Sunday, February 28, 2010

Four-legged terrorist

If you spend anytime in the woods of Alaska you're bound to spend some quality time with its residents as well.
In these parts moose seem to run around in concentrations equal to the white-tail deer populations of the suburban east coast.
I realize that's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but they're certainly plentiful enough that conflicts abounds.
Some say that it's not a matter of "if" but "when" you will strike a moose on the highway.
That's not what I'm writing about tonight, but I've had no shortage of close calls with them on the road.
I've also had a couple good scares on skis, and I think the latter would be more terrifiying if I wasn't so zoned out.
With low snowfalls and mild temperatures this winter, it hasn't been too rough a season on the four-legged ungulates, but this is getting to the time of year when life sucks for them, and they don't like burning any extra calories they don't absolutely need too. Prompting them to do otherwise is a sure way to blow what's left of their fuses.
The trails offer a relatively safe refuge for moose with lots of browse growing along the edges and hard packed snow from grooming.
Many a night I've been going along to see in the distance a strange black spot my light simply couldn't pierce, only to suddenly have two illuminated orbs bobbing in the air about 5 feet of the ground.
That's always about the point I'll realize there's a 700 pound flesh roadblock ahead.
The Tsalteshi trails don't have many straight, nor flat sections, and it's easy to move in a moose in a hurry and never mean to.
Early last spring, skiing late one night after work, reveling in comfortable temps and daylight past 8 p.m., I came full tilt around a corner only to find that at the apex was the rump of a moose, who had tucked himself head first into the brush, with his butt sticking out.
For a brief nano-second I was in the cross hairs of a direct hind leg kick at point blank range, but by the time both I and the young moose realized what had happened I was already skiing away.
I let out a holy appraisal and skied on.
On my first ski of this season in November, second lap on the Hillside trails in Anchorage, I skied within 5 feet of a cow and a calf that were standing on the side of the trail in the twilight, bewildered by the hundreds of skiers that had suddenly invaded their forest.
A few weeks later back in Tsalteshi I tempted fate, barreling down one of the steeper hills that features a 90 degree turn at the bottom with a moose feeding on the outside of the corner.
You can imagine I couldn't make that turn close enough.
Friday I think I had the closest call yet though.
I was in lap two of three doing Tsalteshi Specials (15k death loops featuring all the climbs at their hardest) and starting to zone out on a trail called lynx.
There, skiers descend a steep and often icy hill that makes about a 180 degree turn to a flat, before climbing out again 50 yards later.

There's no way to see the bottom from above, and with not much for snow its hard to do anything but let it rip.
As I come around the bootm, dead center in the trail was a fairly large cow I've seen a few times in the past week or two.
I had maybe 25 feet to stop from the second I first saw the moose, but even with a full hockey stop, I closed the distance to less than 15 feet in a second.
Now I have a freaked out moose in front of me, riled by the sound of my chattering skis on the ice, with a hill behind me.
If that thing decided it had enough of these stupid stick footed two-legged pricks harassing it, well, that would have been the end of the story.
For a brief second we made eye contact as I steadied myself out, still not quite at a stop yet, and then she bolted.
The only two things I could have imagined that would have made it worse is that it could have happened at night, in which case my reaction might have been further or just ended with impact, or that I would have slipped out and slid on the ground even closer. Fortunately the moose at least had an easy out and definitely didn't feel trapped.
As the moose crashed through the brush I pointed my skis back down and let out a shrieky hoot, half exhilarated, half hoping to make the whole experience that much more terrifying for the moose.
Ahead, Justin and Orie, who had also nearly run into the moose, came to a stop thinking maybe someone had actually hit it.
Justin's pretty sure my shriek came before the moose left the trail...that's OK by me, it may have...

1 comment:

Alaska Jack said...

Those pesky behemoths leave some nice divots, too! They have the nerve to posthole my Backdoor Trail... or, could it be that I'm skiing on their trail?