Sunday, March 3, 2013

Walking with skis

We had a goal in mind: the Owl-Haas loop on cross country skis. At ten miles and not groomed, it is up there in terms of difficulty, but we had high hopes, starting off early under spring-like skies. Unfortunately the snow was spring-like too. "Concrete mashed potatoes" was an apt description of the heavy, wet slush we forced our skis through. Joyful downhills were instead slow slogs. We were walking with skis.

Poor pole placement, but stylish down skirt. This was on the snowmobile trail, on the way back. The rest of the loop did not look like this.

But that was okay. The loop is a quiet spiral through the trees, deserted by everyone but us. We were down to two layers in the high elevation sun. We skied two miles in a slow effort, but we knew the loop was within our grasp.

The dog far ahead, still afloat.

Until we noticed the dog. Gamely she postholed far behind us, sinking in up to her face. Even walking in our ski tracks, she sunk in. Which made sense, because we were also sinking in several inches. With eight miles to go, it was obvious the dog would make it, but at a cost. The choice was inevitable--slog back the two miles to the car, put the dog in, and try again.

Dogs are like that. They keep you humble. On a trip in the southwest, my husband and I had a rule: if the bouldering was too hard for the dogs, it was too hard for us. Dogs will try their heart out and collapse; they don't keep a reserve. On another hike in Hells Canyon, Sierra walked her pads off, never once complaining.

It has been different, adjusting to life with dogs. With three of them, we can't often stay in hotels, unless we sneak one in, claiming to only have two (and we would never, ever do that. Ever.) Hiking with them, we either are pulled along at high speeds on leashes or we have to pick trails where people don't go. Lovers of people, the dogs bound toward unsuspecting hikers with enthusiasm. They aren't jumpers or barkers; they just pant happily around new people, but three large missiles can make others nervous.

This dog I had with me today wasn't mine; she's a floppy-eared sweetie who seems to have her share of difficulties on the trail, not the least of which was a rattlesnake bite a couple of years ago. We didn't want to risk any injuries, so we deposited her in the car and decided to head out on the loop the other way, in hopes of closing the gap.

With the passing warm hours the snow worsened until we were floundering at a snail's pace. "We could still do it," we both said, but we knew that trying to finish would mean racing the dark. It was already two pm with seven miles to go. Our pace had deteriorated to about two miles an hour and it was obvious that even our tracks out would not provide much of a glide. Sometimes I hate the voice of reason.

Lunchtime. "We've only gone two miles."

See how enticing this is?
So we turned around after two and a half more miles and slogged out, gaining hardly any glide in our old tracks. It was the right choice, but that didn't make it easy. At the car, the dog was happy to see us. It was a day of correct decisions; often the days aren't. We made plans to be back, with better snow and perhaps no dogs.

But then again, I like having dogs along. I love their enthusiasm. They don't hold back. They can teach us a lot about living in the moment.

Blurry, but here's my pack.


  1. Awwww doggies are so great. Getting outside is all that matters really, right?


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