friends, I have found that waiting for somebody to join me to do whatever, limiting.  While I always had some notion of this, it came into sharp focus about the time that I decided to no longer put Europe on hold.  It was at that time that I also started climbing more by myself. 

In a previous life, back when I thought that going out and climbing during a storm was a good thing as opposed to just waiting until one finds you, something that inevitably happens, I had done a few solo climbs.  Generally, I found these to be either too dangerous or not technically challenging enough, so my solo climbing career went on hold. 

Then, in the early nineties, I rediscovered it.  While the technical level of climbing I was willing to solo remained significantly lower than what I’d do on a rope, I realized it was still a lot of fun.  Steep snow to easy ice climbs as well as 4th class on good rock remained options.  And without the difficulty of coordinating with another climber, I could hit the mountains on a whim.  Which is not to say I ever stopped climbing with friends.  It’s that a whole bunch of great climbs became much more available.

With this realization, the amount of climbing I did peaked during the nineties.  The combination of just heading off by myself and being dogless made this easy.  That ended in October of ’98. Halloween of that year saw me drive home with a pair of eighteen month old littermates, Dawn and Tenaya. 

From the day I got her to the day she passed away, Tenaya was totally untrustworthy off leash.  This was serious, but I wasn’t about to let it keep me out of the mountains, particularly during the winter.  The answer to keeping Tenaya from running off was mushing.  I first harnessed the girls in April of ’99.  By December of ’99, we started preparing for skijoring races, races where they pulled me while I was on skis.  Our first race was in January of 2000.  

Even at that time, I knew I’d end up choosing wilderness adventures over the relative sterility of racing---just like I preferred and prefer backcountry skiing to something assisted by a chairlift.  And even during my first years skijoring with Dawn and Tenaya, the three of us headed off into the mountains for camping trips.

Anybody who knows me well has heard, one of my big goals is sledding into the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  In fact, three of the four years since I was in the Iditarod, I made a serious effort to do this.  The first year, my friend Eric and I arranged to do this across March 1.  Unfortunately, by that time, there was no snow along our route into the Bob.  This year and last, I tried to schedule something during the last week in January or first week in February, when snow here is most reliable.   The wall I ended up running into was getting people to commit a week for the trip---once again a partner problem.

This lack of success in getting partners, both historical and recent, had me considering how to head into the Bob by myself.  I suppose there are efficient ways to sled by oneself, particularly if one has a perfect backcountry gee-haw leader.  I don’t.   Moreover, in the books I’ve read on mushing expeditions, somebody is always skiing out in front of dog teams to show them the way----my leadership gap seems to be the norm.   

All of which strikes me as being a bit ironic.  I did far more serious wilderness trips with Dawn and Tenaya than I have since I’ve moved to Montana.  In the recent addition of Skijor with Your Dog by Marie Hoe-Raitto and Carol Kaynor, the backcountry skijor photos are mine and feature the girls.   On skis (or not) I could move by myself---I could even cover ground clear of snow (and did).  In addition to this, I can ski, even controlling a small pulk, across far more difficult terrain than I can sled---something about sharp turns, steel edges, and poles compensating nicely for a working brake (on skis, falling on one’s ass usually suffices). 

This points to trying a new approach---or actually the original one---backcountry skijoring.  The idea of getting back to this is still in its infancy, but like an infant, growing.  I have most of the gear, though I’m still wondering if my shoes are the right ones---Scarpa T3’s.  At the least, I need to break them in.  And the rest of my gear is just fine---actually my clothing is a bit heavy as I am being reminded that I work hard while skiing or skijoring and standing on a sled with a good team is less exercise even than moving up and down the line for a trail feed.

And backcountry skijoring gives me two additional features---I can hit the wilderness by myself and it has a much higher technical/athletic component than sledding (anybody who thinks otherwise, put on a pair of skis, go for a run or two with a couple of hot racing dogs, then get back to me).  While being with the dogs always compensated for sledding not being near as athletic as climbing or skiing, I’m not averse to having it all, and backcountry skijoring does.  The only thing it lacks is numbers---I will always enjoy working with ten and twelve dog strings and unless I become suicidal, I’m going to limit skijoring to two to four dogs.

So, a new expression is running through my mind---Expedition Skijoring.  I don’t even know if those words have been put together before.  I am sure it hasn’t happened often, otherwise Carol Kaynor would have had pictures long before I volunteered mine.  But with Expedition Skijoring, it looks like a whole new world opens up to me, at least it seems this way.  I used to dream when I was young.  I guess I still do.

   
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