Blog .:. November 2014 12 Entries
Fin and I went on a trail ride today.
More importantly, we crossed water—twice!—without me having to dismount. He half jumped the first crossing, but the second (much wider, and full of scary floating leaves) he hesitated at for a few moments and then walked through as nicely as you could ask.
The H/J trainer has been working with him in puddles at the barn, when we get rain, and I had a chance to ride him through some in my last lesson, too. But you never know how well lessons at home will carry over in the big scary world, so I was thrilled with how he did today.
I almost forgot that I’ve had him for a year, now.
When I saw his ad last year, I wasn’t even looking to buy a horse. But while cruising Facebook, I saw an ad for a half-Arabian chestnut with three white socks and a big blaze, which made me think of Ro. I hit play on the video, mostly for sentimental reasons, and then I hit play again. And again. And again.
I could feel myself about to make a stupid, sentimental decision, so I sent his ad off to a few people I hoped would knock some sense in to me. I was sure I just liked him because he looked like Ro.
Two days later, I bought him and we brought him home:
He was even better in person than he’d been in the video, and even though he was young he clearly had a great brain.
We started him under saddle—and when I say we, I mean the H/J trainer while I cheered from the sidelines and rode here and there. Fin’s a very different ride than a lot of the horses I am used to, and it’s taken me a while to become comfortable with that—although we’ve been doing much better this fall, and especially in the past few weeks.
But his brain is as good as we thought it was, and despite being young and green and only a year under saddle, he’s done everything we asked him to do and has taken care of me as much as I’ve taken care of him.
We’ve done a few shows, gone on a few trail rides—including a big, busy charity event—and we’re starting to really click and understand each other.
Up to today, when we loaded up and went for a trail ride and he ambled along like a pro. Except when he had to stop and snort at a fallen log. And act like he’d never seen cows before and thought they might, possibly, eat him, even though he was living with a few when I bought him. But he walked through water, so that’s all good.
We wouldn’t have been there at all without the H/J trainer’s help, who has brought Fin and I along amazingly well. Or my dressage trainer, who, despite only having worked with Fin a few times due to the distance I’d have to trailer him, has offered her support and advice each step of the way. Or the support of everyone at the barn, who have cheered us on all year. Or, especially, all the enablers who looked at his video a year ago and responded with exclamation points galore, while I was trying to talk myself out of the buying him because I thought I was being sentimental.
He’s not Ro, of course—and I’m glad for that. I get the blingy chestnut that I love so much, but he’s teaching me other lessons and stretching me as a rider in other, good ways.
I can’t believe how far we’ve come in a year, and I can’t wait to see where we go next year.
After we got off the buses in Skagway, we all split up and headed towards our hotels to check back in and take showers.
We were staying in the same hotel we had been at before the hike, and all our extra gear had been stored in the lobby. It took us a few minutes to get checked back in and get all our bags back to our rooms, but we were all desperate for showers so it didn’t take as long as you might think.
Then we all met up to get dinner. It felt strange to be walking around on pavement, without a pack on my back.
Sitting down to beer and steak, however, felt just right.
A couple people flew out that night, but most people were flying out the next morning. I was the only one who was taking the ferry back to Juneau, but I was looking forward to some alone time.
I’m a pretty solitary person, and it’s hard for me to be around people 24/7. For days on end. I love my family, but I was ready for some me time.
However, the next morning fog rolled in to Skagway and flights were delayed. Then something happened in Juneau, and the small planes that flew between the two locations were not being allowed to fly in.
As the day went on, everyone who had planned to fly out watched their ability to make their connections in Juneau dwindle and then disappear. The airlines were unable to tell them when flights would resume, and suddenly the ferry become the only viable way out.
This is how we ended up with most of our group on the ferry. And it was a nice trip—we talked, we ate more food that was not freeze dried or trail mix, and we eventually got to Juneau. Only to be told there was a bear in the parking lot, although I suspect the ferry people were lying like everyone else on the trip, because we never saw a bear.
Nor did we see a taxi.
