Saturday, February 25, 2012

The winter that wasn't and other ramblings

What a difference a year makes!  Last year, there was so much snow that just figuring out where to put it was a challenge.  I didn't have to work out; just shoveling tons of snow kept me in shape and I lost 5 pounds. For a while, I couldn't take the dogs out because of avalanche hazard and just not being able to move my truck.

This year we've had one good storm that dumped close to 20 inches followed by three days of almost 50 degree temperatures.  And there have been 3 or 4 stormlettes of 2-6 inches.  That's it.  Mammoth, the local ski resort, 40 miles north has done a little better but not much.  I like to run the dogs on the groomed snowmobile trails up by Mammoth.  There are almost 200 miles of trails and while some of them have more snowmobile traffic than I like, it is almost always possible to find a trail that we can run on.  This year the groomer went out for half a day and quit, saying he was getting down to dirt and would wait for the next good storm which unfortunately hasn't occurred yet. There are some isolated (and short) sections that have reasonable coverage but it is hard to justify the 80 mile round trip to get up there.

My plans this year were to get the dogs up to 25-30 mile runs.  There's one 20 mile loop we've done parts of from either end and I was really hoping to be able to do the whole distance this year.  I had some snow camps planned with them, and some mid-distance races.  I was hoping to get confident enough to move from 6 to 8 dog teams. 

We've done one local run this year that wasn't much fun with icy, crunchy snow, hooks that weren't holding and crazy dogs.  All our other local training has been on dirt and not for any real distance as the good dirt roads have had either a few inches of icy snow, or a treacherous mix of dirt and ice. 

So, I did what any reasonably driven person would do.  I drove 1200 miles north with 9 dogs to a race in Priest Lake, Idaho.  I had a great time running the dogs in the 6 and 4 dog sprints, saw friends, met nice people, and had lots of fun.  Here we are at the start of the six dog race.:
 Don't the dogs look happy?

I drove home hoping for a change in the weather and so far no luck with that. So I'll be leaving in a week and a half for another race in Idaho, this time at Stanley. 

It's not that I really love races.  To me, the races are just a focal point for what I really love - getting out with the dogs.  I love being out there in the woods with only the sound of the runners on the snow.  I love the silence and the solitude.  I love watching the dogs run and seeing them look back at me with silly grins on their faces.  Or that question - really? You want us to go up this hill? Yes I say and off they go.  And stopping for a break and having them dive in snowbanks and roll over making doggy snow angels.  Yep, that's why I do this.  It isn't about races, though it isn't that I don't want to go to races and be competitive.  It is just that races are just punctuation in long stories of running just for the joy of it.

It is like climbing for me.  I've done a number of incredible climbs in which I haven't made it to the summit but the experience was still extraordinary.  I have a favorite moment on a climb of Mt. Baker in Washington.  We left camp in the middle of the night (the traditional and safe alpine start) on a clear night with a full moon.  We didn't need headlamps in the bright moonlight and at some point, I turned and looked out and could see the moonlight shining on the water of the straits off the coast and to the islands beyond.  I did summit Mt. Baker but I mostly remember that view in the moonlight.   

I'm still hoping for some March snow, however the long-range forecast models aren't too encouraging.  It has been warm so we can probably do some longer dirt runs pretty soon but they just aren't the same as running on snow.

Yes, it was the winter that wasn't. 

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