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Entries about trails

A Celebration of Green

A Day Hike Along the Indian Creek Trail

overcast 55 °F

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I grew up in the woods. The wilds of northern Michigan contain a thick forest of hardwoods and pine. I spent many days wandering through the trees with my friends, dogs, and by myself. There isn’t much of a horizon up there, just more trees. If you want to see far away, you must visit the shore of Lake Superior.

My background lends me comfort in other woodlands that I may visit. I still enjoy a good romp among the tall trees of the forest wherever I can find them.

I felt that familiar pull to head into the forest several days ago. I was in Sitka, Alaska recuperating from my latest working stint. I knew a walk through the woods would be good for me.

With my friend Annie in tow, we started walking towards the trailhead of the Indian Creek Trail. I used to frequent this trail when I called Sitka home. It had been two years since I had last seen it, and I wanted to reconnect with it.
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Before we got there, Annie spied a couple of gravestones from the sidewalk. We stepped into the dark woods to investigate. One grave led to another. We found perhaps ten graves with stones from various decades ranging from the late 1800s to the 1950s. The graves were spread throughout a little patch of spruce. The graves weren’t in a designated cemetery. They didn’t look like they were cared for anymore. Some of the stones were chipped and leaning. Some of the graves had sunk into the earth.
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I like old cemeteries especially when I find them in an obscure place. They have character, and tell a silent tale of the rise and fall of humanity. I thought it was a very peaceful place.

We stopped briefly at the trailhead to look at the map. I remembered the way, though not the particulars of the trail. The Indian Creek trail is well marked (at least up to the waterfall). I didn’t have any worries about finding our way there or back. We walked on.
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The temperate rainforests of southeast Alaska are among the prettiest I have ever walked through. If I could only use one word to describe them, I would use “green.” The Sitka spruce dominates this stretch of forest. They stand thickly together, towering above the trail. These are old trees, some of them dating back five hundred years or more. The trunks of these old ones are huge - far bigger than I could put my arms around. They remind me of the redwood trees of northern California, though these spruce are not as big as the largest giants down there.
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A thick green mat of moss covers the entire forest floor and fallen stumps below the canopy. Swampy taiga areas dot the forest floor with heads of skunk cabbage growing from them. Tall whips of devil’s club grow everywhere - their broad leaves just beginning to unfurl. Various types of ferns grow from fallen stumps.
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The forest floor is a jumble of fallen limbs and massive trunks scattered all over the place. Some of the newly fallen trees ripped their roots out of the ground when they fell down. The black twisted root system easily stands over ten feet high.

It is a great forest.
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Throughout this forest runs Indian Creek. The melting mountain snow and continuous rainfall feed the river in an unending supply of cold clear water. Several smaller brooks also feed this creek and we crossed several of them by bridge.
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“Stand Still Like a Hummingbird”

Annie and I stopped to take a break after crossing the first major bridge over the river. We sat down, ate some tidbits, drank some water and chilled out for a few minutes. As a photographer, I always am looking for a good photograph. It was here that I made some of my favorites of the year.
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Overhanging the creek was a small mossy patch that looked like a perfect seat. I had Annie take an easy pose that she could hold for several seconds at a time. She needed to hold completely still, because I had my shutter speed set at three seconds. A long shutter speed will blur moving water for a silky effect. I took a few photos, recomposing and trying different speeds until I found the right spot.

I wanted to try to see if both of us could be in the picture. I had Annie sit down in her spot and I looked over the scene to see where I would fit. It was obvious that I had to be in the river. I set my camera up to take a picture every ten seconds for ten pictures. I climbed down a stump put my feet into the icy cold water. It was painful. My feet started to go numb almost instantly, but I hustled as fast as I could to where I thought the composition was right. I turned and held my pose for the camera. It was imperative that I held still. This was not easy, because my feet were in agony. The water was frigid, and it took all of my composure to hold still. I held as long as I could stand before lunging back to shore. I happily yelled out in pain as I climbed out of the water. Cold isn’t strong enough a word for the temperature of that water.

We looked at the results as I warmed my feet. My positioning was just a bit off, but the pictures were great. I had created the effect I wanted to in this picture. To make it perfect, I’d have to do it again. This time, I made mental notes of where I had to be. The water wasn’t any warmer on my second attempt, but I was satisfied with the results.
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I put my boots back on, and we continued along the trail.

This walk had no parameters. Time didn’t matter. Distance didn’t matter. There wasn’t any destination. We turned around when it felt right to do so. When we were hungry, we pulled out our lunch and put our one beer in the creek to cool. Trail beers get cold in just a couple of minutes in Alaskan streams. As we ate, it started to rain. That didn’t matter either. We were content to enjoy the walk for what it was.

The Fascinating Banana Slug
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Annie is good at seeing banana slugs. She found this one eating a leaf right next to the trail. Banana slugs thrive in the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest. They come in a variety of colors, waxy pale to jet black. This one was a handsome dog turd brown color.

Banana slugs leave a slime trail wherever they crawl. They move slowly, and it’s interesting to see how far they have crawled over the moss carpet.
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I put my macro lens on my camera to see if I could get any close ups shots of the slug. It was hard to get the lighting right in the gloom. With a little experimentation, I was able to get the right combination of physics and art.

End Game

It started to rain harder. We grew weary with our efforts. The walk turned into a slog, but we made the best of it. We finished our day by stopping at the grocery store for food before heading back to the hostel. We put on dry clothes, cooked a healthy dinner and relaxed. This is one of the best ways I know of to end a good hike.

