Archive for the Alaska Category

2013 Crow Pass Crossing Race Report

Posted in Alaska, Sport with tags , , , on February 19, 2014 by ilikemountains
Look, this is the trail.

Look, this is the first half of the trail.

I’ve decided that each year I want to do one thing I never thought I could do. 2013 was Crow Pass Crossing, a roughly 23-mile trail race with about 6000 feet gradient in the Chugach mountains behind Anchorage. It’s a tough trail – rocky and full of tree roots and crossing many streams and one quarter-mile wide glacial river. There’s no support and a six-hour cutoff time (the registration form is worth a read, if only for this quote: “This race is not for beginners. It is not designed for ‘recreational’ runners, ‘hikers’, or people who listen to the song ‘We are Young’ and sign up for an event that they are not properly conditioned to undertake.”)

I hadn’t been able to train the way I wanted due to recurring calf injuries, and because of a bear/moose kill that closed the trail mid-summer, I hadn’t actually run the entire course through.

Here’s my race report:

I woke up that morning sure I was going to die. Every fiber, every nerve told me not to run this race. I wasn’t ready, my calf might give halfway through, I hadn’t run the entire course, and the river was higher than normal, high enough to sweep me away. Worst case scenario I could actually DIE. My intuition kept telling me no.

I ignored it. I climbed down from my loft in the 4:30 a.m. Alaskan sunlight, pulled on my black running capris and my lucky Portland Marathon t-shirt. I zipped up a gray hoodie, brewed a half cup of coffee, ate a banana and filled my water bladder. I drove down to the grocery store in Marisa’s mother’s car, where I picked up three other runners and drove us down to Girdwood. Esther drank a half-gallon of carrot juice and both she and her fiancé Peter devoured breakfast sandwiches. Kyle chattered from the front seat the hour’s drive down Turnagain Arm in the misty drizzle, which made time pass quickly and allowed me to ignore my nerves.

The previous day I had written to Matthew about my fear of the race. He gave me sound advice: “You’re allowed to be concerned for your safety, but you’re not allowed to be scared. And you’re not allowed to be either until you toe the shore. Put another way, I think you need to employ some mental compartmentalization.” I tried to take that to heart — “I’m not allowed to be scared” — and not think about the glacial torrent waiting for me at the halfway mark.

We were able to get the last parking spot at the trailhead, saving us a long walk up the gravel road to the trail. We checked in, showing the race director that we were carrying the proper gear (wind/rain jacket and pants, long underwear top and bottoms, hat and gloves), and then tried to stay warm until 7 a.m., when the race started.

The crowd was fit. Far more fit than I. Men with quads as thick as my waist jogged up and down the road, while women with tiny shorts and the chiseled cheekbones of a lithe runner stretched out. A creek rushed under the wood bridge at the starting line, reminding me of the river I had to cross.

At 7 a.m. the gun went off, and we charged up the trail. The first three miles of the race are steep and racers are required to make it up to the pass in an hour. Two weeks earlier I’d made it to the Crow Pass sign with 45 seconds to spare on a sunny day. I hoped my adrenaline would carry me up quickly enough.

Hitting the pass at 59:15 on a sunny training run. Raven Glacier in the background.

Hitting the pass at 59:15 on a sunny training run. Raven Glacier in the background.

I ran where I could and hiked where I couldn’t. The trail was rocky, crossing boulder fields slick with rain. I used my hands on my legs to help push them, but my heart was pounding and I couldn’t keep my breathing steady. Thirty minutes in my friend’s husband Doyle, who is 52, passed me. “We’re doing great,” he said. “We’re in a good spot for thirty minutes.” I looked behind me and only saw two people. The entire race was ahead of us. “There’s nothing to see back there,” Doyle said.

I continued climbing. I didn’t think I could make it in an hour. The trail inclined up to a lake where the Crow Pass Cabin sits and I crossed my first creek, charging through the icy water up to my shins. I thought about the chances of me making it up in an hour. I thought I had a 15 percent chance. I began to make plans to turn back. I thought about not even bothering with trying for the pass – hadn’t my intuition been telling me I shouldn’t be doing this, anyway? I was killing myself trying to make it up the mountain.

