Friday 1-11-13 The Cliff Note

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Going Up to Meadow Pass

I woke up Friday morning with something that felt very unfamiliar… energy and health.  I felt much more like myself this morning and was anxious to get going before I ran out of steam!  I wasn’t sure how long it would last!  Pam and I got back to Crystal and the temps were nice and cold, and the parking lot was much firmer than yesterday.  I parked in the same spot and ignored the rude man who’s dogs were again loose in the adjacent parking lot.  I was thankful he put them inside after we arrived.  Connie showed up soon to run with us, but since I was hoping for some longer miles, I left first.  I didn’t have any specific goal in mind today other than to go as far and as fast as my team (and I) could go.  I didn’t want to do any big hill climbing, but instead wanted more miles and wanted them to be FUN miles for the dogs. 

Glorious Vista

I still wasn’t sure what trails had been groomed since yesterday, so we headed out the same direction and decided to Haw onto Meadow Loop to see if it was going to be a good choice of trail to run.  It had not been groomed, but there was enough snow machine tracks to pack down a  pretty good trail for us, but it ended up requiring a bit of weaving to stay on the trail that was the firmest.  The leaders were doing pretty well, but did dive off to chase a smell a couple times.  I told them a stern NO, LEAVE IT, ON BY, but had to set the hook and go physically collect them and replace them back on the trail, where they stayed beautifully lined out.  I felt much calmer in dealing with them, especially as it has occurred to me how much FUN it must be for them to jump off the trail and go hunting!  But I know it’s important for the sake of our safety that they learn to listen to my commands.  What I didn’t know was that there was about to be an obvious example of this truth very soon.  We kept heading up hill but I noticed my team looked very different today than yesterday… they looked like they were having fun from the start today.  I know the cold temps put some extra “pep in their step”, and it was fun watching them run. 

We got to the turn off to Dandy Pass/Stampede Pass, but it hadn’t been groomed either, so I decided to call them up to go straight ahead and would go onto some new trails for us.  The trail went up and up and up, but they continued to look good, so when I saw a sign that said Meadow Pass 2 miles to the left, we took the Haw and went exploring.  The trail had a few snow machine trails, but clearly had not been groomed or used much lately.  There were quite a few moguls to contend with, but I used the ski pole that seems to be very helpful, especially when used in conjunction with kicking on steep terrain.    I was really proud of how well everyone was moving and working, and enjoyed the new views that seemed more sweeping than I expected when we started out on this trail.  It felt like we were all alone, and when we came upon some avalanche slide areas, I was getting concerned.  I looked around, especially above the trail, and thought through the facts as I knew them to make sure we were safe continuing on.  It had not snowed for several days, the snow had settled nicely with the warm temps, and I had checked the avalanche danger site before leaving home to see that the danger was falling.  The snow machine tracks were still ahead of us, so I knew others had “tested” the snow pack, and we continued cautiously on.  It was really beautiful and I couldn’t wait to see what was around the next corner.  We got to around 3900′ altitude and I looked ahead to see a big bowl with very steep cliffs emptying down into a deep valley. 

