Into the Wild

I’m eager to share photos of our new house, but there’s still a few things to finish. We’ve got furniture that was left behind by the previous owner that needs to be sold (or given away) and a few other things to put together. There’s also an enormous, glorious shed that I will eventually use to store my mushing and camping gear, but it’s full of forgotten Christmas ornaments, paint cans, and other old junk.

While the inside of the house remains a work in progress, I’ll talk about what’s outside. The main reason we chose this house was its location. We’re tucked away from the main drag and tourist attractions in town and literally next door to a state forest. We do have neighbors—it’s a tightly packed little mountain community—but most of them are part-timers. There’s only one house between us and the forest, and the owners only come up a few times a year. Same goes for the house to our left. Only our neighbor in back is a full-time resident, and so far we’ve managed to make friends with him (though not with his German Shepherd, who hates us all).

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To run our new local trail, I hook the dogs up in the backyard, open up the gate, and off we go. It’s a quick left turn out the gravel driveway onto a dirt road that runs parallel to the forest. There are a few entry points, but the openings are intentionally narrow to keep ATVs and other motorized vehicles out (and the whole forest is surrounded by barbed wire fencing). It’s a tight squeeze, but I can get my Arctis cart through with some finagling. My sled, on the other hand, glides through with ease.

Once we’re in the forest, it’s about a mile to get through to the other side, where we hit another dirt road. The trail is pretty rocky, so I keep the dogs at a slow pace. The first time we ventured out, I got "lost" trying to complete a loop back to the trailhead. I wasn't really lost, since I had cell service and knew exactly where I was in relation to our house and street. I just couldn't find trails that connected without hitting downed trees or boulders blocking the way. Going forward, I'll stick to the out-and-back routine, until I can map out a loop on foot.

After another mile and a half (headed west) on the dirt road, the trail smooths out quite a bit, and I’m able to let the dogs cut loose. We’re treated to snowy mountain ridges, enormous redwood trees, and brief views overlooking Big Bear Lake.

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I keep increasing the mileage bit by bit, keeping in mind every mile further is another mile we’ll have to run back. The altitude (7,200+ feet above sea level) is no joke out here, so I’ve been spacing out our runs and giving everybody time to acclimate. The dogs don't seem phased by it, but it I definitely feel it. 

There’s still more road we haven’t covered to the west and almost the same amount of distance to the east that we haven't touched at all. I think we'll be able to pull off ten mile runs without having to pack up and drive, which is a dream come true.

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Local trails aside, I still like to switch things up, and there are tons of trails in the area to explore. Twenty-five minutes away is Holcomb Valley, which was suggested to me by another SoCal musher. The trails here are smoother and much like the sandy Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. They’re lined with enormous pine trees and full of icy puddle-craters, just like home. I didn’t go too far here (yet), mostly due to inadequate footwear on my part. The dogs practically had to swim through one of the puddle-craters at the start of our run, and there was no avoiding the knee deep icy water to push the cart through. Why I decided against wearing my waterproof Muck boots is beyond me.

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Despite the frozen feet, the run was so much fun—the dogs got to run fast and hard, and the views were stellar. I even discovered pathways around the puddle-craters, which I wish I had noticed the first time around. Even though loading the gear and dogs and driving can be a chore, I'm excited to go back and explore further.

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Eventually, I'll make the trip up to Mammoth Lakes (five hours north) for some optimal sledding trails. I hope to go even further north—to northern Cali and maybe Oregon—for some west coast mushing meet-ups. But for now, there’s plenty around here for us to see.

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