The only way ahead is over frozen water, Nick and I survey the ice before crossing, we do this on Spruce Creek, and days later, Snow River. Two kid-free outings, with snow shoes on a Friday and fat bikes on a Monday, with a weekend of family down hill skiing in between.
The ice is thick but it still makes me nervous, the only sound in these quiet valleys, besides my breath, is that of water running. Open water on either side of the ice bridge, bluish green, bubbling, glacier-fed, hydrogen and oxygen molecules churning a path down the mountainside towards the sea.
The path of least resistance, often the opposite of where my feet travel.
This is how Nick and I met, forging a trail where no formal one exists, mountains as neighbors, riverbeds our roads, home we carried on our backs.
Too many years passed under florescent lights, in window-less hallways, waiting rooms, all the trees turned into stacks of papers for us to sign.
But our love for things wild never dwindled, only stepped aside for awhile, as a love for a child superseded all the passions that came before his premature birth.
But now that boy is thirteen. His sister seven. And we live on the edge of two parks, with 1,000's of miles of mountains, creeks, beaches, and glaciers to explore.
There is a parallel here, between walking into the woods or up along a frozen riverbed, not sure of your exact destination, and parenting a child whose disabilities prevent him from expressing pain, from voicing concerns, from telling us he feels sick.
No signs or trail markers. No map.
On Saturday morning, perhaps our last ski weekend of the year. Elias's eyes seemed darker than expected, especially for a boy who loves chairlifts and all his talented, funny, kind instructors. And this was Snowblast weekend, Challenge Alaska's biggest fundraiser, and Elias raised over 2,500 dollars with a good chance of winning a prize in the teen category.
(He was first and won a fishing trip on the Kenai.)
But as we prepared to leave the cabin, his brow furrowed and he seemed to only look down. He is always slow at responding to requests, but his processing delay seemed magnified with everything taking twice as long.
When we reached Girdwood, and helped him get his gear on, he proceeded to take off his helmet, off his jacket, and he wanted his snow-pants off too but struggled to unlatch his boots.
We all tried to decipher the feelings behind his actions. He speaks the loudest through behavior. What is un-dressing telling us?
Does he feel sick? Is he just tired? Is he nervous about using outriggers and skiing untethered, a change in his ski program? Is he having unwitnessed seizures, our latest concern in a mile-long list of worries? Is he just being thirteen?
Nick and I had to walk away and leave our stubborn boy with Nick and Jeff, two ski instructors who are far cooler than Mom and Dad. He eventually made it out to the slopes, where he sat more than he skied, and repeated these undressing behaviors on Sunday morning, multiple times, successfully unbuckling his boots and disrobing every time we got him back dressed.
He did one run that morning, that involved lying on the slopes in protest. We debated skipping the afternoon. More instructors got involved with the cheerleading, Jess and Tracy joined the team, and Elias surprised us all by skiing four full runs, untethered, strong and free.
He's a mystery, Elias, even to me.
And yet we will continue to walk into the unknown. Taking careful footsteps. Checking the thickness of the ice before crossing or just placing our trust in the snow-covered bridge beneath our feet, hoping this won't be the time our leg goes crashing through into the glacial water as it rushes down stream.
When all is said and done, its worth it, this precarious walk of ours, destination unknown. Just a family of four, with two dogs, stumbling gracefully into the abyss, to use one of Elias's first big words he acquired back when he was three. When after hearing me say his bouncy-ball had fallen into the abyss of of our packed truck, he used the word in proper context months later, when he arrived home from preschool without a pull-up, though his teacher loaded him on the bus with one on his bottom.
"Where did it go?" I asked.
"Into the abyss."
We may not no where the ice bridge leads, but we are traveling somewhere.