I had locked Marisa’s keys inside the car, and she was going to come pick it up later with a spare set; she’d ridden to Girdwood with friends and would drive the car back to town, while a different friend, KB, was meeting me at the other side of the trail in Eagle River. I figured I could run back down to the car, put on all my long underwear, rain gear and hat and gloves, and stretch out on the ground and wait for Marisa. I wouldn’t have cell phone service; I hoped Marisa hadn’t come yet. I also hoped she wasn’t going to wait until noon to retrieve the car.

But even as I entertained this daydream, I kept pushing. I thought about my friends on the other side, and the shame I would feel in dropping out. But then I would swing back: I shouldn’t be doing this race. It’s not safe and it’s disrespectful to the racers and organizers. What if one of my calves get injured eight miles in and I have to turn and walk back? But suddenly the trail leveled out and I was close to the pass. I started running and saw a couple of people standing ahead in blue and red rain jackets against a gray cloudy backdrop. I heard cheers. I checked my watch as I ran through the checkpoint: 57 minutes! As I passed, the trail began to slope down and the valley opened up below me and I forgot about turning around. I also forgot to look at Raven Glacier, arguably one of the most beautiful sights along the trail.

A few hundred feet down from the pass, I ran by Doyle. As I went by, he slapped me on the ass and said, “Go get ‘em, kid. I’ll see you at the finish.” A Doyle Woody ass slap! I actually smiled and felt my adrenaline surge. I was going to run this race.

The eight miles or so down to the river are a blur. I felt strong and tried not to worry too much about my footing. I came across another rushing creek, this one up to my knees. I tried to hurry across it, slipped, and fell in sideways up to my shoulders in icy water. A runner stopped to check on me – I felt like an idiot and let him know I was okay and he ran on. I wondered if my iPhone, diligently tracking my mileage in the front pocket of my hydration vest, was still functioning after the dunking. I stood up and paused in my dripping clothing, wondering what to do. I started running. I barely registered the mountains around me, don’t remember crossing Thunder Gorge and have no idea if I yelled for bears or not.

As I passed a few runners, I became determined not to let anyone pass me back. I thought about barreling down Mt Marathon and the skills I had built doing that. I ran through pushke so dense I couldn’t see my feet and so tall I had to raise my arms to run through it. Two men ran behind me, intermittently conversing with each other, and I refused to let them pass me. I ran hard. I knew I wasn’t supposed to use all my energy at the beginning of the race, but I wanted to use it while I had it, and so I willed myself to run like I was strong, making my posture reflect that. “I am healthy, I am strong,” I chanted to myself with the rhythm of my footsteps and breathing. “I am healthy, I am strong; I am healthy, I am strong.”

The trail flattened out, became sandy and then the river came into view. “This is it,” I thought. My stomach began to feel upset. I came upon the crossing at about three hours, a bit faster than I thought I could and still enough time for me to make the six-hour finish cutoff. The volunteers posted there were preparing to cross the river themselves and run to the finish – a bit ahead of schedule, I thought, worrying a little about Doyle, who isn’t a whole lot bigger than I am. I watched runners charge solo right into the river, but I knew I couldn’t cross it by myself. I ate a few sports beans and waited for the two men behind me, who I had gained 30 seconds on. They arrived and I asked if I could cross with them. We debated the best setup; they suggested lining up with our hands on each other’s waists like a perverse conga line, but settled on linking arms side by side. I took the middle and we entered the silty, rushing river.

Amara entering the river in July

Amara entering the river in July

I didn’t let myself pause and I didn’t let myself think as I started pushing through the water. It was cold, but I ignored it. The water rose to my knees, then my thighs, then my stomach, and finally to my sternum. I saw a chunk of ice from the glacier a mile upstream shoot by. I heard boulders tumbling down in the current. I wondered if my phone was going to get wet again, and how deep this fucking river actually was. At its highest, just below my chest, my feet left the bottom and I began duck paddling, only the arms of the two racers keeping me on track. My feet hit bottom again, and the water receded to my stomach, my thighs, my knees and finally my ankles. The cold hit and my feet began to ache wildly, so much I cried out.

I turned back to the river to look for Doyle. A woman in a fluorescent yellow wind jacket was crossing by herself, the current pushing her sideways. She had made it almost all the way across; she was up to her knees when she went down and began to skitter downriver.

“Stand up! STAND UP!” Did I yell this, or think it? Did someone else yell it? I started back towards the river but one of the guys with me sprinted out to her and yanked her upright and they stumbled to the shore.

