The lyrics to The Who's "I'm free" danced through my head as I pedaled onto the trails with my dog, K. At first, I couldn't figure out why those lyrics fit my mood so well, and then I knew. Finally, after five days of relentless pain, my neck-induced headache had vanished without a trace. Being free of pain is amazing - but I don't always notice it right away.
The sky held numerous trails of airplanes. They made me realize that I couldn't imagine anyplace I'd rather be than riding my bike on the trails with K. Even K's eyes glittered in the sunlight.
After K had galloped and sniffed to her heart's delight, I headed for an area that I think of as the 'banana belt'. I rode over a small ridge that sits to our east, and as soon as I dropped onto the other side, the natural world changed. The soil was dry and sandy with reddish boulders dotting the landscape. Rocky Mountain Juniper trees mixed in with the Douglas Firs and Ponderosa Pines (right).
Today, I rode to a trailhead that I haven't dared to visit for a couple of years. My last trip there was dominated by dodging gonzo mountain bikers who seemed intent on catching big air than noticing the beauty around them. Today was my lucky day - the parking lot was empty.
I descended a south-facing trail into a canyon. This trail traverses terrain that feels a million miles away from my pine-forested mountain home. It's rocky and open, and in a couple of months, Sceloporus ('sagebrush') lizards will be doing pushups on the sun-warmed rocks. Believe me, no lizards skitter on the rocks near my mountain home.
I easily rode to the floor of the canyon and its rushing creek, only crossing a few patches of snow and a frozen creek. The wind and sun must have blown away and melted the snow. The canyon felt almost claustrophobic with rockfaces towering over the rushing creek. The water cascaded over ice-covered rocks. I paused and soaked up the beauty.
I started to pedal up the steep north-facing side of the canyon, and immediately ran into snow amidst a Ponderosa Pine forest. This terrain felt like home as opposed to the south-facing descent which felt like Moab. To my surprise, I easily rode over the packed snow and ice to the top of the canyon. I truly didn't expect to be able to ride the north-facing canyon wall - I figured that it would either be too snowy or muddy. I didn't see another soul. It truly was my lucky day.
As I pedaled home, I saw the Continental Divide over a partly frozen body of water. Then, within a few pedal strokes of home, I saw a pair of coyotes hunting in a meadow. I watched and gave thanks for a pain-free day out in the natural world.