There were a good thirty or forty people waiting for taxis and calling every taxi company in Juneau. Both of them. I kid. I think there were three. Hotel shuttles started showing up, but it was well over an hour before the first taxi arrived. Apparently, a few planes had landed at the same time—and apparently the cabbies preferred fares from the airport to fares from the ferry.
I thought at this point that I would be able to split off and have a little alone time, because my plan all along had been to spend the night at the airport before catching my plane the next morning. Mostly because it was free, and at the end of my month-long vacation, free sounded good to me. I was sure everyone else would get a hotel.
But in the end they decided to sleep at the airport as well.
By this point, they were teasing me mightily about how I was never going to be rid of them. I ended up spending most of the night awake and reading—the only chance I really had to decompress. I was exhausted the next morning, but it didn’t matter. My flight was one of the first out, and my connection in Seattle was short. I was home half a day later and being roundly scolded by my cats.
My entire trip had lasted a month, and geographically stretched from Fort Bragg in California to Lake Bennett in Canada. I’d camped and hiked; I gone on a road trip, taken buses, taken trains, and taken boats. I’d slashed several items off my bucket list. I’d taken on the Chilkoot Trail—perhaps a little unwisely, and certainly not as prepared as I ought to have been for it. But I had made it, and I had seen what I could do when it came down to it.
I had also learned why trips like this are called “once in a lifetime”—you’d have to be a little insane to do them twice.
So the next trip won’t be quite so extreme. I want to hike Hadrian’s Wall, in England. It will be a longer trip—70+ miles—but there are pubs all along the way. In fact, I don’t even have to camp it; I can stay in B&Bs the entire way and let someone port my baggage for me. The idea of short, pleasant hikes through England with a day pack on my back and a hot meal and good British cider at the end is certainly appealing.
But that’s a couple years down the road. For now, I’m just enjoying being home. With hot showers.
I woke up the next morning feeling somewhat better. The two guys still looked pretty rough, but we were all happy to have reached the end of the trail. We might not have processed it completely yet, but we were happy.
There’s a train that comes in to Bennett a few times a week. Some tourists will take it in so they can see the lake, visit the church and the trapper’s cabin, and get a taste of the Chilkoot Trail. And many of the hikers on the trail take the train back to Skagway.
We had a few hours before the train would arrive, so we packed up our bags and people decided to do some sightseeing. Most of the group went back to take a closer look at the church, but I was limping around camp and no longer able to put my full weight on my leg. I passed on the church and spent some time walking up and down the lake just taking pictures.
There was a bald eagle in a tree:
And the remains of some old boat docks/piers:
For the stampeders, Bennett was the end of the walking trail. From here on, they were able to journey by boat. There was a massive tent city at Bennett over the winter, as the stampeders built their boats and waited for the spring thaw-and thousands of boats sailed out when the ice finally broke up.
The left behind all sorts of artifacts—junk, in many cases. Empty cans. Empty tins. Stoves they no longer wanted to carry. More bones. Bottles.
It’s not entirely hard to understand why. After five days of hiking and just carrying 30 pounds or so each, some of our group felt like the walking dead. And we had only made the trip once. The stampeders, thanks to having to port a ton of good with them, would have covered many, many more miles just to reach Bennett—and most of them went in the winter, where they battled the elements as well as the distance and terrain.
To finally reach Bennett, to secure a boat, and to see the ice break up and the freedom of the lake stretch before you, with the promise of gold at the end…
Small wonder that they would leave behind their trash and junk and sail off without worrying about what would become of it.
What is a water canister compared to the call of an open river and gold?
Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the entire trail is that, for all the hardship the stampeders endured, for the most part it was wasted effort. By the time they heard about the gold rush from their homes in the northwest of the United States, secured passage up to Alaska, and crossed the Pass with their ton of goods… after sitting out the rest of the winter at Bennett and finally sailing off in a boat… most of the claims had already been staked.
There was gold to be found, but most of the stampeders crossing the Chilkoot Pass came too late.
It’s a maudlin ending to the trail, to be certain.
We, however, had a much better ending to look forward to. Not only were we going to be picked up by the train—no more hiking!—there was a hot lunch waiting at the station for most of us. I had opted out of it because it was stew and I’m not fond of stew; I figured I would live until we got back to Skagway, and then I was going to find the biggest steak available anywhere in Skagway and make short, short work of it.