Meadow Pass

I wasn’t sure how far this trail went or where it ended (back close to the truck or somewhere far away), so I decided we’d just go a little bit farther and re-assess.  We passed a gorgeous high rock outcropping covered in snow, and I noticed another bend ahead of us that occluded me from being able to see if the trail continued onto the other side of the bowl or dead ended ahead.  I told myself, “just one more corner” and we’d turn back… just one more… so we went around this corner and I was shocked to see how narrow the trail was getting, how close to the edge of the cliff it was positioned and how it wasn’t feeling quite as level as it had behind us.  We were about to be in trouble if we proceeded on, so I stopped the team and set the snow hook, stomping it down a few extra times.  I decided not to call the team to Gee Around because about half the time they will Haw Around instead, and if they did that, they would be way too close to the edge for my comfort, or our safety.  We were in a slide area, and I couldn’t be positive that the snow we were on wouldn’t let lose if it was disturbed close to the edge.  I’m working on staying calm, and I’m listening to my iPod when I realize the most appropriate song has started to play… Van Halen’s “Standing On Top Of The World”!  It felt far too appropriate, and made me laugh at yet another example of the Lord’s Sovereignty!   I may have felt alone, but we were certainly NOT ALONE.  I gathered my courage and slowly walked up to the leaders and decided I’d take a few photos of the team with the beautiful mountains and valley in the background while I was there.  I found myself feeling a bit shaky just standing that close to the edge and thinking about what could happen, so I slowly grabbed their necklines and led them around and lined them out back in the direction we had just come from (in the opposite direction that the sled was pointing).  I walked back to the sled to turn it around and realized that Tozi and Tkope (my wheel dogs) had been unable to get the sled to move.  It seemed stuck, maybe because of the position of the snow hook and the angle of the pull. I reached down to start maneuvering the nose of the sled around when all of a sudden it jerked and started pivoting, much more quickly than I anticipated.  I was using “tunnel vision” because I was getting more and more uneasy standing so close to the edge and kept my head down looking only at the gangline and the sled, so when things started twisting, it felt very bizarre, as if the angle of the pull was all wrong and things were moving in slow motion.  I looked up to see what could be causing it and to my HORROR, I saw that Tana and Galena had Gee’d around back right past the sled (towards me, heading in the wrong direction from where I wanted to go), and were standing no more than 2′ from the edgeLOOKING OVER THE CLIFF.  I’m sure they heard something different in my panicked voice when I told them HAW AROUND because without much help, they promptly did so… at least I think they did… things are a bit blurry as I think back to this most scary moment.   I can’t remember if I grabbed the gangline and pulled them back or they just moved on their own… things were going from slow motion to fast motion now.   I knew I had to get out of there NOW, and started carefully pushing the sled, pivoting it to the right when it suddenly started to move away from me too quickly and I was afraid I was going to lose it.  I used a trick I learned the previous week, dropping to my knees on top of the mega brake to stop the sled as quickly as possible while keeping my center of gravity as low as possible.  That’s another reason I wear knee pads!  It worked well and the sled stopped immediately, but then I noticed something that was scarier than all that had happened so far… I was starting to slide on the snow towards the direction of the edge of the cliff.  I was petrified.  I realized the sled was now pointing uphill with the runners closest to the edge.  I would have to pivot it around more before I could step on them…. I was NOT going any closer to the drop off.  From that point on everything went smoothly and we started to advance back down the trail the way we had come up.  My snow hook was wrapped around the sled onto the wrong side from re-tossing it during the “pivot”, but I wasn’t about to stop to fix it just yet.  Thinking back it was even more amazing to me that I didn’t have a single dog tangled in the gangline after all the turning around they did.  That rarely if ever happens.  There always seems to be at least one (and often two or three) that get a leg over the lines and need to be unwrapped by me, but not today.  One more thing to be thankful for.  As the team pulled me slowly back down, I realized I was still shaking and breathing heavily from the “excitement”… that was the scariest moment of my recent life!  Thank God the snow didn’t slide, my leaders didn’t step off the edge or slip, and I stopped sliding towards it and didn’t lose the sled… so many things to thank Him for from this run!

The Cliff Hanger

As we headed back down the mountain, the parts of the trail that seemed scariest  on the way up suddenly seemed much safer and simpler to maneuver!  We got down to the intersection with Lost Lake Road and I noticed the team was still looking strong and happy.  I know Cicely has to work harder than everyone else to just keep up because she’s so much smaller, especially when we’re going downhill (which I always keep under control for their shoulder safety anyway), so I worked hard at keeping the pace slow enough for her comfort and endurance.  The team wanted to turn right, back towards the truck, but I had already called out Haw, so had to follow through with the command for at least a short distance.  Before I could turn them around and head for “home”, Cicely stopped running and sat down, then laid down.  Tkope quickly joined her.  I told them we could rest a while, and went up to pet and encourage them all.  I was really proud of their work going up to Meadow Pass, and was thankful that the leaders listened well, especially when I REALLY needed them to!  After a couple minutes I called them up to get going again, so we could put this run “in the books”.  Cicely was cooperative, but not for long.  She trotted less than 20′ and sat down again.  I encouraged her to get up and go some more, promising her to only go until the song that was playing was over.  She didn’t make it 20’ before sitting down again.  I felt bad for her and turned the team around to head back, but as I did so, I noticed she suddenly had all the energy in the world to head in that direction!  We ran about 20 seconds when I decided that was not what was best for her training, so I stopped the team and Gee’d them around again, to head back in the original direction I told them to go in.  She wasn’t that happy about it, but after a little encouragement, she started trotting in sync with the team again and I praised her heavily.  I told her she needed to learn to trust me, and promised to never make her run too far or too fast.  Then after a very short time, so I didn’t risk having her sit down again, I turned the team back around towards the truck for good, and ran them back.  Cicely and the others all ran fast all the way back, right to the truck!

Once back at the truck and telling the story of “the Cliff” to friends in the parking lot, I appreciated again that He Alone keeps us safe on these trails, even when we get ourselves into perilous situations and places from time to time, just the same as He does while we’re on the sofa at home.   There is no reason to fear!  He is Able!  I also realized that I am weak and our team has limits while we make it up and down these hills to enjoy His Creation and His Presence by His Grace… We Only Move On By Grace

I was very thankful for today’s terrific training for both my team and myself, and pray that we will continue to learn each and every time we hit the trail.  We ran 18.7 Miles today, and lived to tell about it!  LOL!

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