Wickersham Trailhead. It was busy. Almost struggling to find a parking spot busy. I've been to this trailhead twice before this and was always the only truck in the lot, what a difference. My gut reaction was to not like this difference, I want to be out in the woods with my dogs and others around changes that. But I found it actually was, in a way, a fun difference. Especially when paralleled to the day before. The people were happy. It was friends on vacation and couples on break from work and dog lovers and outdoor adventurers and in general, just people happy to be there. So there was a lot of smiling and waving and complements from strangers for my beautiful dogs until we were ready. Off we ran from the truck and out into The White Mountains once again. It wasn't just the people that provided such a stark difference from the day before. The sky was bright blue, the trees were covered in sparkling snow and the views were jaw dropping. This entire run Victoria and I later reminisced over the wood stove to the equivalent of if you were at Disney world, bought a ticket for a dog mushing ride and this is what they created for you to be Disney perfect.
It was warm though here, we were up significantly higher then the previous trail head and you could almost see the warmth in the air. The dogs could feel it and took their time up the hills. We peddled hard off the sleds becoming motor number 6 to our 5 dogs and up we went, swapping rolling hills for straight stretches we cruised over until we hit the first Y in the trail. The two previous times on this trail I had gone right both times so I planned this trip to go left and was immediately rewarded. I "hawed" the team over and felt the excitement for new trail emanating off of them that was mirroring my own. The curve took us around and dumped us on the very tip top of a hill so steep we couldn't see its bottom with views more devastatingly beautiful then I have yet to see by dog team. The knowledge of strangers on the trail and a highway 45 minutes mush back melted away at this reminder of where I was and what lay in front of me. I hope these moments never cease happening for me. They're hard to explain, I guess because its hard to explain these parts of Alaska. This state being so much untouched wilderness and what that looks like when your standing in it. How small you feel but not in a lonely way, just a part of it in the natural way, the way it is for all of the living things there. Down the hill we set at a very fast pace. We tried holding back the sled with all we had, both feet standing on the claw brake at the back of the sled to keep us at a fast, but safe, speed for the dogs in front of us. Down we went, and went and kept going... this hill was huge. Such speeds at complete ease was insane fun but that part in the back of my mind still said.... you know we're going to have to climb back up this tomorrow... Tomorrow, Ill worry about it tomorrow, I said to myself in attempts of my best "Gone With the Wind" attitude. We flattened out and continued over small ponds, through heavy spruce and rolling hills. It was peaceful, quiet. Moving this far out we had left behind the majority of the day trippers and the trails were mostly to ourselves and the wildlife. Though even the wildlife left us to our run, no sightings besides old tracks moving out through the expansive views, leaving behind the knowledge there was quiet life around us and that was oddly comforting. Signs started indicated our approach on our final cabin until we came up to another small Y in the trail. I started straight as both ways were equally used but quickly saw my error. The way I chose was an albeit short but steepest climb I've seen with dogs. I wished I had a level with me for proof of this hill. No sign indicating the cabin so I figured these two trails probably reconnected but I had made a choice and couldn't go back. Physically, yes I very easily could have turned the dogs around and continued on the much easier left path but my team was already partially up the hill and this is where training comes in outweighing any "easier" option. If I turned my dogs around that would be telling my leaders that when we are going up a hill such as this or summiting a mountain that its ok to turn around. When the trail gets rough you need to make sure you have given your dogs the right mindset and confidence to know that they can do anything the trail gives them, because they can. Learned behavior is huge with sled dogs, if I "told" them it was ok to turn around on this steep hill the next time we were on a steep trail they may think "well mom did it last time so she probably wants us to turn around again". So, I jumped off the sled, called up the dogs and ran next to my handlebars giving my sled a push alongside my team. Heads were down and shoulder muscles worked until we broke the top. These dogs are incredible, and there was the cabin. Perched on the top of this little hill was the cutest public use cabin I have stayed in yet. We once again parked, snacked and let loose our little wild beasts to romp. And just as the night before, I chopped wood for the wood stove and set snow on for melting. Feeding the dogs and ourselves we relaxed again for the night with our wild beasts now turned floor matts for the night. Right before sleep myself I stepped outside one last time for a final armload of wood when I heard a noise. It was odd and very, very far away, I had to hold my breath for complete stillness to hear it. It took a full minute for me to understand what it was. Somewhere at another cabin in the Whites was a large sled dog team ready to take off. A sled dog team rested and roaring to go will quite literally roar with noise. Each member, barking, screaming and harness pounding to get moving. This was that noise but so far away it was brought to me over the cold air echoing off the side of mountains and around the valley in front of me. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, disturbing the night as the noise did. But I loved it, knowing what it was and that there were other teams around, loving life as we were. I stepped back in to my own sleeping team and tucked in (on my own loft this time) until morning. Morning chores done we got ready to set off from the cabin and back to the truck. Always with a new twist, this cabins little hill made barely room for us to set our sleds and teams on before it plummeted back down the path we climbed the day before. The dogs slept soundly the night before so by the time we were hooked up, they were screaming and banging their own harnesses to get going. Earlier in the morning Victoria and I had walked the hill, eyeing it as she was a little nervous to free fall down it straight onto a lake with some frozen overflow. A very understandable thought. But in the end I knew it was our only way out and being a straight shot the odds of something happening were slim, we just had to hang on and let the dogs have some fun. So there we were about to take off after my nonchalant act about the drop all morning to give her confidence down the trail. The self fulfilling prophecy of "im going to crash" is all too real in dog mushing. But I found my own heart pounding as I gave one final smile to her behind me before pulling my hook and leading the way. The dogs were crazed to go and no surprise we shot off like a rocket with the turbo setting of going down hill. The dogs started dropping out of sight down the hill and my heart was left pounding somewhere on the trail in front of the cabin. Both feet on the brake and arms under the handlebars in attempts to gain the most traction turned fruitless as I started down the drop myself. There was a moment, probably only milliseconds that turned to minutes in my mind, where my over extended brakes, runners and myself were free falling. I couldn't feel any traction under me. We hit the lake and the dogs started trotting like it was just another Sunday. I haven't had that kind of a heart pound in quite some time. I looked behind me to spot Victoria and she nailed it. We made our way back to the truck easily. Enjoying another sunny day with the dogs. I had saved a round of meat snacks for an energy boost and mental excitement for the dogs pre-climb up the hill we flew down the day before and we had arrived. I stopped the team and pulled out the snack sack. As the dogs munched, Victoria and I stripped down to thinner layers in prep for some hard work next to our team. So we climbed and climbed and climbed. The dogs were all business and it was beautiful to watch between my own huffing and puffing. The trees broke at the top and we pulled over as the trail flattened out. I joined the dogs in some rolling in the snow as we peaked over what we just climbed. The valley looked an unimaginable distance away, and we just climbed that... We had climbed hills together before but this trip had our highest elevation gain. These 5 dogs on each team made me beyond proud. Having a small team size makes each member so accountable for working in the team to get things done together and that is what we did this weekend and then some. Its made me addicted to do more together. To camp further, in new places with new challenges. To enjoy each others company through weather, terrain and the celebration each time we reach where we were traveling too. Our next camping trip is planned for mid February. Here we come!