Author’s Note:

The Sitka Trail Association has done a marvelous job with its trail system. The Indian creek trail is a shining example of what happens when a group of good people gets together and create a good trail system. To find other trails in Sitka, volunteer or support them find them at: www.sitkatrailworks.org
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Posted by Rhombus 13:16 Archived in USA Tagged trees rivers hiking green alaska photography trails forests sitka Comments (0)

The Great Bicycle Fiasco

The Trials and Tribulations of a Bike Owner

sunny 78 °F

The Great Bicycle Fiasco began (not surprisingly) with a single thought. “I should get a bike.” Well, that thought blossomed, and I began to visualize the bike I was hoping to get. I like old bikes. Old bikes have more character than newer designs. I love big fenders, shaky wheels, big springy seats, and handlebars that haven’t any aero-dynamics. The best ten dollars I’ve ever spent in my life was on one such bike. It was a one speed, rusted black, Schwinn. It came with big chrome fenders, and narrow handlebars. It quaked and shook slightly when I rode it. I loved that bike. That bike had an epic demise. It involved a beautiful blonde, a sunny spring day, and a moment of bicycle self-destruction. That story will have to wait for another day.
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I found my new bike at a funky antique store in Clarkston, Washington, called The Hangar. Many antique stores are run as a collective- meaning several dealers have banded together to form a co-op that has rented out a space to sell their wares. When I walked into the shop, I asked the sunny woman at the register if she had any bikes. “Yes, just the one out front... Or, I do have an old one.” The way she said it, made it sound like I’d be crazy to be interested in the old bike. I said to her, “I’d like to see the old one, if you don‘t mind.” Since the customer is always right, she smiled and led me on a winding path through a maze of interesting old stuff.

It was love at first sight. I told my host, “Now, that’s a great bike.” She looked at me askance, but seemed mildly amused at the same time. I walked around it, admiring its lines. The bike is that sixties tannish beige color. It wasn’t pale yellow, yet it wasn’t tan, it was a mixture of both of them. It had two solid fenders, wide comfortable handlebars and a boxy triangular seat. It was just what I was looking for.

The tires were both flat, but this didn’t scare me. I’ve picked up some handy man skills over the years and figured a couple of inner tubes would be an easy fix. Beyond that, I’d raise the seat, polish the chrome, and give it a tune-up with tools I had onboard the ship.

I bought the bike for forty dollars. This might sound like a lot for an old cruiser, but I knew I could easily resell this bike at the end of my ship contract. Several of the women I worked with would buy it from me in a second. I pushed it out of the store, saddled up, and pedaled on down the highway. I know that this isn’t good for the bike rims, but I HAD to ride it. After two hundred yards, I stepped off and pushed it another half mile back to the ship.

Author’s Note: The following is a true series of unfortunate events. I offer you the sequence of anguish this bike has caused me over the past week and a half. As you read this, please keep in mind that all I really want in this world is to take this bike on a leisurely ride.

The First Week

On the first night that I “owned” my bike, I set to work seeing what I could improve. I oiled the moving parts, inflated the tires, and chemically scrubbed some rust off the rims. I found from my initial investigations, that one of my tires held air, while the other tire did not. This seemed an easy fix. I decided to run off to store the next day to get a couple of tubes. In my haste, I neglected to measure the size of my tires before I headed off to buy new tubes. Consequently, I bought the wrong size and style of tubes.

I figured this out when I tried to install them on the rim. I had to stretch it like a taut rubber band to get it on the rim. And when I tried to inflate the tire, it remained flat. Then I got the bright idea to patch the original tube. I filled it with air and held the tube to my ear to see if I could hear where it was leaking air. I found a tiny hole near the valve stem. I talked to our Boson who gave me some extremely powerful glue to use to patch the rubber. I went about cleaning, preparing, gluing (nearly getting high in the process) and sealing the hole. The instruction manual informed me that it took twenty-four hours to cure. I was happy with my efforts.

Twenty-four hours later, I happily grabbed my tire, tube and tools. I put the tube and my tire back on its rim and re-inflated it. I watched with excitement as it seemed to be holding air, but after ten minutes, the tire began to get softer and softer, my initial pleasure began to deflate and sag- just like the tire.

A day passed before I had a chance to work on it again. Since I’m working on a ship, I can’t just run to the local bike shop every time I need a new tube. I have to work, and I only have limited free time in which to run into town. However, I knew I’d be at The Dalles with plenty of free time on a Monday afternoon. I found a map to the bike shop online. When one p.m. rolled around, I bolted off the ship to get my tires. I kept a brisk pace as I walked east along Second Street, counting down the numbers on the buildings until I reached Salmon Cyclery. The shop was dark. The door locked. The shop was closed on Monday.

I walked glumly back to the ship. I checked online again and found that my next chance to go to a bike shop was in Hood River the next day. I checked with my supervisor to see if I could run to town for a half hour, and I was ready to go. I didn’t count on the fact that as soon as we dropped our guests off at the dock, we left.

In retrospect, I can’t quite believe my patience. I guess I was still doggedly holding to the idea that I would be riding my bike the next day. “Tomorrow never comes.”

Finally, six days after I purchased my bike, I was in Portland, Oregon. Portland is one of the most bike friendly cities in the United States and I figured if I couldn‘t find the right gear here, I couldn‘t find it anywhere. I speed walked up Salmon Avenue counting the blocks to get to Tenth Street. There I would find the Bike Gallery. This was the closest bike shop to the ship in downtown Portland.

It seemed like my stars were finally starting to align. The shop was open, and well stocked. Before I left, I had measured the tires, and had memorized their dimensions since my first mistake earlier in the week. I talked with a skinny guy at the register, and he helped me find two tires, with matching tubes. I made my purchase, and went back to the ship.

