Photos and text copyright Romping and Rolling in the Rockies 2009-2014.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Long Journey

One of the hardest days of the year is the one when we have to leave our idyllic campsite in the San Juan Mountains. It's a campsite replete with an incredible view of the mountains and amazing wildflowers.
It even has a nearby cluster of six small lakes that no one else ever visits. The Runner found them by studying a very detailed USGS topo map. The Duo adores playing there! I am already looking forward to visiting again next year.
But, it was time to go, and I had a big mountain bike ride ahead of me. I was planning to ride a rugged trail through the wilderness from our campsite to a main road, where I'd meet the pack. It's a very tough ride that I've done several times in the past but I was honestly scared of it this year.

The reason is that I feel as if my body has not completely recovered from my surgery last February and the subsequent trains of cluster migraines. I'm now on medication to prevent migraines, but the medicine leaves me bone-tired and in a brain haze. Over our trip, I'd felt like a shadow of my usual self on my mountain bike rides - I was so tired all the time.

So, I seriously wondered whether I could trust my body to get me from point A to point B through a long trek of roadless wilderness when there would be NO option of turning around. I pondered it for a few days ahead of time. I tried to rest up, eat well, and get lots of sleep, and I started to feel a little better. After a couple of good shorter rides when my body felt strong, I finally decided that I was going to take on the challenge.

Due to my medical issues, my rule for the ride was to stay well below my "red line", or that threshold where the body is working too hard and can't recover quickly. I started out pedaling easily through a big meadow with the last views (for this year) of the mountain ranges that I've come to love so much. I took this photo as I looked backwards bidding them farewell. I was about to climb a ridge that would lead to the next mountain range on my bike journey.
After the initial huge meadow, the trail wended through pine forests and across numerous creeks for miles and miles. Near one creek, a hillside was covered in Columbines.
While in those forests, I couldn't see the full sky so I didn't know that thunderstorms were brewing. The forecast had called for the "usual" 20% chance of thunderstorms "in the afternoon". I took the next photo well before "afternoon". Uh oh. Regardless of the threatening clouds, I still had a very high mountain pass to cross.
The urgency of my pedaling ratcheted up a notch but I still stuck to my "no red line" rule. As I climbed, the sun would occasionally break through the clouds, and the world would look safe and cheerful, once again.
This climb is one of the hardest I've ever pedaled up. However, the wildflowers were awe-inspiring and constantly distracted me during the seemingly endless upward grind.
I had to stop every now and then to photograph the flowers. They are a natural wonder - one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen. I wish the sun had been shining on them!
 There were even Columbines in the mix!
After almost an hour of pedaling uphill, the purples took over. The scarlet paintbrushes were like a carpet.
I lay down on the ground to look at the world through the scarlet forest.
After that short break, I kept pedaling steadily and patiently, peering upward as I rounded each curve, hoping to see the top.
Finally, I topped out with big views in all directions!!! I took a photo looking backward from the top, feeling elated to be so high. I'd started my ride on the other side of the mountain range in the distance of this photo.
I wanted to linger, rest, and enjoy the views but the clouds chose that moment to start hurling ice balls down at me. Grrr. So, I started pedaling again, now downhill, with even more urgency than before. Because I'd been so conservative with my effort level for the first half of the ride, I felt like I still had energy to spare.
And, I was going to need that energy because storms chased me for the rest of the day. The second half of the ride was a bit harrowing but I survived! I'll save the conclusion of the story for Thursday.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Our Big Adventure

Life is, again, seeming to return to normal. We've had a whirlwind August, filled with lots of fun and adventures. I'm tired, in a pleasant sort of way - from doing the things that we love so much.

We spent the vast majority of August living in our LabMobile, a modified high-clearance and 4wd camping van (commonly known as a SportsMobile).

We spent a number of days in the San Juan mountains, high in alpine territory. Shyla and I had our biggest adventure together so far. We took a long mountain bike ride to an alpine pass. Although Shyla visited this area with us last summer, she wasn't strong enough for such a physically demanding ride yet. Moreover, last summer, she didn't have the training for me to feel certain that I could count on her to stay by my side for such a long ride, no matter what we might encounter.

