Forest reclaimed

Hunting season is finally over. I feel as though I
can once again enjoy the forest with my girls without constantly fearing being shot.

However, snowmobile season has begun.

I was actually surprised to see snowmobilers in the forest above my house this weekend. There's so little snow, especially at the snowmobile parking lot just up the hill. They solved that problem by driving up into the forest about two miles, hauling their snow machines on trailers, and starting from there.

I admit - by driving in, they packed the snow on the road into a perfect running surface for me and the girls. The snow was otherwise just barely too deep, and crusty from being warmed by the sun and freezing again at night over the past several days. Even hiking on it was hard; running impossible.

As I often say, I have a love-hate relationship with throttle-twisters (nickname for those who go into the forest, or onto the water, on a machine with a throttle control on the handlebar). I hate their noise, their exhaust, and their general disregard for the environment on both the small and grand scale. On the other hand, I love running on roads freshly groomed for snowmobiles, or if no grooming, on the snowmobile tracks. And, I recognize that should the girls or I get into serious trouble out in the forest, in the snow, we would be rescued on a snowmobile.

Because of their awful noise (and I have yet to encounter a snowmobiler who doesn't take special delight in reving his engine as much as possible, creating the maximum amount of noise and exhaust - what is it with that?), I can hear them well before they come screaming around a corner. I tell the girls to stay, then grab their collars and wait as the machines pass. This has happened enough now that Maia actually stops in her tracks as soon as she hears snowmobiles, alerting me.

Whenever possible, the girls and I go out early enough that we're done running before the snowmobilers haul their butts out of bed and even think about destroying the quiet of the wilderness.

That's what we managed to do this morning. The photo of the sunrise on Pollock Mountain, across the valley from my house, illustrates why I simply couldn't remain indoors on such a morning.

It was 10F when I awoke; perfect running weather. I put the vests* on the girls and headed out. I also threw my Yak Trax in my fanny pack. The road by my house was free of snow, but as soon as we hit the forest boundary a half mile uphill, we were on snow. I love my Yak Trax. They make running on snow, even some ice, pure joy.

I figured we'd run just over two miles up the hill (it's a significant, steady climb), but it was so peaceful, so nice, with the sun rising and filtering through the trees, I didn't want to stop. Maia continued to be the perfect lead dog, which told me she was having fun too. Meadow as teasing Maia into games of chase. We all felt terrific. With Maia closing in on age nine, I'm careful to let her set the pace. We turned around at about four miles up, having climbed perhaps 1500 ft, maybe more. As you can imagine, the return trip is FUN - all downhill! As soon as we turn back, the girls prance and romp, knowing the destination. Meadow did her now-typical teasing of Maia: knowing Maia prefers to be lead dog, Meadow will, on a downhill, dash ahead of move into Maia's line (in this case, the snowmobile track), then slow down. Maia then has to decide whether to stay right behind Meadow, or go around. Maia's not a pushy girl and avoids confrontations, which Meadow knows. Often Meadow's lead pace becomes so slow that I end up passing her, and Maia will tuck right behind me until we're both around Meadow, then reclaim her lead. This dance happened at least ten times in the space of a couple of downhill miles. Meadow never tires of her little teases. The photo taken from behind them shows what my view often consists of on these runs: fuzz butts in the near landscape, with trees, valleys and mountains in the far landscape.

When we got to the point where the trucks had driving up to yesterday, I made the girls stay with me or behind me. We can't hear trucks coming up the road like we can the snowmobiles, and I didn't want any collisions. We never saw another soul, which is precisely how I like it.

The close-up photo of Meadow was taken about an hour after our run. She was pooped. As usual, she sleeps with her tongue peeking out between her lips. Adorable.

Yesterday morning I took the girls hiking on this same route, scoping out conditions. (That's when I noticed the trucks driving in a couple of miles, realizing we could run at least that far.) To avoid the muddy road near my house, I drove the half mile up to the snowmobile parking lot. When we finished our hike, three trucks with snowmobile trailers were just getting reading to head out for a day of play. I had the girls on leash, as I always do around strangers in these parts. One guy asked "What sort of dogs are those?" The unasked question - it's always thus, here - was, "Are they wolves?" Some people actually ask that, but most dance around it. I replied, "They're Malamutes." When the girls hear me speak in response to a question like that, they know they're the subject of the conversation and decide they want to meet the people who inquired. (I swear they learned, at a young age, to recognize the words "beautiful" and "gorgeous.") I let them go up to the guy who asked the question. He was joined by three of his buddies. I noticed, as they met the girls, that at least two of the guys had nearly finished bottles of beer in their hands, and three were smoking. It was, at this point, barely 11 AM.

Great way to start a day of fun in the forest, eh?

Now perhaps you understand why I'm so cautious about my own safety and that of the girls when I'm in the forest. I have no fear of the animals out there; it's the humans I fear. I'm not afraid they'll deliberately set out to hurt me. But too often I see them drinking, as in this case, or the evidence of drinking in the form of discarded beer cans and bottles all over the forest roads. The negligence of drinking and driving applies to snowmobiles, ATVs, dirt bikes and trucks in the national forest - although most of these guys realize the chances of getting caught are nil, so...why not?

Because we're on foot, the girls and I are at a serious disadvantage in any collision.

So we give them wide berth. When we do come face to face with them, I'm always polite and calm, never saying what I truly think of them or their preferred mode of travel in the forest. I don't want them to start wanting to harass us. And I know that - given the level of fear of wolves in the local populace - that none of them will mess with me as long as I have the girls with me. Let them wonder whether they're wolves. Let them be afraid of my girls.

*I've decided to just keep having the girls wear their vests, even though hunting season is over. With all the hysteria in Idaho about wolves, and a certain majority of the forest-using public chomping at the chance to hunt them in 2008, I don't want any "accidents." The vests allow me to relax. A bit.