But when we got down to the train station, we realized that we were, well, we were hiker trash.
If you’re not familiar with the term, it apparently means that you’ve been out on the trail so long that civilized people no longer want anything to do with you.
I mentioned that tourists would take the train in to Bennett and spend a couple hours checking Bennett out. They also had the option to eat some stew. But while the tourists were given access to a dining room with big windows looking out at the lake, hikers were welcomed into a back and entirely separate room.
In all fairness, we did stink.
Since I wasn’t eating the stew, I hung out with the packs and asked them to bring me some bread. In the meantime, I watched the tracks and waited for the train.
The most beautiful sound on earth may be a train whistle when you are at the end of your rope and just want to see civilization again. Or not even civilization. Hot, running water will do.
But if the “Welcome Hikers” sign on the back door of the train station hadn’t alerted us to our hiker trash status, the train rolling in certainly did. All the passengers were standing, pressed up against the window as it came in. Not the windows looking out at the lake: the windows looking down at the hikers.
We had become part of the tourist attraction. We were the brave, adventurous souls who had hiked the trail. We were freaks on display.
Everyone unloaded from the train, heading off to their nice dining room or to the sights in Bennett itself. Eventually we were allowed to load our bags on to the baggage car, and then we were told which two of the train cars we could board.
I think we were all kind of enjoying our hiker trash status, because it took about 30 seconds of everyone being on board before we began to joke about the pine-fresh scent blasting through the train car. And at our surprise that the seats were carpeted—that seemed so much harder to clean than if they had been wood or metal and the whole car could just be hosed out.
The train ride back to Skagway was pretty and relaxing, not the least because it involved no walking whatsoever.
When we reached Skagway, we were told to remain on the train until customs cleared us, and then we could go to one of the buses waiting nearby and we’d be taken in to Skagway proper.
I wondered how clearing customs would work, given that we’d never gotten an entry stamp in to Canada. But that turned out not to matter, since the agents simply asked us all to hold up our passports and then they breezed through the car, glancing quickly at them as they went.
Officially, if you look at my passport, this trip never happened.
We got off the train and went to get our luggage, which was being unloaded quickly and without much ceremony with the train. That is, they were being dropped and people were sorting through them as they could. Unfortunately, the rough handling knocked a can of bear spray off one of the packs, setting it off on the waiting hikers, and hitting a couple people pretty much straight on. They were pulled aside for first aid while the rest of us gathered up bags, boarded a bus, and were driven a short five minutes into Skagway.
Our trip was over—there was nothing left to do but celebrate and head home. How hard could that possibly be?
The morning of Day 5, we split up into three groups again. G’s wife dropped from the front group back to my group, but otherwise we were the same as on Day 4.
And here we made a bad mistake.
We’d been warned—and it’s only common sense—to make sure that if the groups split up, each group was self sufficient. And we had done some cursory checking—we knew each group had bear spray, and we knew there were tents in each group. Everyone was packing their own sleeping bag. But it turned out we had made one very important assumption that would prove to be incorrect.
However, heading out on to the trail, everything seemed good.
We made the three miles to Bare Loon Lake without too many problems, although our pace was definitely slower. The terrain had changed again, and the trail was rougher, with more scrambling up and down small hills. The guys were lagging, and I was unable to push off my injured leg at all—or land on it first with my full weight coming down. I was using my walking stick almost as a crutch going up or down. I managed to keep up pretty well, and I was still weight bearing—I just couldn’t trust that leg to be fully load bearing.
So by the time we hit Bare Loon Lake, I was tired and ready for lunch. This was the most primative of the campgrounds we passed through. There wasn’t even a warming cabin, just a covered pavilion where people could sit to eat. Seeing this, we were doubly glad we had stopped at Lindeman the night before. But the scenery was pretty:
Unfortunately, it turned out no one in the group had a stove. And I only had dehydrated food in my pack. Well, that’s not true. I also had some trail mix and jerky, but I couldn’t open the bag without gagging—a leftover issue from Day 2 and 3. G and his wife had a bag of peanuts that they shared with me, and I was able to eat that, probably because they didn’t have all the trail mix smell associated with them. But other than that, all I had was a few power energy gummy things.