I tolerated the day of work. I was slowly baking away in the hot sun, impatiently waiting to get off my shift. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Finally, 7 pm rolled around and I ran up to my bike. I quickly dismantled the tires in the gloaming of late evening and brought them down to the crew lounge aka Thom’s Bike Shop to put on the new ones. The tire said 26 inches. The rim said 26 inches. They should work, right? Wrong. The tires lied. After many frustrating minutes of trying to stretch the tire over the rim, I finally gave up. They weren’t going on. Upon measuring the tires, I found they were only 25 inches. It was another crushing blow, and I was beginning to lose heart in this futile project. I told the chief engineer, “At this point, I’m hoping I’ll get to ride it by November.”

The next day brought me to Astoria, Oregon. I gathered the last of my optimism and put it to good use. I had the following things going for me: It was my day off, I had a ride into town and Astoria has a bike shop that was open on Friday. I had all day to work on my bike if it came down to that. I was hoping it wouldn’t.
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I had some time to kill before the bike shop opened. I put my time to good use by calling my brother. I sat on a park bench overlooking Astoria’s waterfront. It was a pleasant morning. The wind whisked charismatic leaves about the sidewalk. I couldn’t help but set up a few photos. The conversation was great. It reminded me of why I really like this guy.

Comedic Timing

I walked into the well-appointed bike shop in Astoria shortly after it opened. The owner wore a working man’s apron, spectacles and smile. I asked him if he had any bike tires that would work on the rim I had brought in with me. He said he might, and asked me to follow him to his tires section. He searched through his tires, testing them against my rim. He measured my rim, and tried some more, mumbling to himself while he searched. Finally, he turned to me, and gave me the bad news, “Sorry, I don’t have any that will work. I can order them for you though, and you’ll get them next week.” I thought about it for awhile, checked my calendar, and did the math. I just couldn’t face another week of this. I thanked him for his time and stepped out into the street.

I sighed, and wondered what I did to deserve this kind of run around. I had one option left that I didn’t think of before. What if I put my new tubes in my old tires? The old tires were well worn and cracked. They had sections of dry rot where the supporting mesh poked through. I decided to give them a shot. If it worked, I’d be riding that day, if it didn’t, I‘d be no further along then I currently was on this project. I caught a cab back to Tongue Point where we moored our ship. I went dumpster diving into the trash to pull out the old tires that I had thrown away the night before. I grabbed my tools, rims and new tubes and set to work.

The installation went well. By this time, I had become very proficient at changing bike tires. I had them reinstalled on the rims faster than you could recite Homer’s “Odyssey.” I crossed my fingers, and put air into the tubes. They inflated beautifully. Finally, after all that disappointment, I knew I could take my new bike out for a spin around the dock. I bounded back up to the Lido where my bike lay upside down. I bolted on the tires, and spun the wheels until they hummed. They rolled straight and true.

Down on the dock, I stepped into the pedals and took my baby on our first ride. It was awesome. I kept yelling at the occasional crewmember who walked by, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m Riding, I’m riding!” I was completely happy.

It passed its trial run. I grabbed my adventure bag, and set off down the dock at a comfortable speed. I didn’t know where I was going, but the unknown was calling my name. As I neared the first hill, I built up some speed to help me ascend the slope. Just as I started up the incline, I put all my weight into the downward stroke of the pedal, “POW!” My chain had snapped.

Now, I am blessed with a good sense of humor. At this point, all I could do was laugh. The irony, and comedic timing of this chain snapping was perfect. All of the pent up frustration I had with this bike drained away with my laughter. There was nothing to do about it. I braked to a stop, walked back a few feet to what was left of my chain, and wrapped it around my handlebars. I turned my bike around, and scootered it back to the boat. I hauled it up to its home and secured it to the rail. I put on my walking shoes, and stepped off the boat. I was going to walk to town.

For the rest of the day, I pampered myself, and enjoyed my day off. I went out for lunch at the Rogue Public House. I ate a delicious burger with a Dead Guy Ale. I stopped in at one of my favorite bookstores to peruse their racks. I found a book on writing style. Finally, I bought a new bike chain from the bike shop. I finished my spree by drinking a strawberry milkshake in the shade of a comfortable birch tree.

I caught the bus back to the ship. It was evening, and I decided to install my new bike chain. After tinkering a little on the new chain, I set it on my bike. I would test ride it the next day.

Moonlight Ride

It’s getting dark out. The breeze blows steadily with occasional warm currents from the heat of the day still curl around me. A day past full, the moon is rising steadily over our little harborage. It casts a pale light across the vacant park I’m enjoying. I had just finished a satisfying slack line session. It’s hard to slack line at night, but it was fun all the same. I’m sitting with my back to a fragrant pine tree. I have a cold beer in my left hand. I’m watching the moonlit harbor scene morph around me. Taking an idea from my brother, I talk awhile about where I am in this world. It was a good chat. And it seemed like a good thing to do.

My bike is leaned on its kickstand. I messed up again. I didn’t tighten my rear wheel enough when I installed the chain. I’m completely at ease with the situation. I think there were many lessons taught to me from the last week and a half, and I feel like I’ve learned them.

After I finish my beer, I grab my gear and walk my bike back to the boat. Instead of housing my bike, I decide to wrench on it a bit and get the wheel back in place. This time, I tighten down the nuts with as much force as I can muster on my vice grips. I put my tools away, and push my bike up the ramp to the gravel parking lot. I tentatively try a few slow circles. I gain more confidence with each pedal stroke. Soon, I am flying along the asphalt trail, a moonlit streak in the dark park. The smile upon my face is as large as the moon. I feel young and alive - my skin tingles with excitement. I feel as though I just learned to ride a bike again. Once again, I’ve caught the exhilaration of freedom, and relearned the lesson of balance.

