More Highlights from Winter in Alaska, So Far

In my last post with photos from our Alaskan adventure, I promised more. So, here’s a long overdue official Friday Five post featuring some more highlights. Why would I share any low lights? πŸ˜‰ Though we have visited some of the low lands, where the weather gets considerably colder – just a few miles up the road. And, we’re now starting to experience some serious lows, temperatures that is.

It’s amazing how warm 15ΒΊ feels once you’ve ran in -20ΒΊ weather. But like we said, there’s no bad weather in Alaska, only bad gear. We’ll see though, as I’ve been assured temps will get lower. Thankfully, our friends got us covered – literally – with warm gear to supplement our warmest.

Rene bundled up for mushing adventure.

After going out and grooming trails with them on the snow machines, we finally experienced what it’s like to run a sled dog team with our friends. Our first time on the sled, we rode behind on what’s called the tag sled. This was like a Disney ride, except it was unlike any Disney ride. Standing on a sled, being towed behind the dog sled driven by an expert musher, I felt like the ultimate tourist. Except no tourist gets to experience what we did. From what I understand, sitting in the dog sled is no fun. You get a face full of snow, and whatever may fall out of the dogs’ behinds as they bound along doing what they love so much.

The excitement getting ready to go out on the sled is frenetic. The dogs know what’s happening and all they want to do is run. It gets loud. Really loud, everyone is excited. I sure was. I practically joined in with all the barking, howling, and jumping with my ear to ear grin. With ten dogs hooked up, we released the brake and woosh…

Rene driving the team.

Silence. All the barking stopped. The only sound was the patter of paws with sled runners cutting the snow and ice as we glided through trails lined with tree limbs wearing puffy white mittens. Over the hill and under the train trestle, then out onto the frozen swamps. Denali filled the horizon to the north. Sun glistened off distant slopes. A faint sun dog or two even made a brief appearance. And there we were, enjoying what we came here to do.

Why we do what we do.

What a surprise when when we stopped in the middle of this vast tundra. Gawking at the views, I heard, “Okay, your turn.” Wait, what!? The experience couldn’t get any better. And then it did. “Keep your feet on the break ’til you’re ready to go.” Never underestimate the power of ten dogs who only want to keep running. “whatever you do, hold on” kept running through my mind. Later we’d hear stories of being dragged, or dragged farther, and long hikes home.

Hold on!

We glided to a stop and gave the dogs their frozen fish rewards. Their smiles and wags said they wanted to keep going. I stepped off the sled and said, “I get it now.” We always thought our friends were crazy. They’d head north every winter as we went south in search of warmer climes. But now I get it. They’re still crazy, but now I know why.

Skiing Willow Lake
Harder than it looks!

Closer to home we’ve done our own bit of sledding on Willow lake. Nellie loves her new Bark Ranger dog stroller. And we love the ski conversion kit. Rene loves her hybrid skis. But I’ll stick to running. Yeah, it’s hard. But you know what we say about being comfortable.

Skiing Willow Lake
Willow Lake is our back yard.

There is something about putting yourself in a deadly situation that makes you feel so alive. And yeah, it can get deadly out there. If you’re not careful. It comes back to having the right gear, and paying attention to the signs of danger. Danger of frostbite. Or danger of falling and freezing before someone finds you. Not to be dramatic or anything, but by choosing to do what we do I’ve seen sights I will never forget. And, I’ve experienced a certain solitary serenity that very few people ever get. I get it now.

Shirley Lake full Moon
Full moon morning on Shirley Lake.

Check another dream off our list thanks to those crazy mushing friends. Our first sled dog race was another exciting adventure. Take that mushing I explained, and multiply that by 30 dog teams. Add in celebrity names of Iditerod winners and dozens of dog trucks and trailers parked on a frozen lake. As the sun rose, we witnessed the start of the Knik 200. We helped friends of our friends who took two teams out for the two day race. “Helping” entailed staying out of the way, loving up a bunch of happy dogs, and picking up their poop.

Knik 200
Knik 200 runners ready to go.

The mayhem as each team took off was only topped by the smiles on the dogs and the crowd alike. You never know quite what to expect in a sport with teams of incredible athletes pulling the 17th dog for hundreds of miles. I can only imagine the champions felt when beat by a 16 year old girl quickly becoming a champion in her own right.

Knik 200
Knik 200 Starting Line

Breathtaking views abound all around Alaska. And every time Denali peeks out above her surrounding peaks shrouded in clouds is an honor. We can see it from “downtown” Willow. But she graced us with another gorgeous view on our beautiful day in Talkeetna for the Wilderness Woman Competition.

Knik 200
Denali View from Talkeetna

Now, since solstice, the days are already getting longer. If only by a few minutes a day. Before long the sun may even be up for my morning runs. Until then, we shall continue to do what we do. Pushing the limits and making the most of every day. Until that day when we check this crazy adventure off our list.

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