On the second to last day of October I came across a set of bear tracks. My friend Richard and I had set out from Gothic on bikes and were six miles up valley when the snow became too deep to ride. The tracks appeared in the snow, large and clawed. Unmistakable. We followed them for over half a mile up the road until they meandered up the hillside. Strange, I thought, that the bear should be wandering up in elevation, into deepening snow. Surely it was focused foremost on food, in the midst of building the last of its fat layer before hibernating. What it hoped to find in the snow I know not.
Now that November has come and gone, snow covers much of the land. I have seen no more bear tracks, but those of the fox, snowshoe hare and weasel are present wherever I go. Grass and old flower stalks poke through the snow, and the river is all but iced over. My olive oil freezes at night.
Like the bear, I had to make preparations for winter. Stacking wood and stocking my freezer were first on the list, and then came mounting my skis. I chose a pair of “cross-country downhill” skis, with 3-pin telemark bindings. I decided to use my dad’s old leather telemark boots because I figured if I was going to be a hermit in the mountains I might as well be an old-school hermit (beard still to come). These skis are significantly wider and have way more sidecut than classic nordic skis. They also have metal edges. This improves turning capabilities in deep, off-track snow. However, they also have a double camber and fish scales on the kick-zone, which makes them extremely efficient on flat and rolling terrain. All this adds up to the perfect tool for exploring the rolling, wooded terrain around Gothic (I’ve even made a couple videos of my outings, which you can watch here). These aren’t my only pair of skis, though–I also have two AT setups, one for general touring and one for racing. When in Rome, right?
Another task that required completion before the snow became too deep was taking down the town’s barb-wire fence. During the summer and fall, Gothic is neighbor to a large herd of cattle. In order to preserve the integrity of our research we must keep them out of the townsite. Too much snow can destroy the fence, however, so it must be taken down for winter. This job was surprisingly enjoyable because its simplicity left the mind free to appreciate the newly snow-covered landscape. Plus, I had the company of my fellow caretakers, Alex and Kristi, who had just arrived a couple days before.
The rest of November passed quickly. With enough snow to ski and plenty of sci-fi page turners, boredom was, and still is, nonexistent. Also, I spent a week and a half in Boulder visiting friends and family for Thanksgiving. Oddly, it snowed more in Boulder than it did in Gothic while I was gone. I made a couple snowy runs up Green Mountain, and after a week away from running I was pleasantly surprised by a PR to the summit of Mount Sanitas.
I’m back in Gothic now, and things aren’t a whole lot different than when I left. Since so little snow fell in my absence, the road remains open–much to my dismay. I’m ready to be snowed in! I can’t complain though. There is still enough powder on shady slopes up valley to put a grin of pure joy on my face. That’s all I can ask for.
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