Posted by Rhombus 02:08 Archived in USA Tagged bikes rivers oregon trails washington woe Comments (0)

The Sangre De Cristo Mountains and Nebraska

To North Crestone Lake, Colorado Wildflowers, The End of the Adventure and the Best of Nebraska

sunny 91 °F

To North Crestone Lake
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I had been following North Crestone Creek since I left my campsite at seven in the morning. It was now nearing ten o’clock, and I had hiked four miles while rising well over three thousand feet. Across the grassy meadow to my right was a skinny waterfall that dropped one hundred feet or more. I figured that North Crestone Lake had to be hiding somewhere above the waterfall.
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Up here, the air was noticeably thinner. My breath came in small gasps as I followed the steep switchbacks that wound through the loose rock of the ridge wall. When I paused to rest, I caught my breath within a minute, and my heart slowed to a normal rhythm. I smiled. I was in shape. The last three months of vagabonding has treated me well. I am in the best shape of my adult life, and this five mile hike into the high country of the Sangre De Cristo (SDC) mountains of Colorado was a piece of cake (POC).
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During my hike, I passed through four noticeable zones of vegetation. I started out in a narrow canyon of the creek in a thick pine forest. I gradually rose into healthy groves of aspen. Their lime green trunks were smooth to the touch, and their quaking leaves offered a shimmering shadow on the path I followed. The aspen groves gave way to open high mountain meadows. They were full of lush green grasses and bursting with wildflowers. Finally, when I neared the lake I found an alpine meadow. The soil was thin, but it still provided enough nutrients for an entire meadow of wildflowers. I unfocused my eyes and saw a carpet of purple, mays, white and blue dotting a lush green background. This could have been a dreamscape.
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The scenery was spectacular. I have had visions of Colorado high mountain meadows in my head for as long as I could remember. The landscape I walked through was reminiscent of these daydreams, and the higher I climbed the more I realized I was living my dream.
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I counted twelve different varieties of wild flowers. I’m certain this number is a conservative count, as I hadn’t been keeping track for most of the hike. Flitting among the pockets of flowers was an equally diverse population of butterflies. I wondered if the thin air affected a butterfly in any way, but they seemed normal to my eye. This Swallowtail posed beautifully for me and allowed me to get very close to its perch. Perhaps mountain butterflies are more tolerant of humans, then their low elevation cousins.
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I felt small. The rocky mountain peaks of the SDC towered all around me. Sheer walls of rock protected their high points, and by the effort it would take to scale them. To me, they looked inviting. Where there is a will, there is a way, and I’m certain I could unlock the puzzle of climbing those walls safely. However, this was just a warm up hike, and I decided against the extra strain of mountaineering on this hike.
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Finally, I gained the top of the ridge and below me lay the crystal clear lake tucked neatly beneath four peaks. I laughed. I whooped, and I let out a yodel. It’s true, I can yodel. But I don’t do it very often. It’s bad enough I roam around without contributing much to society for months on end, why would I make the populace listen to my yodeling too? My soaring voice ricocheted off the first mountain and back to the wall behind me, before making its way higher up the walls of the distant mounts and escaping into the stratosphere. I was satisfied with my insignificance. Once in awhile, you might notice a cricket chirp too.

I skipped down the trail to the edge of the lake, pausing to admire the sunny meadow full of flowers, bees, grasses, birds, butterflies and me. There wasn’t anyone else around for miles. I stripped down to my underwear, and eased myself into the cold water. As I slipped deeper and deeper into the water, my skin tingled with chill. It was like dipping yourself into an icy energy field that took your breath away, yet left you feeling more alive than you have ever felt, at least for this week. It was awesome.
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I drip-dried among the flowers, content to take in some sun, and sip water while the world buzzed around me. I think it’s safe to say I was buzzing too, but it is hard to notice your own buzz that you emit and share with the world.

End Game
When I reached the trailhead, I was melting. As a candle slowly shrinks, my wax was dripping out of me in the form of sweat. It felt like ninety degrees, at least. I popped open my car, and dodging the rolling ball of heat trapped within. I opened my cooler, and found lukewarm water instead of the ice I placed there yesterday. I sighed, grabbed my cheese, a tomato, cranberry juice, and a hunk of French bread.
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I sat in the shade of a giant boulder and ate my lunch. It was good, and tasted great. In the heat, I tend to eat lightly, opting for easy to prepare non-cooking foods. It was in that moment that I grew weary of this adventure. I was tired of trying to figure out where I was going to sleep every night. I was tired of the heat. And I was just plain tired. I had been on the road for three months, and I had reached my limit.
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I packed up my gear, and put on my flip-flops. I drove out of the campground, and stopped briefly in Crestone to call my brother. The conversation was quite short. “Hey man, I’m headed your way. “ I informed him. “Ok, dude, I’ll see you when you get here.” My brother understands me. He didn’t even question me. With that, I was off. I drove south and east to escape the mountains. From Walsenburg, I started traveling northeast.
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As I passed from the mountains and into the eastern plains of Colorado, I felt my soul ease into contentment. On the western edge of the vast emptiness, I found peace. There is something soothing to the open grasslands that speaks to my soul like nothing else I know. As I drove northward, the sun set into the smoky air over Colorado Springs, turning the sun into a bright fiery ball of orange. To the east, a shaft of a rainbow grew bright for an instant, then eased from my sight as if it had never been there. Colorado was saying farewell.

I rolled on into the night.

