Wilderness skeleton racing

Wind streaked over my face, the trees left and right nothing but a wild blur. I yelled at the dogs that ran alongside, barking and trying to snap at my boots.

Wind streaked over my face, the trees left and right nothing but a wild blur. I yelled at the dogs that ran alongside, barking and trying to snap at my boots. Crouched over double to increase my speed, I lifted my heels up into the air a bit further, missed a bump on the trail and skidded sideways into a snowbank.

Sam hurtled by on his bum in the next instance, immediately pursued by the dogs that had stopped to lick my face. As Sam disappeared whooping down the hill, I straightened out my shovel, sat down on it again, pulled up the handle between my legs and pushed off in hot pursuit.

It had been a somewhat boring early afternoon in the fairy-tale forest. Delicate feathers of hoarfrost clung to the branches and needles of the trees, left by ghostly fog patches that had trailed like scarves of lace over the land. Sam and I had trudged into the woods with our shovels and done trail maintenance on our bumpy snowmobile trail: filling in hole punches by moose legs, smoothing out rutted curves, building up sheltered hollows underneath trees with more snow.

Like a sigh, the fog had slowly disappeared, revealing the deep intense blue arch of the sky. It was of that dark colour that takes your breath away, an exuberant greeting of times long gone by, a blue that seemingly knows nothing of pollution. The slightest stirring of air currents breathed over the frost-rimmed trees and sent showers of ice crystals sparkling through the air like confetti.

Sam and I shovelled faster, harder as the sun drew a web of tree shadows on the snow. Surely it was a sin to be employed in such a mundane task as fixing up our trail when the land was in a celebratory mood as today. I said as much to Sam. But he only suspected me of looking for an excuse to quit early and enjoy the sunshine.

Well, yeah. So did the dogs, who spent their time trudging along with pouty faces and eating things. Nooka plucked old pine cones off a branch and chewed them with relish, while Milan stood on his hind legs against dead poplar trees and stripped off the stringy bark. And ate it. At least there was no moose poop close by, otherwise they’d be gobbling that up.

We packed down our patchwork of snow with the shovels, then gingerly stomped on it. The old ice crystals didn’t knit together anymore but a cold night or two would freeze them into place anyway. Further in the forest, a little swarm of chickadees was tweeting music for us to work by, enforcing the impression that spring was already upon us. I made a mental note to pick cottonwood buds soon for salves and lotions, and not leave it until too late as usual.

Finally we reached the turnaround and were done. With the shovels slung over our shoulders and the dogs prancing around our legs, now that we finally walked at a decent pace instead of shuffeling forward a few meters and then doing silly things with snow, we headed back towards home. Much as wilderness living is composed of a string of unexciting tasks as this one today, at least you have the world’s most beautiful workplace. A couple of ravens flew high overhead, maybe the pair that has a nest not far from our cabin, and croaking as they went.

It was when we neared the hill that an idea popped up in my head, quite possibly inspired by the Olympics. I eyed our shovels, not huge big snow shovels but handy little ones. Would our bums fit on there? I held my shovel behind my back for a test – maybe, just barely so. Sam strode ahead with the dogs while I paused on top of the hill, put my shovel down with the handle pointing forward, sat on it and pushed off.

With a wild “yeehaw” I scuttled by the startled Sam. “What the…” he yelled, then squeezed his own behind on his shovel and followed suit. I saw him slithering down the hill behind me at an alarming pace, but with an ecstatic grin on his face. At the bottom of the hill we caught up with each other, doubled over with laughter and snow plastered to our backs. Why had we never thought of this before? It’s taken us many years, but we’re pleased to have finally introduced wilderness skeleton racing to our lifestyle.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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