Ice skating on the Tonsina Trail

Wanted to run a medium fast 4-5 miler today so I hit the Tonsina Trail. I expected it to be slick; parts of it run through the middle of a stream bed (yeah, through the middle–that’s how trails are up here). But once through that, it usually evens out.

Today it didn’t. I had on my spikes and was doing pretty well, couldn’t go fast but I was keeping a steady pace.

When I met Cedar (winner of the Mt. Marathon Race like seven times in a row) and she and buddy weren’t running but walking with ski poles, I thought: Uh-oh, maybe I’m being stupid. Because Cedar is one of the toughest women I know, and if she’s walking with ski poles, why in the hell am I running?

But did I take that as a warning? Oh, no. I stopped and chatted, and they mentioned slick parts on the downhill with glacier ice and freeze-up. I wasn’t sure what glacier ice was, exactly, but since it sounded deliciously threatening, I ran on.

About a half mile up the trail I hit the glacier ice, a long stretch of glinting bluish ice, wet and slick and slanted toward the edge of the cliff so that if you fell, guess which way you were gonna go?

I stopped. I looked around. I thought: Do I want to go on? Then I noticed that the cliff was over the side of a very large hill, not a mountain, and if I toppled down I might get hurt but probably wouldn’t die.

It got bad in places, and was so slick that even with my spikes that I had to go down hills on my butt, using my spikes to steer as I madly bounced off rocks and torn my hands of frozen tree roots.

(The poor dog became quite upset each time I lowered my ass to the ground, barking and yelping as if to say: Get up and act degnified, woman.)

Part of the trail goes down the cliff in a series of sharp switchbacks, and those were the worst. The only thing that cheered me up was the thought that heading back uphill would be easier.

That was so not the case. I soon understood that attempting to run/walk/crawl up pure ice at the edge of a cliff demands fierce concentration, and many swear words.

When the dog slipped, her toenails scraping across the ice as she tumbled toward the edge, I reached out, grabbed her collar, dug in with my spikes and caught her, right before the edge.

After that the poor dog, who had barely recovered from the dog attack a few weeks ago, practically trembled each time we came upon yet another expanse of ice.

Once we got past the worst of it, I was able to run again, and I was happy because it was twilight, my favorite time of day. The trailhead is by the beach and after the run, I walked down to the shore and it was perfect: Everything blue and silver and grey, the water and the sky and the mountains. The tide coming in, the waves hitting the shore, the dog playing happily in the surf and I thought: What a wild, unforgiving, glorious, obstinate, harsh and wondeful place.

Then I drove home and cooked the dog chicken, even though I’m a vegetarian, because sometimes a good dog deserves a good meal.

Run: 4 miles

ReadingDalva,” Jim Harrison

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