Nebraska
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I was cruising north on a skinny black asphalt road somewhere in western Nebraska. I was too lazy to stop and buy a map, so I wasn‘t sure where I was. It was very liberating to travel without a map. I chose my directions by dead reckoning and by the allure of the surrounding scenery. If I passed a road that caught my eye and it was heading in the right direction (north or east), I took it. It’s the only way to travel the plains.
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I was thinking a lot about a cup of coffee. I love the taste of coffee as I drive my morning roads. As luck would have it, a small roadside picnic area appeared just up the highway, and I slowed to pull over. I laughed. It consisted of a small picnic table in the shade of two giant cottonwood trees at the intersection of two lonely highways. It was very modest, but it was perfect. I happily pulled out my Jetboil stove and heated up some water for my French press. I ate an orange, and a Clif bar, while sipping hot black coffee. I was in breakfast heaven.
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Nebraska makes me appreciate trees. There aren’t many trees out here, so when I see one, I take a good look. You might not see another one for another hundred miles. I look to see what type of tree it is, how much shade it produces, and can I set up my slack line or hammock. In western Nebraska, Cottonwoods are the most plentiful. Where Cottonwoods grow, you can usually find a good source of water (though it may be underground). That’s why they are so plentiful around the rivers and canyons of the west.
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The sand hills region of Nebraska is very beautiful, but so very lonesome. It is so forlorn and empty; it could make a coyote cry. There isn’t much out here but undulating grass covered hills, wild prairie flowers, the relentless wind, and assorted prairie animals. Most Americans and travelers miss this unique place. With time on my side, I pulled over to admire some prairie sunflowers bobbing in the hot wind. I also stopped to use the local rest stop. Believe it or not, this was one of the cleaner rest rooms I’ve seen in my journeys. It had a small population of hornets living inside, but they minded their own business, and I minded mine.
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I love driving through the small towns of the plains. If you are driving through Nebraska, get off the major highways. Go and visit towns like Arthur, Tryon (population 157), Amelia, Winnetoon, Verdigre (The Kolach Capital of the World) and Orchard. Not only are these towns charming, but they help break up the monotony of the drive. The big question I ask myself is, “Why do people live here?”
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I love the fact Nebraska is a waving state. Eight out of ten cars will wave at you when you pass them on the highways. Not every state waves, but Nebraska does.

In the evening, I pulled into the small town of Orchard. I was getting tired of driving, and I was looking for a place to camp. One great thing about the small towns of the plains is they are very friendly to campers. Most towns have a city park, and most parks offer free camping. Orchard’s city park was perfect. It was dotted with old oak trees and pines. It had some playground equipment for the kids and a covered picnic area for receptions or rainy weather.
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The grass was green and well tended. I parked my little car and got out to stretch. I set up my slack line between two trees and practiced my craft. Then I cracked a sweating Corona from my cooler, and chopped up a cucumber, avocado, onion, and green pepper. I squeezed some lime juice on it, hit it with a dash of pepper and ate it with tortilla chips. My green salsa is always a hit.
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After dinner, I relaxed in my hammock. I popped another beer, and took out my phone. I sent texts out to five random people, just to say, “Hey, how are you?” The sun set, and the stars emerged from the dusky blue sky.
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I think my next American road trip is going to be a tour of the Great Plains. I’m going to start either on the south end in Texas, or on the Canadian shield in northern Saskatoon. I’m going to try and see every backwards old town I can find. I’m going to camp with the coyotes, hike out into those sand hills of Nebraska, and see what is beyond those endless hills. I can’t wait.

Posted by Rhombus 09:28 Archived in USA Tagged mountains flowers hiking colorado photography trails philosophy meadows nebraska plains Comments (0)

On Isle Royale

The Hammock Tour of 2012

semi-overcast 74 °F

June 20th, 2012
Thunder Shack #2
Moskey Basin, Isle Royale, Michigan
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The rain continues to fall unabated as it has for the last two days. I am sitting in my lean-to, a three-sided wood structure of ingenious design. Its sound quality and craftsmanship protects me from the worst of the wind and rain. A fine screen covers the front side of the building. This screen allows air to pass through, but keeps the damnable mosquitoes out. Thusly protected, I am comfortable enough and am taking time to catch up on my journal.

I arrived on the island yesterday after a lengthy and uneventful passage from the outpost of Copper Harbor, Michigan. The vessel, the Isle Royale Queen IV, makes daily passages to and from the island, and I procured my passage via telephone the day before. The cost was reasonable, some $120.00 roundtrip to this wilderness isle. The waters were calm, though the sky was building darker clouds to the northwest. I felt like it might rain, but wasn’t worried as I had the necessary rain gear to stay dry.
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Upon reaching the protected waters of Rock Harbor on the northeast corner of the island, the Captain docked the vessel, and I stepped ashore. I checked in with a park ranger, who signed off on my proposed itinerary. I secured my equipment from the deckhands, and weighed my pack on the scale at the park store. It registered at 65 lbs. It was heavy, but I took on this burden without complaint.
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With my trusted walking stick in hand, I commenced this journey at a brisk pace walking southwest along the shoreline trail towards my destination for the day, some seven miles distant. The path followed the shoreline passing through groves of spruce and birch. It twisted and climbed up and over occasional black basalt rock outcrops. The summer foliage is lush and green and many wildflowers were out in bloom including wild rose, blue bells, and bunchberry.
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After I had walked five miles, the darkening clouds finally released their load, and it began to rain. I put on my raingear and continued along the trail. I was still feeling good, though I was tiring from my efforts. I had just returned to Michigan from the wilds of Alaska, and my body had yet to adjust to the difference of the light. Because of this, I had only slept for four hours before I rose from my bed to embark on the ship.