B was in the same boat that I was in, and while C and G had a little food, they didn’t have a lot they could share with us.
When we left Bare Loon Lake, we were not in much better shape than when we arrived.
Very soon after, we became punchy. The jokes become more off color, and… but no. The Trail Pledge is sacred.
We had heard at Lindeman that there was an artist somewehere along the trail, drawing or painting or something. And while we were tired, hurt, and pretty jaded by scenery at this point, somewhere deep down we still appreciated the scenery. Or the idea of scenery, at least.
And so, when we hit a section of the trail and realized the artist was sketching, we were of course deeply respectful and reverent. One of the guys and I didn’t do anything like scramble up to see what she was sketching and call back to the other two “It’s just a lake. We’ve seen them before.” Or advise the artist that she should just take a photograph. Or nearly fall down with laughter at our wittiness.
Look, we were tired. And hungry. All of us were hurting. We were not ourselves.
But we thought we were freaking hilarious.
We headed out on the trail again, but we hadn’t gone too far before we were taking another break. The artist and the guide with her walked by not long after and we got a much-deserved stink eye.
However, when we leap frogged them again a little later, I think they realized just how beat we were, and they assured us that we were very close to camp. Only a mile or a mile and a half, and we just had to get down to and through the sandy stretch.
Like everyone else on the trail, they lied. But I don’t think it was intentional—their camp was based at Lake Bennett, and they were making some trips inland so the artist could do her sketching. They were not nearly as trail weary as we were, and I’m sure it seemed like a much shorter walk to them.
We eventually reached a trapper’s cabin, but by then I was so exhausted I couldn’t even think of getting out my camera. We spent a few minutes looking at it, but that was as much to take a break as it was to see the cabin.
We then continued on, and we were, by this point, within half a mile or so of the campground.
We had passed a few parts of the trail that had a sandy component to them, so we were cheering up just a little bit. And then, suddenly, it all turned to beach sand. If you think walking on beach sand with a 30 pound pack on your back would be fun, just imagine doing it after hiking 6+ miles on no food, at the end of four days of solid, hard hiking.
I think both guys and I would gladly have curled up and just died on the trail at that point. It was sheer cussedness that kept us moving.
At about this time, E showed up—we were more than two hours behind the lead group, and they had gotten very concerned about us, especially since the groups had come in so close together the other days. E had also run into the artist and her guide, who by then had realized they had given us a bad distance estimate. They let E know we were struggling.
However, although E. offered to take a pack from one of us, we all stubbornly refused. Even though I knew I should let him take mine, especially since by that point my leg was in constant pain, we were so close to the end that I refused to give in. I was going to make it. I really was.
We passed the church, another of the famous landmarks on the trail, but I barely spared it a glance. I was going to make it to the end of the trail. At the time, I thought I would go back and see the church the next day, since we would have some time before the train arrived.
My arrival in to camp is something of a fog. I think the rest of our group met us on the trail, too, to encourage us in, but I don’t really remember. I remember dumping my pack on one of the picnic tables, and I remember rooting through the bear box to find a stove and fuel. Despite the fact that it is really, really bad bear safety, I left the pack on the picnic table and headed into the cabin to make food.
The guys staggered in to the cabin not long after, and they did not have much more energy than I did. I think it took an hour or so before I recovered enough to remember my pack and start thinking about things like setting up our tent for the night.
I do remember there was some issues with the tent setup—we had some difficulty finding places to set up all the tents, because there were not many sites in the trees. One member of our group set up their tent across the path from the rest of us, but a ranger came through and told us she had to move it—that was the bears’ right of way, and it needed to stay clear so that the bears would have a clear exit from the area in the event that they got spooked. By clear exit, of course, she meant not running over anyone’s tent.
I don’t even remember when I finally went to bed. Day 5 had really been pure hell for me, and it’s probably just as well that I don’t remember the end of it all that well.