I checked one more time for Doyle – he’d run this several times and I was sure he knew what he was doing – and then turned back to the path and started running on my numb yet aching feet across the rocky sand. I crossed several more ankle-deep braids of the river, my feet screaming each time I got out.

But I did it! I didn’t die! I was too tired and too intent on pushing myself to celebrate internally, but even as I ran my eyes welled up in relief. The adrenaline surged again and I felt my posture get just a little bit more upright. The race was halfway over.

The next 12 miles of the trail were mostly flat, following the contours of the river along a soft brown trail cluttered with fir trees and crossing the occasional glacial stream and boulder field. There were places where it became briefly, intensely steep. Ladders and ropes allowed me to give my legs a bit of a break and use my arms. A large log was set across yet another raging stream, Icicle Creek, with a rope strung between two trees for balance. I crossed, feeling like such a badass and wishing for a moment that someone I knew could see me. Fuck those contrived Tough Mudder races — this was the real deal.

Hikers crossing Icicle Creek on one of my training runs

Hikers crossing Icicle Creek on one of my training runs

The woman in yellow and the two guys who helped me across the river passed me. I passed them. They passed me. We chatted now and then. I sucked my water bladder nozzle and swallowed a berry-flavored gel. I had added two types of electrolyte powders to my water bladder and now the only thing I wanted was clear, pure water. I couldn’t handle any more sugar. I came across a clean shallow stream and squatted on shaking legs to scoop water into my mouth. I had been running with the guy who’d gone back into the river for the woman in yellow, and he stopped to wait for his buddy while I ran on, my belly full of cold water. I didn’t see him again.

I ran and waited for the five-mile mark, a well-established campground, to reveal itself. I was at four hours but didn’t want to pause to check my phone for the distance. At this rate, I figured I could still make the six-hour race cutoff. But the campground didn’t come and it didn’t come, and my posture began to wilt. I felt myself collapse inward, my steps becoming smaller, my shoulders hunching and my arms swinging across my body instead of charging out in front and pumping back. I got turned around on a boulder field. The woman in the yellow jacket passed me. We got to a straighter stretch and I passed her. I told her I saw her fall in the river and couldn’t believe she had crossed by herself. She said, “I figured I would have to and so I just did it.”

I did a quick scan of my body. It ached, but my injury-prone calves felt fine. “Is this the hardest thing I’ve ever done?” I asked myself. The answer came without thinking: “Nope – this is way easier than divorce.”

I heard yelling and cheering in front of me and rounded a bend to the campground, where several women stood on stumps, clapping and handing out sports drink. I forced my face into a grimace of a smile, thanked them and ran on. Five miles left. I was at four and half hours.

The only thing to do now was make my feet push me forward. “Lift your legs,” I told myself; this is always the point in my exhaustion where I trip over tree roots. I kept my eyes on the trail and thought about keeping my feet far enough from the ground so that I didn’t fall and knock my teeth out. I tried to stand up straight.

At three miles my friend John appeared, pulling a large pack onto his shoulders and preparing to lead a couple of small children out. “Al-most there! Al-most there!” They yelled and clapped. My posture straightened itself out. I pictured the finish, and the people there. The trail became rocky and I had to sort of jump from rock to rock, my wet feet squishing around in my shoes. I became aware of a blister on my heel and looked down to see blood.

A thirty-something man walked toward me on the trail and asked if I had seen a woman in a yellow jacket. He looked so worried I was excited to tell him that she was just right behind me. His face transformed into relief and he cheered me as I run-limped by.

As I got closer to the Eagle River Nature Center, the trail widened and smoothed. I went faster. I checked my watch – I was going to finish before six hours. With about a mile left, KB appeared. KB! KB was here! She and her dog Benson began running back with me. KB asked questions about the race and the trail, but I could barely answer. She chattered on, letting me just run. I kept trying to pick up my pace.

I rounded a bend and there was the final uphill slope. Josh and Janet were there and I willed myself to finish as strong as possible, not sprinting but lengthening my stride as KB faded behind me.

And then I crossed the finish. I remember making eye contact with a runner I’ve seen around, before I bent over, clutching my thighs and trying to catch my breath. Someone handed me a Snickers bar, the Crow Pass equivalent of a medal or t-shirt. I limped over to a picnic table and laid down on the bench and sucked berry-flavored water. All I wanted was regular water and for someone to spoon-feed me easily digestible food. I ran the race in five hours and thirty-five minutes.