I continued walking through the rain shower. I consulted my map, and knew I was getting close to the Daisy Farm campground where I would make camp for the night. I arrived at the campground in the late afternoon. I set down my burdens and sighed with relief. I found an unused lean-to that I have described above, and set about making a lunch of peanut butter with honey spread on a round Mexican flat bread. I ate two of them with little difficulty.

I set up my hammock outside under the eaves of the shelter and lit my pipe. It felt wonderful to free of my heavy pack for the day, and it was very pleasant to sway in my comfortable hammock. After about an hour, it began to rain much harder than before, and I had to move my enterprise inside the lean-to.

I checked my pocket watch for the last time at six pm, and laid down on my bedroll intending only to stretch out for a few minutes before preparing dinner. I awoke to the booming of thunder, many hours later. The sky was darkening in the east, and I presumed it to be near eleven o’clock at night. I rose briefly to attend to my nightly personal affairs and went back to my bedroll. There was no dinner this night. The thunderstorms continued all night. The lightning hit with such intensity that the thunderclap shook my lean-to with its force. The rain intensified, and it sounded as if the drummers of Scotland were beating on my roof. I slept.
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Upon waking up, I felt completely refreshed. I think my slumber lasted well over twelve hours, a luxury I rarely get to enjoy. The day was still dark and gloomy, but I happily made breakfast of oatmeal and tea inside my shack away from the rain. I pumped water from the lake into my canteens, repacked my equipment and donned my raingear. I was ready to continue my trek. I had not hiked very far before the trail was covered in several inches of water. Indeed, it looked much like a spring creek, with water happily chuckling over the rocks. This was to be a trying day. My boots are durable and mostly waterproof, but the amount of water I was walking through eventually overcame their protection, and soon I was walking in sopping wet footwear. It began to rain again, and the mosquitoes tapped into me with annoying regularity. I was sweating in my raingear, and the rock outcrops I crossed were slick with all the water. I was moving slow.
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I stopped briefly to take a rest on an outcrop. As I sat there, I noticed a hare several yards up the trail. I kept quiet. Then, it came hopping down the very path I was walking. It stopped three feet away from where I sat, and I had a good look at it. It looked pitiful. Its hair was matted and soaked through, clinging to its body. Its large black eyes looked at me as if to ask, “Oh dear, oh dear, what has happened? Where has all this water come from? My home is flooded.” It bounded off down the path, looking for an answer. I saw three more rabbits that day. I think their warrens were flooded, and they had no place to go.
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It is just under four miles from Daisy Farm to Moskey Basin. I planned to stay at Moskey Basin for two nights. I passed one moose that was munching leaves just off the trail. Beleaguered as I was, I didn’t even stop to look at it. I simply talked to it, letting it know I was passing by. Moose are quite plentiful on this island, and I was happy to see one.
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I finally made it the head of Moskey Basin in time for a brief lull in between rainsqualls. I was soaked through, tired and sweating. I found this shelter in reasonable condition and set about making it more comfortable. I hung a clothesline under the eaves, and hung up my wet effects. I went down to the shore and dunked myself twice in the chilly water of Lake Superior. I returned to my shelter, changed into dry clothes and set about making lunch. That is where you find me right now, lounging comfortably in my hammock. I’m content to nap through the afternoon, as my old tomcat would on rainy days. I’m enjoying the graffiti written on the walls of the shelter from past tours. It seems I’m not the only hiker who has spent rainy afternoons in this lean-to. “I love Isle Royale, but I don’t love mosquitoes and rain.” “I miss my pizza.” “Berry Girl Aug 2009.” Below that, her partner wrote, “a.k.a. the snail” meaning she spent her time picking berries instead of hiking.

6 O’clock - Still raining.
8 O’clock - Rain and thunder.
9 O’clock - Rainy, going to bed.

June 21st, 2012
Thunder and Sunshine Shack #2
Moskey Basin, Isle Royale, Michigan
~Summer Solstice~
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What a difference a day makes! Today dawned clear and bright without a cloud in the sky. If it weren’t for the slippery mud on the campground trails, I would almost believe it hadn’t rained at all. I spent my morning at ease, content to sit quietly on the rock ledges and watch the wildlife around me. I find that sitting quietly is the best way to witness wildlife in their element. For instance, I saw a raft of otter swim by, some 100 yards distant. There were five or six in the group, grunting amongst themselves as they swam towards the head of the bay. There are several types of fowl that live here in the bay. I saw several golden eye ducks, some red headed mergansers, and heard the haunting summer call of the common loon. While I sat on my rock, a dragonfly on patrol flew out to a golden eye paddling in the water. I’m not sure if its intent was to land on the duck or not, but it flew too close. The duck looked up and snapped the dragonfly in its beak, shaking its head and munching the unfortunate fly for a late breakfast snack.
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I swam in the lake around midday. The water is still quite cold, but very refreshing. After drying off, I made lunch and took a nap. I love my days of leisure.
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Towards evening, the rumble of distant thunder rolled over the basin. I looked at the sky and a large dark gray cloud rolled overhead. It began to sprinkle, but only for a short while before the cloud past and the sun returned. The waters of the bay had flattened, almost to a perfect mirror finish. The clouds above reflected below made for a beautiful scene that I enjoyed. I had a feeling there was going to be a rainbow. I ran out to a rocky tip with my camera. A beautiful spectrum of color rose from just above the treetops in the eastern sky. At first, it was dull, but as the sun cleared the clouds, the more intense the colors became. The nearby pines glowed in the golden light from the sun. It was truly magnificent. Nature knows how to put on a good show.
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I finished the evening by sipping tea and watching the sun set over the island. The clouds glowed orange as if lit by fire. The solstice is our longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. This one was spectacular from dawn to dusk.
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June 22, 2013
Three Mile Campground
Isle Royale, Michigan

Today was as bright and clear as yesterday was, and I spent the day hiking eight miles along the lakeside trail back to Three Mile campground. The hike was uneventful. The trails were in better condition than they were on the 20th. They had dried out from the last two days of sunshine. I enjoyed the trek and made good time down the path. I slipped on a rock at one point and landed with all of the combined weight of the pack and myself right on my left kneecap. Evidently, I’m made of some stern stuff, as it didn’t affect me at all.