I think the day would have been hard on us regardless, because we were all definitely feeling the toll of the entire trip. And it was a rough trail, much like Day 2—a lot of rough climbs up and down vs. being able to get in to a steady and consistent rhythm. But the fact that we had all assumed someone in the group had a stove really just killed us, and my situation wasn’t helped by my inability to even snack on trail mix or jerky to help myself along.
Never, ever make an assumption when it comes to trail safety. Always check and double check. Always.
The morning of Day 4 was a curious mix of elation (we had survived the Pass!) and reevaluation (I was walking on my leg but in pain, and the two guys who had struggled most on Day 2 were really pretty beat after the Pass).
Our original itinerary for Day 4 had been to go from the Deep Lake campground to Bare Loon Lake, about six miles. Since we had stopped at Happy Camp, we had an extra 2.5 miles to go to reach Bare Loon Lake. We knew this would be another long day, but we hoped it would be an easy one—we’d been told there was a little more boulder scrambling to get through and then the trail turned into a nice, even, gentle downward sort of hike.
The two guys were skeptical, as they were convinced by then that everyone lied about everything on the trail.
However, the only way to find out was to go.
We decided we would split into three groups again, since that had worked very well the day before. Our issue wasn’t that one group was really much faster than another—everyone made it in to Happy Camp within an hour of each other—but that we had different approaches to the hike. Or rather, to breaks.
When we had traveled in a large group on Day 1 and 2, those of us who were in worse shape felt pressured to keep breaks short. The fitter people said they were happy to take as long as we wanted, and I’m sure they were, but their body language made it plain when they were done resting and ready to get moving again. It’s hard to insist on resting longer when you feel like you are holding the entire group back. So you push on sooner than you are really ready, and you start the next leg off a little more tired, and want to slow down a little more.
Over the course of the day, we ended up feeling like we’d been walked off our feet. I had felt like that on Day 1, and while I had managed better on Day 2—since I was setting pace—the two guys who were also struggling had still felt a little too pushed.
When we split into the even smaller group on Day 3, they’d felt less pressure to take short breaks and, in the end, their longer breaks had let them walk faster, meaning they kept pretty good pace with the other groups.
So they wanted to do the same thing again on Day 4. Given the problems I was having with my leg, I opted to drop back to their group—I really wanted the opportunity to take longer breaks as needed. Their wives decided to swap and join my mom, aunt, and E. in the first group out. As before, the other two members of the group, who liked to break camp late, would follow along behind.
The guys and I quickly made a pact: anyone who wanted a break could call for one, and we would sit around for as long as any one person wanted. And any conversation we had on the trail stayed on the trail.
After making it through the boulder field with some cursing, the trail did indeed start to become… almost pleasant. We were back to some of the elevation gain and loss, similar to Day 2, but it wasn’t quite as severe and the scenery was much, much prettier than we had on Day 2:
Although there are lakes visible as soon as you come down from the Pass, the stampeders had to get to at least Lake Lindeman before they could use their boats—before that, the water was too shallow or connected by rapids too severe to risk boats on. And many stampeders did not build their boats until they reached Bennett Lake, due to questionably navigable rapids between Linedeman and Bennett.
Because of this, for this portion of the trail they were still ferrying their gear and using things like sleds to make their journey easier:
But that’s not to say that some didn’t try building and porting boats with them:
The wood surrounding Lindeman and Bennett was being stripped quickly by the stampeders, and so in some cases people were making boats where they could—sometimes, as we had already seen, even porting the boats up and over the Pass.
After an easy 2.5 mile hike, we reached Deep Lake, where we had intended to camp the night before. We caught up with the first group while we were there, but they were heading out and we were ready for a break. We waved good bye to them and relaxed for a bit. We had another six miles to go, but compared to the first three days, this day was almost restful. Easy. Pretty scenery and a decent trail that wasn’t trying to kill us with every step.
At least, I found it that way. I can’t speak entirely for the guys, as our conversation… ah, but our conversation is secret. The trail pledge is sacrosanct.
We all agreed that the scenery was stunning, however. This was definitely my favorite day—it was some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen, and I was seeing it with the knowledge that it was scenery earned, not given to anyone who wants to hop in their car or take a quick train ride.
