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Monday, January 26, 2009

Knowing when

This morning dawned icy cold with a couple of inches of new snow. I peered at the skylights that were snow-covered and then at the below zero reading on the outdoor thermometer. I burrowed back under the covers.

The frigid cold seemed like a bigger deal due to a rough night of being awakened by neck pain, a headache, and a dog with 'gastric distress'. To top it off, the coyotes decided to have a howling concert outside our window at 2 AM. I usually like their concerts - but it was just one more wake-up last night.

Up until this winter, I always grudgingly rode my indoor bicycle trainer when the temperature was below 20 degrees. Then, I started reading about the exploits of mountain bikers in Alaska and other frigid climates, and I decided to start venturing out into the winter weather. This season, I've discovered that I absolutely love riding my mountain bike on snow in the crackling cold winter air. Despite that discovery, I still find myself reluctant to plunge out the door.

This morning, I decided to do a few chores before riding my mountain bike, hoping that it might warm up at least a little. I was almost immediately punished for my procrastination as the outdoor temperature fell by another degree. Waiting was a bad strategy.

I pedaled, with tires squeaking in the new snow, into the -2 degree world with trepidation. I told myself that I could go only a half mile if I was too cold. I use that trick on myself a lot, and I've never actually turned around after a half mile.

K and I were solo today because our youngest Lab, R, was on his way to the vet. K behaves differently when it's just the two of us. We get into sync, each of us watching out for the other, pushing hard on the same sections of trail, and then stopping for a furry warm hug. Today, she sat patiently waiting while I took photos, and her chin gradually became frostier as we rode through the icy air.

After K and I had explored our trail network, I headed out on my own. Amazingly, although the temperature hovered near zero, I had dressed perfectly and was warm. I thought to myself that it felt like the temperature had risen to 20 degrees but it was only 3 degrees when I arrived home. I also figured out how to keep my drinking water flowing in super cold weather - by keeping my camelbak hose inside my jacket. I'm sure that many of you know this trick - but I'd never thought of it until today.

Throughout the ride, I heard booms coming from the direction of the Continental Divide and initially my brain thought that they were thunderstorms. Gazing at the icy world reminded me that the booms couldn't be thunderstorms. It's more likely that explosives were mitigating the avalanche danger up near the Divide.

I rode a trail that I traveled during our spring sojourn less than a week ago. The willows turned reddish green and looked alive during the pseudo-spring. Today, they looked like ice sculptures.

Toward the end of my ride, I was sorely tempted to ride up into a favorite trail network despite the weather looking threatening (below) and an unrelenting headache. No humans had tread on the fresh snow so I'd be able to see animal tracks. In fact, I saw the tracks of two coyotes at the trailhead. I stood paralyzed as my urge to investigate the animal tracks battled the tiny iota of good sense that I have. For one of the few times in my life, I knew when to say when. Although it had probably been slowly building, my headache - caused by nerve pressure by damaged discs and bone spurs in my neck - had finally roared into my consciousness and was the deciding factor in ending my ride. I'm an expert at ignoring pain but I pay an exorbitant price. After hours of pretending that I'm not in pain, I fall into a deep fatigue that's like being physically and mentally mired in deep thick mud. Ignoring pain consumes lots of energy.

With that brief flash of wisdom, I headed home.


  1. Beautiful pictures, especially the one of K...what a great expression on her face! She is lovely...

    I hope your headache finally subsided...can't imagine the pain you deal with regularly. Have you noticed a difference in your pain levels now that you ride on snowy trails versus when you rode the trainer?

    Squishes to the adorable lab trio,
    Sue and the gang

  2. Brrrr. I would have a) gone back to bed, b) rode the trainer later.

    Great photos, though.

    I hope R's tummy feels better, and I hope you're pain free today (Tues).

  3. smrp,

    Thanks for the nice comments.

    To answer your question, I find that riding outside is always better for my spine than riding indoors. I think that the reason is that I move my body around relative to my bike when I'm balancing my bike on actual terrain. If I'm on a stationary bike, I become, well, stationary. My back likes movement more than anything - assuming that I follow certain rules: keep spine straight, don't hunch shoulders, don't crane my neck to look forward or sideways.

    BTW, I just checked out your website, and I love it. It looks like we share a love of dogs and riding, although you ride horses and I ride bikes.

    I know how tough it is to have an epileptic dog because my, now deceased, dog had epilepsy. It began in middle age, lasted a few years, and then went away. He was a Lab and lived to be almost 16. I hope that things work out as well for you.



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