I arrived at Three Mile just after noon, and happily threw my pack down. The sixty-five pounds were starting to get to me. My shoulders were getting sore from carrying the load, and I longed for a massage from a sweet lady I know. Alas, it was not to be. I jumped in the lake once again, and dried off on the hot black rocks that make up this island. I looked at my remaining camp food with disinterest. I had nothing that looked appetizing anymore, and so ate more rolled up peanut butter flat bread.

I set up my hammock in the shade, and read for a while. I am reading “Black Elk Speaks” by John Neihardt. I wrote in my journal, and took a brief nap.
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I passed the afternoon away, enjoying views of the lake, and watching the trees sway in the breeze. The campground red fox trotted past me along the trail to my camp. It paused briefly to inspect my wares. I had my sweaty clothes drying on the picnic table, and moved on. It had a beautiful rich coat of auburn, its tail full and fluffy. Its eyes were yellowish green, and it looked at me and said, “Hey amigo, Que pasa?” in a sly, quiet way foxes have.

I started craving pizza about the time I was watching the noodles boil for my dinner. I was starving, and while I waited, I began to imagine the particulars of the post trek celebratory pizza. [Cue Harps]. It would be a large, pepperoni, green pepper and onion pizza from Jim’s in Calumet. The cheese would be perfectly cooked, almost molten. The crust would have a satisfying crunch... After daydreaming for several minutes about it, I popped back into reality and looked at my pot of bubbling noodles. I laughed. My dream dinner would have to wait, and I finished preparing my dinner of macaroni and cheese with tuna and shallots. It was good, but a starving man will eat most anything and call it delicious.
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For dessert, I made a cup of tea and ate the last of my chocolate. I sipped my tea along the shore, and took in one last sunset over the island. I couldn’t see the actual sunset because of the island’s trees. The setting sun lit up the clouds over Rock Harbor and they reflected into a collage of oily colors on the flat surface of the bay.

June 23rd, 2012
Isle Royal Queen IV
Lake Superior

I’m on my way back to the mainland of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. The vessel is running true, and the waters calm, despite a stiff breeze out of the south. The only event worth mentioning is that we passed the ore freighter Arthur M. Anderson. The Anderson is one of the more famous ships in the great lakes fleet. The Anderson was traveling ten miles behind the Edmund Fitzgerald the night the Fitz went down back in November of 1975. It was the Anderson that witnessed the Fitz disappear on its radar.
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As a mariner, I look at ships all the time on our vessel’s radar. To see a ship the size of an ore carrier disappear off the screen would be very intense. It is one of every seaman’s worst nightmares. I can’t imagine the surge of adrenaline that went through the bridge of the Anderson, not to mention the uncertainty of their own survival in seas that treacherous.
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I stepped ashore safe and sound and keenly aware of my proximity to the pizza I craved. And let me tell you, it was as good as I imagined it to be.

Author’s Note: The ranger in Rock Harbor informed me that it rained three inches on the island during the first two days of my stay. The city of Duluth, MN received seven inches from the same band of storms. The resulting flash floods caused remarkable damage to the city.

Posted by Rhombus 08:21 Archived in USA Tagged birds islands parks flowers rainbows backpacking photography trails Comments (0)

Ski Bumming 2012: Powder and Longboards

Powder, How to Ski It, The Best Day, Coeur D'Alene, Longboarding, Riverside Contemplation

overcast 13 °F

If I never ski again, I will still die a happy man. I have had an amazing week, and I can sum it up in three words: powder and longboarding. Powder is every skiers preferred snow to ski on, we dream about skiing down mountain slopes with eight inches of light fluffy powder on which to glide. In the last eight days, I went skiing five times. On each day, there was at least six inches of powder. On some of those days, it was knee deep, and on others thigh deep. There are days where I can’t believe my luck.
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At first glance, skiing in powder looks easy. Good skiers make it look simple and incredibly fun. In practice, I’ve found it to be a lot harder than it looks. It is incredibly demanding on the leg muscles. Every move you make with your skis has six inches of friction (often more) to work through and it can wear you down. There is a technique to skiing through deep powder, and it takes practice to get proficient at it. Here are some general tips I have used to ski through powder. It is important to use your poles to set up your turns and keep your balance. It is better to keep your skis together to help you stay higher in the snow. It is often easier to get into a “hop” rhythm, where you hop though your turns to stay higher in the powder. All this extra effort wears down your muscles quicker, but the exhilaration of carving up a beautiful line of fresh powder helps you forget your muscles, at least until you reach the bottom of the run.

My Best Day of Skiing

My phone has been going through catatonic fits lately, and so on the night before the start of the snowstorm I wasn’t able to set an alarm. I figured my body clock would get me up sometime around seven thirty in the morning. When I got out of bed, it was eight. I checked the snowfall total on the hill, and found there to be six inches of fresh snow. Nice! I threw on my ski clothes, grabbed my gear, filled my coffee cup and was out the door by twenty after eight. I love walking to the gondola in the morning. It was lightly snowing, and beautiful.