View from the Eagle River side of the trail

View from the Eagle River side of the trail

It was at least a half an hour before I managed to put on flip-flops and waddle over to the hose and rinse the mud off my lower legs. I could barely change my clothes in the Nature Center bathroom. I peed for the first time since starting the race six hours earlier; my urine came out nearly brown despite all the liquids I drank.

After the awards ceremony and a few weakly chewed oatmeal raisin cookies, I got in the front seat of KB’s truck. We sped down the road through Eagle River, when I noticed a sign with my name on it. “Hey!” I yelped. “Turn around!” KB swung around and we found a giant sign propped up next to the road that read, “Congratulations, Catherine Bodry! You did it! You crossed the river!” A crabby woman came out of her house and informed us that the sign was on the wrong side of the road. We moved it, I posed for some photos, and we drove off (forgetting to take the sign).

I totally did it! I crossed the river – intuition be damned.

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Summer makes me crazy

Posted in Alaska, Travel, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , on July 29, 2011 by ilikemountains

I’m continually amazed by summer’s ability to both energize and exhaust me. It’s the same every year — just like with abundant daylight and and winter’s lack of sunlight, it’s something I always comment on even though it’s super consistent.

On overstimulating summer days like the one we had today (70 degrees!), I find myself daydreaming about fall harvests: canning, freezing, cooking, storing. I’m ready to pick berries already. I need that focus, the kind of primal attention that centers me. I need to stock up on salmon. I’m craving sleep.

There’s a possibility that I’ll be in Thailand for two months this fall, and while I’m excited about it, part of me wants that autumn period to quiet and calm down. Thailand is for late November and beyond, when I want to wear warm, humid air on my skin instead of an extra layer of wool long underwear. It’s hard to imagine jumping from an intense Alaskan summer to an intense tropical country.

I suppose most of this kind of mental craziness stems from my inability to be fully present in the moment: though I love it, I’m constantly thinking ahead (and also behind) to other seasons and times. Also, the kind of intense daydreaming and planning I dive into keeps me from getting very much work done. My house is a mess and I’m not where I want to be on my Lonely Planet write-up, yet I’m Googling canning recipes and thinking about buying 50lbs of tomatoes for sauce. I’m making self-improvement lists, forgetting that having a clean house and productive work life would probably improve a lot of things for me, particularly my stress level. But it’s not a coincidence that I’m choosing this moment to write a blog post after ignoring it for nearly three years.

On that note: back to work.

My booty makes its Internet debut

Posted in Alaska with tags , , on December 10, 2008 by ilikemountains

In September, I took visiting couchsurfer and videographer Nick Vivion on a berry-picking jaunt up Mt. Alice. Nick was researching Seward for Trip Films, which produces video guides. I (or, my booty) happened to make it into some of the footage. Enjoy!

Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “Berry Picking in Alaska Video – Sewar…“, posted with vodpod

September in Alaska

Posted in Alaska on October 1, 2008 by ilikemountains

More than any other place I’ve lived, Alaska reminds you that you’re a mammal. You’re forced to live with the seasons, and their dramatic pendulum. You pack weight on in the winter, and shed it in the summer. Come October, you’re craving carbs and fat and you’re sleeping more.

As far as I’m concerned, this behavior is not due to the weather so much as the daylight. It’s impossible not to feel somewhat manic when it’s light out all the time, and to feel like you’re sleepwalking when the sun barely rises.

Because my moods can be so closely tied to the time of year, I love September more than any other month. For whatever reason, it evokes the strongest emotions, even more so than a sunny day in July. September is a winding-down, preparing-for-winter month. The tourists are heading back south. We have normal daylight hours, but we know we’re swiftly losing them. It’s colder and rainier and everyone comments on how dark it is, even though the daylight disappears every year. Termination dust coats the top of the mountains. You’re able to hang out with your friends since they’re slowing down, too, and a feeling of community surfaces again. The freezer is full of fish, and the garden is ready to be turned.

And one of the best parts of September is berry picking. The act of tromping through the woods looking for plump berries awakens something primal in me. It’s as if I’ve always been a gatherer. My mind focuses, my eyes narrow, and suddenly all I see in the forest are blueberries. Then I zone out, my hands and mind working automatically to collect a winter’s supply of wild blueberries.