This year, with a tiny bit of trepidation, we undertook the ride together. The first mile was on a rarely used 4wd road. You can see that the sky was blue, and Shyla was bursting with energy.
I took almost no photos on our way to the Pass, partly because I wanted to beat any brewing thunderstorms to the treeless world near the Pass. Physically, it seemed to be an easy run for Shyla.

Here she was, as she arrived at the top.
On our way to the Pass, we had passed a woman backpacking with llamas. I called out to her from behind so she'd know that we were there, and I watched Shyla's reaction to llamas. I know that Shyla is great with horses... but I didn't know if that training would extend to llamas. It turned out that Shyla was afraid of llamas and kept a pretty big distance from them. I liked that - no llamas were spooked!

After we reached the Pass, we could see the Llama Lady climbing up behind us. The llamas were carrying all her gear for about 10 days out in the wilderness.
For sentimental reasons, it was heartwarming to see Shyla stand atop that Pass. The reason is that K and I did this ride together several times in her life. Indeed, I suspect that K stood exactly where Shyla was in this photo.
It felt like Shyla also knew that this was an important moment. She stood tall, head above the mountains.
The wind picked up while we lingered on the Pass, enjoying a rare alpine day when the sun was strong enough that we weren't cold in the wind.
Alas, we couldn't linger too long. Clouds were building all across the horizon. We needed to start making steady progress back to camp just in case a thunderstorm developed.
The meadows below the Pass were crowded with bright wildflowers so I had to stop for one photo.
We followed a breathtakingly beautiful trail back to camp.
When we returned to camp, it felt as if Shyla and I had achieved a big milestone. I sometimes feel as if my bonds with my dogs are built through our shared adventures. That evening, Shyla's eyes seemed more mature and softer to me than I'd ever seen them.
I feel as if Shyla is reaching that "sweet spot" in a Lab's life when they are physically so strong and their training is getting good enough for big adventures. I'll admit that Shyla has had her share of "teenage" moments this summer - but she was wonderful on our big ride together that day.

After K's death at a relatively young age, I find myself hoping with all my heart that Shyla and I get to climb many more mountains together, like these ones that we gazed at as the sun set that evening.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Black Lab Sunday

I don't get as many chances to photograph R as I'd like. During vacation, he and I took a walk by ourselves, and I captured him galloping through the flowers!
Black Lab on the Move

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Sweet Girl

Shyla and I are getting closer with every adventure we take together.

She can be a super intense and high energy dog.
Fancy Footwork
But, she can also be the sweetest and mellowest girl around. For some reason, this photo captured my heart. It shows Shyla's soft eyes and sweet demeanor. I took it around sunset in a meadow in the San Juan mountains.
Glow of the Setting Sun
It's been almost two years since I met Shyla, and she's become part of my heart.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Water Art

Shyla uses her tail when she swims more than any of our dogs in the past. Sometimes it creates a very artistic plume!
Water Art
Seeing our dogs have so much fun swimming was a big highlight of our recent mountain trip.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Mountain Lion Pair

My trail cameras have never captured photos of adult mountain lions together until now.

First, my trail camera photographed a large male mountain lion heading east.
He stopped briefly next to one of my trail cameras that was on his route.
A couple of miles later, he was still on the same path.

My next glimpse of him was amazing! He was with a smaller adult mountain lion - likely a female mountain lion. I am guessing that this is a mating pair. Mountain lions can breed at any time of year.
That was the only spot where I captured photos of the pair together although a mating pair usually stays together for several days.

By 8/12, I believe they had separated. I think that this is the female from the pair above leaving the area. She's wearing a GPS collar.
I love capturing these glimpses into the lives of our most secretive animals. It would be fun if this female chose to raise her young kittens in our neck of the woods. Only time will tell... Gestation is about 90 days.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Columbines

Near our Crested Butte campsite, there was a talus slope that was covered in Columbines. I have never seen so many in one place as there.
Columbines on High
In the next photo, all the spots in the background are Columbines!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Unexpected Guests

The resident black bears in our neck of the woods didn't have any cubs this year. But, we've had more than one sow bring cubs into our area during this period of fattening up by eating non-stop ("hyperphagia" - usually July and August, here). During this phase, mother bears, who have exceptionally high calorie needs, will go outside their normal territories in search of food.