Not too long after we left Deep Lake, we ran into a Canadian ranger. She checked on our plans, and when she learned that we were going all the way to Bare Loon Lake, she let us know that there were plenty of open spots at Lindeman if we wanted to stop there. In addition to being closer, Lindeman was much more sheltered and comfortable.
This presented a minor pickle: one of the rules hammered into us by the rangers was that if we split up our group, we all needed to know the plan and stick to it. They had had cases where a large group split up and ended up at two different camp sites—with no way to communicate that everyone was safe.
So while we were all for stopping at Lindeman, we were also at the mercy of the group ahead of us—if they didn’t stop there, we couldn’t, either. We knew the ranger had talked to them, however, and we were hoping they would choose to stop.
Lindeman is only about 3 miles from Bare Loon, so it was only a few hours before we arrived there. Despite the easier trail, we were still moving at about 1 mph. But unlike the exhausted drudge of the day before, this had been an easier, more enjoyable walk.
We were thrilled to find some of our party waiting on the trail for us—they had indeed decided to stop at Lindeman. A couple led us off to our campsites while one remained on post, waiting for the last group to come in. As on Day 3, everyone arrived within an hour of each other.
Lake Lindeman itself was not the prettiest lake we saw on the trip:
It was also the first water source where I really questioned whether or not a water filter would be enough and if we shouldn’t purify the water as well. And, in fact, when I took down water bottles for several people and filled them all, there were some complaints about the taste. I don’t know if it was the lake or my filter—they seemed to like the water just fine when it was someone else’s filter. And I didn’t really notice a difference with the taste, to be honest.
But if it wasn’t the prettiest spot on the trip, it did have a lot of artifacts, often scattered through the trees and underbrush:
This was the first time I saw bones, something we had been warned would be on the trail. Some of the bones were from moose and other animals they hunted, but some of the bones were from the many horses killed along this trail. Most of the horses were brought in via White Pass, not over the Chilkoot Pass. But while White Pass may have seemed an easier route to bring livestock in, in the end it was not; so many horses died in White Pass that it became known as Dead Horse Pass.
I couldn’t tell you if the bones I saw were from moose or horses, but even after more than 100 years, there were still many bones lying around the camp.
While there is some romance in the thought of the Gold Rush, or of retracing part of the Gold Rush route, the reality is that it was a hard and brutal trail and not all the lives that were lost on it were human.
But some were, and we stopped at the cemetery to pay quiet respects to those as well.
We also visited the Lake Lindeman library, which amused me by its very existence. But it’s there—a small cabinet of books and games to provide some amusement to people traveling along the trail.
After checking out the area, we headed back to camp to eat, relax, and dry out a bit.
Although it hadn’t really rained on the trip, it had been damp and dreary. Our clothes were wet from brushing against trees and shrubs, and most of us had wet tents because we couldn’t properly dry them in the mornings. What’s more, some of us had soaked sleeping bags as well—one tent was not waterproof at all, and my mom and I were having problems with moisture seeping up through the floor of our temp.
So we were all happy to see that the warming cabin at this campground had a stove in it. I suspect that’s what made our first group decide to stop here rather than go on to Bare Loon Lake—the opportunity to spend an afternoon getting everything dried out was too good to miss.
What actually happened is that we strung everything we could up on lines in the cabin, and it quickly turned into a sauna from all the moisture. A wet-wooly-sock-smelling sauna. The only upside to being in the cabin was that it was warm and the smell seemed to scare off the mosquitoes.
By this point on the trail we all smelled pretty offensive all the time, so the warming cabin was not too much worse than what we were dealing with anyway. The smell managed to penetrate our mostly-shut-down noses to some extent, but not so much that it drove us all out and into the welcoming arms of the mosquitoes.
And so we settled in for an easy and long rest, after hiking about 5.5 miles. This meant we would have 7 miles to go the next day, instead of the 4 we had originally planned, but we were all happy to have an easy day after climbing the Pass. And we were even happier to be able to dry everything out—not just because it made sleeping that night more pleasant, but also because it meant our packs were noticeably lighter the next day.
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