Riding the Alaska Ferry

Posted in Alaska on September 2, 2008 by ilikemountains

Alaska is one of the those places that feels so far removed from the rest of the world, it may as well be another country. I realized this on my first flight to Anchorage from Seattle, which took three and a half hours. In my mind I’d pictured the distance to Anchorage to be about the same as from Seattle to Los Angeles, but I was way off. It’s more like flying from Seattle to Dallas.

But the Alaska Ferry is an unexpected link to the Far North. It departs Bellingham, Washington (just over an hour north of Seattle), every Friday. The amount of time it takes to reach its first stop, Ketchikan, is certainly a reminder of how far removed Alaska is (about 36 hours), but the fact that you can walk or drive on to a ferry in Washington somehow makes Alaska more tangible.

The ferry was what I expected from public transportation — utilitarian and plain. Budget travelers set up tents on the back deck or nabbed lounge chairs in the solarium (hint: that’s the way to go), while others laid out blankets on the floors inside. There was a snack bar with electrical outlets, and I spent a lot of my time in there working on my laptop. Wireless Internet was available but intermittent.

I brought duct tape to secure my tent pulls to the cement, but the amount of rain soon peeled the tape up. The family next to me woke up the next morning with an inch of standing water in their tent, and when the ferry arrived in Ketchikan the second morning, I found that I was collecting water in my tent as well and grabbed a lounge chair when people disembarked. That worked out well, since I was able to dry everything out and also didn’t have to take my tent down at 4am when we docked in Juneau the next morning.

The second day was spent squeezing through the Wrangell Narrows, and hushing by manned lighthouses and tiny fishing villages. We pulled in to Wrangell, where I totally regret not jogging out to Petroglyph Beach in the 30 minutes available. In Petersburg, small purse-seiners cruised into port with the day’s catch, and all seemed soggy and somewhat idyllic.

I sacked out under my heatlamp with a headlamp and a novel, and awoke to the fog horn early the next morning. We docked in Juneau in pitch black rain, and I walked off the ferry with a giant backpack, hoping to hitch a ride to the airport rather than pay for a taxi. The ferry terminal is a good 15 miles or so outside the city center, so there was no breakfast or coffee shop for me while I waited for my flight. I did manage to catch a ride, and worked in the airport for several hours before boarding.

I had to fly on the milk run, which made several stops before landing in Anchorage. One of the coolest was flying over Yakutat, which has an improbable stretch of sandy beach. A few years ago Yakutat got some media attention for its cold-water surfing. Outside Magazine ran an article, and Yakutat was put on the map. I couldn’t spot any surfers from the air. My camera wouldn’t pick them up, but there were 10,000-plus foot peaks in the background.

Welcome to Alaska.

The entire month of July

Posted in Alaska, Sport on August 18, 2008 by ilikemountains

So I kind of suck at blogging. Sorry.

There were two main events this July, with a lot of little ones beaten in for texture. The first is that I completed Mt. Marathon without injury or incident, save for some uncomfortable chafing in some uncomfortable places. The other is that I spent 3 nights camped on the Alaska Ferry, a trip from Bellingham to Juneau that I’ve wanted to take for years.

First, Mt. Marathon: As my previous posts note, I trained very little for this race. I was in reasonably good shape, but Marathon is the type of mountain that requires strategy. Two days before the race I climbed halfway up just to try to pick a route up. There are three options: 1) Run past the chute and take switchbacks up; 2) Stop in front of the chute and climb a near-vertical hillside covered in trees, called “The Roots” because you climb up tree roots like a ladder; 3) Go directly up the chute, which involves scaling a rock face — I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard that’s what some of the winners do. I chose the roots, because I figured it’s the most direct route, and you’re using your arms for that part and in doing so taking some pressure off your legs.

Mt. Marathon from town.

Mt. Marathon from town.

The race starts about a half-mile from the trail in downtown Seward. The men’s and women’s races are split into two waves 5 minutes apart. I made it into the first wave (thanks Laura!), which is better since the trail is single file and you want to be near the front. I made it to the root trail, got in line, and started climbing. The climb itself doesn’t have much to describe — it’s long, and it’s hard. I had a strained calf muscle, so instead of climbing on my toes as usual I put my heels down. This meant I used my quads almost exclusively, instead of my calves taking some heat. But it saved me from injury.

The chute just above treeline. Scary!

The chute just above treeline. Scary!

