Today, what started as an ordinary ride ended as a fun test of my limits. I started my ride with K, and we did some investigating of an unidentified bone. We headed up high, taking advantage of the solid snowpack that allows me to pedal up to the highest point in our area. As we passed through the darkness of a dense west-facing forest, K sniffed out a fairly fresh bone. It's a femur - also known as the thigh bone - of some animal, although I'm not sure what animal.
Below, you can see the bone with my foot next to it for scale. My foot is a bit less than 10" long, and the bone is about the same length. The other photo is a closeup of the proximal end of the femur. This ball-like end fits into the hip socket. Some animal has done major damage to this bone - he's chewed off part of the 'ball', and he somehow extracted the marrow about 4" into the bone. Also, the bone is fairly fresh - the animal probably died within the past couple of months.
I tend to think that the bone is not from an elk because it's too short. It's also not from a deer because it seems too stout given their lanky limbs. It's too big to be from a bobcat or coyote femur. There aren't cattle nearby. That leaves a bear, lion, or large dog as candidates. However, these are all guesses. Does anyone else have any guesses or observations?
After K and I had explored the woods together, I dropped her off at home. I divide my ride into two parts, one part with K and the other alone. The main reason is that it's easy to push a dog too hard when I'm riding a bike. I tailor my first ride to K. On K's ride, I don't go fast on downhills and I avoid fast flat trails. Instead, I seek technical singletrack (or snow) so that I can't go very fast. I know that K is capable of going faster than me at almost any instant in a ride. However, I want her to be able to run along side me for many years so I'm cautious. I watch K for any signs of soreness during our rides and in the hours afterwards. An injured joint might not hurt while she's running but it might make her limp in the first few steps after a nap.
Today, after riding for a bit more than an hour with K, I headed east. I passed through an area with a healthy pine forest on my left and a recovering burned area on my right. A group of Mule Deer monitored my passage through their territory. One of them expressed her disdain for me by mooning me. Then, they all retreated a few steps into the forest.
On my right, literally 30 yards from where the deer stood on the edge of a pine forest, a raging fire burned everything almost ten years ago. Today, gnarled black tree skeletons still dominate. On windy days like today, I hear frequent cracks as the wind blows down dead trees. I've been surprised by how slowly this area has healed.
For the first half of this ride, I descended almost 3000', and then, of course, I had to climb 3000' to get home. At the lowest point, I rode next to a creek that was a tumult of water descending from the mountains. I've never seen this creek flow so rapidly in the winter - the exceptionally warm temperatures must be melting our mountain snowpack.
The torrentially flowing creek marked the start of the upward climb into the west wind. I felt strong pedaling up the sometimes rocky, sometimes snowy, and often very steep climb. I started thinking about how I miss being a competitive athlete. I was a serious athlete until my spine degeneration stopped me in my mid-twenties. Over the past year, I've repeatedly found myself envious of people who can compete in endurance mountain bike races. However, I know that I'd risk injury if I competed. In the heat of a race, I'd likely lose my perspective, injure myself, and possibly threaten my ability to ride at all.
About a year after my most recent back surgery, I met with a doctor to discuss how to structure my life to minimize pain. He kept talking about knowing your limits and not pushing too close to them. That's simply not possible for me. Every atom of my being likes to test and stretch my limits. What if my limits are far greater than I think? Then, I'd be sitting around *not* doing fun things that, unknown to me, I was capable of doing. I think that's why I still test my limits - albeit with respect for my spine - because I'm sometimes pleasantly surprised that I'm stronger than I think I am.
Today, I exceeded my expected limits. On the last climb toward home with the west wind in my face, I shifted into a harder gear, pedaled almost effortlessly, and felt my bike surge up the hill. What an amazing feeling.