Nearly a foot of snow had fallen and my own two feet were restless to explore. A lull in the weather, a predicted gap between the first round of the storm and its second appearance as a separate front pushed it back our way, left the roads surprisingly navigable.
Few motorists expected that to be the case or they were simply too busy digging out to venture onto the roadways. Whatever the reason, traffic was sparse for the 10 mile commute from my driveway to the Horseshoe Trail at the intersection of Pumping Station Road and Route 322.
As expected, the parking lot at Pumping Station was unplowed except for a few vanishing tracks left by a vehicle or two that had apparently earlier used the lot to turn around and head the other direction. I followed one of those paths, backing my car into a position I prayed could be escaped from a few hours later.
Most of this winter has been spent in Kahtoola MICROspikes, but they seemed in over their heads for the conditions lurking in the woods. Besides, there are too few opportunities to dust off the snowshoes and this one wouldn't be missed.
My Crescent Moon Gold 9's are built specifically for running, but, to be fair, they also anticipate packed snow, not the deep powder to which they were about to be exposed. Oh well. It's been a year of resistance training thus far and this would just be more of the same.
The Horseshoe was buried, absolutely buried, and there wasn't any sign to suggest that anyone had been out on the trail since the snow had begun falling the night before. Trail breaking would be required the entire way and the going would likely be slow.
Bearing left off the Horseshoe allowed me to gain high ground more quickly and I was immediately glad to have my Black Diamond Z-Poles as the depth of the snow stacked along the edge of the ridge the trail skirts made for some false footing that kicked powder down into the ravine below.
Reaching the top of the ridge, crossing the power line and ducking back into the trees, I began to establish a pace a bit more recognizable as running though the degree of difficulty had my heart pounding and my temperature rising beneath the warm layers donned to ward off the cold. Throttling down just a bit to keep from sweating out, I pondered which way to turn as a number of trail intersections approached.
Following the Big Timber trail kept me off of some of the wider paths and had me ducking under limbs bent low from their cargo loads of white. Other than my own breathing, the crunching of snowshoes and the occasional trekking pole clack, there were few sounds to be heard. Exceptions were the melodic whew-whew-hews of titmice and the namesake chirping of chickadees.
There were few tracks to be seen, confirming that most animals had the sensibility to hole up and ride out the storm. One rogue set of tracks in a tight one-hoof-directly-in-place-of-the-last stride seemed to indicate that a deer had been out for a rather casual mid-storm stroll. Stray appear-disappear-reappear squirrel tracks were there to be found but even they seemed more scarce than usual.
I did also happen upon the work site of a hearty woodpecker that had clearly been rat-a-tat-tapping away recently enough to have left its wood scraps strewn about atop the snow.
In spite of not having seen any human visitors, the trails made themselves known by a dimpled, undulating surface that resembled the cartoon tunneling of Bugs Bunny on his way from that wrong turn in Albuquerque. I have seen this phenomenon before and it has bailed me out a time or two out in the forest without a headlamp after the light has failed (unless provided by a man-made appliance, can light really "fail"?).
Here and there, fallen leaves skittered lightly across the snow or rested stoicly in the shallow berths that their last inherent warmth had carved, a defiant final proof of having ever really been alive. If you look close, the leaves have often oozed the slightest stain of their brown and yellow hues into the snow itself, a natural farewell tagging that strikes me as both a sad and beautiful plea for remembrance.
Fatigue snuck up on me until all at once I was gassed. The sign indicating the broad, smooth Explorer Lodge Road offered an escape route temptation but I was determined to take in the view atop Eagle Rock.
It may not be more than a half mile from there to Eagle Rock but my tired legs felt as though it was a three mile stretch. A mix of sleet, freezing rain and actual rain was adding weight to what had been deep, but feathery powder.
Earlier in the week, on the ridge line just to the south and west of the one I was then traversing, I had noted quite a bit of damage from the ice storm that had swept the area several days prior. Broken limbs, downed trees and brush that had collapsed beneath its own weight had cluttered the trails and in some cases made them nearly impassable. I worried that similar debris was likely on the final approach to Eagle Rock but, other than a lot of snow, it was clear.
Even though visibility was a fraction of what it normally is, the view from Eagle Rock was really stunning. The blanket of white triggered contrasts and highlights in the forest that otherwise often blend into a uniform sea of browns and greens. Clouds socked in the next ridge and further muffled any audible evidence of a world beyond these woods.
Brisk winds took advantage of the exposure to whip swirling moisture into my eyes and sent cold air seeking any vulnerabilities in the clothes I was wearing. Exhausted and concerned I might not be able to stave off the cold as easily as I normally do, I clambered down off the rock and moved on.
As soon as I turned away from the vista and stepped back into the trees, the wind fell away and with it any chill that had crept in. It was, quite literally, all downhill from there to the car and I took advantage of that trajectory to settle back into an actual run. Snow took some of the physical punishment out of this stretch of trail by padding the usually rocky footing and allowing me to move along briskly, sometimes running, sometimes glissading.
I paused just long enough to snap one last intersection photo and then barreled the rest of the way down the Horseshoe Trail toward Hammer Creek and the final approach to where the car awaited my return.
I can't say how far I traveled, as my GPS was still sitting at home wondering why it hadn't made the trip. Suffice to say, the mileage wasn't as far as my body was suggesting.
There's no device known to me that can measure how much ground the mind covers. I don't ever set out with a specific distance goal for my thoughts, but I can tell when a given workout has been a good one for my body AND my mind.
The legs are done in, the quads quiver. The brain? It's smiling.
I settled into the driver's seat, turned the key and, as the car freed itself from the lot and powered back onto 322, my body ached and the smile in my mind grew wide.