Here’s how long and steep Mt. Marathon is: Picture the Empire State Building. Tall, right? Stack two and a half of those buildings together, and you’ve got the vertical height of Marathon: 3022 feet. So, let’s say you’re climbing to the top of those ES buildings. You take the stairs, but to make it like the Marathon race, you need to take every other stair to lengthen your stride. Then, take away the stairs, leaving just the incline, which is so steep you can’t put your heels down (unless you’re injured). Add some mud — I slipped flat on my front a few times, with women behind me grabbing my calves and ankles. Throw in rocks and snow, and you’ve got a difficult climb. That’s Marathon. Now imagine going back down.

I hadn’t practiced going down from the top part of the mountain. Again, there were choices: go straight down a snow field, or go around it. I chose the snow field. A deep luge had been carved out, and I jumped in and started sliding. Bad move. I was wearing running shorts, which immediately slid right up. I tried using my hands and feet to stop myself, but the incline was too great. The result: chafing. I managed to hop out of the luge at some point, as other racers were bearing down on me and they were out of control. I stood there for a few moments, watching them go by while I tried to figure out how to get down. Finally I just started running down, digging my heels in the snow.

The rest of the way down was uneventful. At the bottom, I had to run through a creek, swinging over small waterfalls and over rocks, but that was child’s play next to the snow. Once I made it half way down realized I was going to complete the race, and that felt great. I honestly didn’t know when I started if I would finish because of my calf.

I felt strong when I hit the street, and I heard my name all over. I didn’t look too sexy, but I was in good company. My time was nothing fantastic, but it wasn’t horrible either and might even be fast enough to keep me in the first wave next year.

Up next: the Alaska Ferry and why it’s one of the coolest trips ever.

Send for reinforcements ’cause there’s too much here for me to love

Posted in Alaska, Travel, Writing on June 20, 2008 by ilikemountains

I have a habit of falling in love with places. That’s probably why I love traveling so much, and a part of why I’m so insatiable. But I found myself uncommonly in love with Cordova these past few days. It’s the only town in my section of Lonely Planet’s Alaska 9 that I hadn’t visited, so I scheduled an extra day there to make sure I got to putter around and actually get to enjoy it.

I left from Whittier, which I disliked immensely. I have a tendency to feel like I pick up on the energy of places, and Whittier was oppressing and depressing. It’s such an odd, dark, ugly town, despite the brilliant mountains rising straight up from the ocean. The snow still hadn’t melted, and it was a sort of sloppy brown color. The residents were strange and the whole place has a vacant feel. No real roads, either — just routes weaving through the giant rail yard.

Everything changed as soon as I drove on the ferry to Cordova. I got to take the bright new speed ferry, which cut the old travel time almost in half, to 3.5 hours. All of a sudden the vibe changed from small-town locals practically living in a bunker to pretty pony-tailed mountain girls, bearded guys in fleece vests, and everyone friendly as can be. The ferry was full, and everyone was chatty and seemed to know each other. One woman showed off her new baby, while another girl – who biked onto the ferry – napped in a booth. Someone else was beading and folks kept stopping by to ask her about her project.

I drove off the ferry straight into an old-timey downtown very similar to Seward’s. I tried sleeping at the Alaskan Bar & Hotel, but the jukebox kept me up until closing so not much sleeping happened. Still, the old building had that high-ceilinged, creaky-staired charm that you don’t see much in Alaska. Green mountains covered in low clouds encircled the town, which was covered in salmonberries.

I hadn’t left the mountains – at all – in weeks, having driven up from Seward. So when I drove out of Cordova on the Copper River Highway (nearly fifty miles of shooting gravel and glowing lupine) a couple of days into my visit, I was completely unprepared for the mountains to dramatically step back and the land to open up. The Copper River Delta, spanning 60 miles, is a flat berth of silty, braided branches of the Copper River mingled with bright green fauna. To my left the mountains huddled a few miles off, and to my right the sky seemed to open up forever. I felt like I was looking out onto a prairie, and now I know what people mean when they describe places as having “big skies.”

The release of all those mountains uncorked something in me, and I totally cried – twice. I laughed a lot, too. It just felt so good to be out in the open.

I drove all the way out to the Million Dollar Bridge and Childs Glacier, where I heard but never saw the grumble of calving ice. Then I squeezed in a six-mile run to Saddle Bag glacier and back, where I was dive-bombed by a mama bird who scared the shit out of me. No bears. None this trip, in fact, which is fine with me, since I’m spending 4 out of 5 nights in my tent.