There was not much of a line for the gondola, and I stepped aboard with three other older guys. We chatted for the entire twenty-minute ride up to the mountain house. Mostly, I did the talking, as they had many questions for me once they learned I was a ski bum. I don’t mind, I like to meet people, and introduce them to my lifestyle. I bade them farewell, and went down to the locker room to put on my gear and get my skis.

When I stepped outside, I knew it was going to be good. The six inches of powder was light, and new snow was still coming down hard. It looked ideal. I had taken a three day hiatus from the mountain (which I’ll discuss later on in this entry), and on my first run, it was though I had completely forgotten how to ski. I awkwardly made my way down my first run, a run through a thick gladed section. My legs were not moving, my mind wasn’t into it, and though I made it through the glades, I face planted hard when I broke onto an open area. I got up, wondered what happened to my skiing ability and continued down the hill.

Silver Mountain has two peaks, Kellogg and Wardner. Kellogg is on the east side and one hundred feet higher than Wardner peak to the west. I made it down the runs on the Kellogg side, but I was not in good form. It looked like it was going to be a long day for me. I usually ski the east side of the mountain during the first hour or so, taking my favorite runs until a line begins to form at the chairlift. Today was no different, and I went over to the Wardner side at about ten thirty.

It was though I turned on a switch: My skiing ability suddenly improved. I don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden I had gained coordination and in fact was skiing better than I ever had in deep powder. And it was deep! I have not seen it snow this hard in my life, and it was snowing well over an inch an hour. Any tracks I made early in the day were gone by noon. I had a ball, there was no fear of falling, and I took any jump I could find, landing most of them. It was awesome.
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I made the hike to the top of Wardner Peak. I really like this hike. It is a relatively steep, winding mountain path. It exposes you to the biting west wind. I was carrying my skis on my shoulder and using my poles as walking sticks. My face was going numb from the strong breeze that was whipping the heavy snow across the path with frenzied power. There was hardly any visibility, and the tracks of previous hikers were disappearing into the drifts. I was in my element.
I wound my way up to the peak slowly and steadily, breathing hard in the raw elements. I was reminded of Lin Yutang’s observation that, “the winter wind is like ginger.”
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When I reached the top, I stuck my skis in the snow, and waded off to my mountain top temple. The snow was up to my thighs, and it was a bit of a struggle to get to my sitting spot. I sat in the snow, protected from the wind by the tall pines that reside there. I rested, cooled down, and ate a Clementine. I meditated for a while and said, “Thanks.” I really enjoy sitting in the snow in a beautiful copse of trees.

I struggled back to my skis, snapped in, and did not look back. It was an epic day, and I have never skied better, or have had better snow conditions. All told, I spent seven hours straight in temperatures near ten degrees (F). My body was exhausted at three. That is when I decided to stop for the day. I was once warned that if I continued to make weird faces that my face would freeze that way. Well, I have proven the old adage is true, and my face has frozen for eternity with this dumb grin on my face. Ah well, it was well worth it.
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I stepped off the gondola and started walking home through gently falling snow. I saw a young girl maybe about 8 years old. She was standing out in the open, her mother watching nearby, and she opened her mouth and gazed skyward. She began to catch snowflakes on her tongue and smiled with each success. I smiled too, it was too cute not to. Long live winter!

A Longboarding Love Affair
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I have fallen in love with my longboard again. On three consecutive days, I took it out for a ride. I spent most of that time riding the deserted “Trail of the Coeur D’Alene.” I also went to Coeur D’Alene, the city, located on the north side of the lake of the same name. It seems like this section of Idaho is all about the name “Coeur D’Alene.” I spent all afternoon in the lakeside park. I enjoyed cruising the pathways and enjoying the gigantic trees that preside there.

The Magnificent Trees of Coeur D’Alene
The sun broke through the heavy clouds and lit these trees in perfect light.
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The city of Coeur D’Alene is probably my favorite city in Idaho. Though I haven’t spent a lot of time there, I have been impressed when I have. It has a cool downtown area, a good park, one of my favorite restaurants in northern Idaho, The Moontime, a groovy yoga studio that I attend, and a nice lake.
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The people are friendly, and it has a good vibe to it. There were many longboarders out, along with other people chasing their muse.

I went on a couple of longer jaunts covering ten miles and six miles on different sections of the Trail of the Coeur D‘Alene. I have talked about the finer points of the Trail of the Coeur D’Alene in past entries, see Exploring Silver Valley (Jan 2010). I love long boarding, I love the freedom it offers me as I pump my legs easily and ride the board for as far as gravity will take me. It is good exercise and fun at the same time. I can easily cover a lot of distance in relative ease.

I took my small camera along and the following is my first collection of longboarding photos.
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Excerpt from my journal, 2-25-12
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"I went on another longboarding excursion today under bright overcast skies. It was pleasant as I cruised over a bare asphalt trail covered in a scattered bed of pine needles. After three miles, I was stymied by ice and snow, so I found a place to sit under an old red pine. I watched the life of the wintering river, and heard the chorus of Canadian geese bugling in the distance. At one point, it became silent, and I heard the distinct scream of a red-tailed hawk. You know, the “Keeee-hhhhurrrrrrrrrrrrrr” the clichéd punctuation of a truly desolate place. It was marvelous."

I now have options: If it snows, I head up to my wintry mountain. If it is warm, I stay down in the valley and take my longboard for a ride! It is a good life.
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Until next week!
Cheers!

Posted by Rhombus 18:21 Archived in USA Tagged mountains snow winter skiing hiking photography trails idaho powder longboarding Comments (3)

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