This sow, who I haven't seen before, appeared by a bear tree a couple of weeks ago. One of her cubs was right next to her. It's amazing how different their coat colors are - I guess this cub looks like his/her father!
As mom kept walking, the first cub climbed the tree that has been marked by so many bears over the years.
As the black cub descended from the tree, a cinnamon-brown cub, whose coat resembled his mother's coat, moved into the picture. This cub had obviously been trailing behind his mom and sibling.
The black cub hustled to catch up with his mom but the cinnamon one explored a little. He sniffed a small aspen sapling.
Then, he sniffed a rock in front of the bear tree.
Finally, to my surprise, he tried to mark the bear tree like a big bear does!
Soon after marking the tree, he sprinted away to catch up with his family! I'm hoping that this family stays in the area for a little while, perhaps stopping to play in the spring where last year's cubs played so much! I can't wait to find out what happens!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sunset and Night Sky

Our campsite in the San Juans overlooked the "Lizard Head", which is the pointy mountain on the horizon. We saw several beautiful sunsets over it.
Glorious Sky over the Lizard Head
Those sunsets were often followed by clouds flowing across the sky at dusk, with the stars twinkling behind them.
Flowing Clouds
The beauty that we saw from that campsite was breath-taking.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Black Lab Sunday

R shook off the water, very artistically, after a swim on our recent trip.
I'm afraid that we are heading into another busy period with little time for the internet. It will be a shorter period this time but I apologize in advance for some very brief posts! Enjoy your summertime days!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wildflowers Galore

Yesterday, I talked about arriving at our Crested Butte campsite and being so happy to see the sunshine. Even better, the sun was lighting up one of the most incredible wildflower displays I've ever seen.

I went for a mountain bike ride on a classic route, while the Runner took both dogs for a high mountain run. Unfortunately, it wasn't a place where I could take Shyla mountain biking with me.

But, the flowers on my mountain bike route blew my mind. The Aspen Sunflowers were taller than me.
They lined the high part of the trail. I literally stopped at least a dozen times to take photos of them. I got a moderately early start on each day we spent there, and I had the trails all to myself. Lucky me!
In some places, purple Fireweed mixed in with the sunflowers. The trail was smooth and tacky - lined with flowers the whole way.
As I look through these photos, I am reminded, yet again, why we try so hard to seize each summer day in the high mountains. Mountain wildflowers have fleeting lives at high elevations. I'd bet that this display is almost finished by now. I feel so lucky to have seen it.
We spent three glorious days enjoying this heavenly wildflower capitol. We'd run/bike/swim in the morning, and recline in the sun in the afternoons.
After those blissful days, we awakened to a change in the weather one morning. Because we were camped so high, we were literally *in* the clouds. We headed down about 3000' in elevation for some exercise. I rode on this pretty trail at about 8000' in the rain.
And then we visited the town and its wifi to research the weather again. We discovered that a stretch of clear and beautiful weather was approaching out in the San Juan Mountains. We immediately hit the road to get there as fast as we could!

We had a super stroke of luck. Normally, we spend the first night in the San Juans camped near a main road, and then I ride a cross-country route to our favorite campsite, meeting the pack there (they drive a 4wd road). For some reason, I started thinking that we should drive directly to our campsite that night, even though it would be a bumpy and painful van ride for me.

As we drove up the 4wd road toward our campsite, we reached a "road closed" sign after about 10 miles. At first, we were morose. Then, we read the sign more carefully, and we saw that the road was closed for the following day - all day long. So, we went around the blockade and made it to our campsite that night.

That was a fabulous stroke of luck because, if we'd followed our usual plan, I would've arrived at our campsite, after 5 hours of hard mountain biking, to discover that the pack wasn't there due to the closed road. We did have satellite communication devices (DeLorme) so I'm sure we would have figured out a solution but it would have been a very rough day. Thank goodness that we decided to break with tradition and go straight to our campsite!

When we arrived at the campsite perched on an overlook, the moonlit view was incredible.
What a great trip we were having!