Saturday, January 24, 2009
Stronger than I thought
The animals came out of hiding today. A fox (left) and a bobcat (right) traveled a narrow path shortly before my dogs and I rolled along the same path. It's astounding how much bigger my dog's paw print is than the fox's track (top). My dog, R, was galloping like a goofy puppy when he made his sloppy track. In contrast, the fox moved carefully, leaving precise tracks.
The elk left the shelter of the forest and resumed grazing in the meadow.The elk herd winters in our area, roaming around a large area depending on the conditions. They sometimes wander 1500' lower than where I live when the snow is deep. For the past two winters, we've had a couple of feet of snow at this time of year, and the elk fled to lower ground. We didn't see them for a couple of months. This year, we have little snow, and they've been hanging around our meadows.
When they arrived near the end of this past November, there was a gigantic bull in their midst whose shrill bugles pierced the mountain quiet. This bull clearly still had high levels of testosterone running through his veins, left over from the mating season that occurred shortly before the elk migrated to their winter range. It looked difficult to hold his head up under the weight of his enormous antlers. Although the herd arrived when hunting season was still underway, this bull didn't become a trophy. I haven't been able to pick him out lately from among the more than 100-strong herd but I'm guessing that he's still there. I'm also guessing that a lot of the calves born in the herd this spring will carry his genes.
That thought led me to wonder how a herd maintains genetic diversity. If many of this year's calves are the huge bull's offspring, won't there be a high likelihood that his male and female offspring will mate with each other in a few years? Inbreeding generally hurts a species so I'm guessing that there's some interchange of individual elk among herds but I don't know for sure. Often, there's a smaller splinter group of elk, mostly males, who wander separately from the rest of the herd. Perhaps they move between herds. If anyone knows more about that conundrum, I'd be interested to hear about it.
Nature was constantly changing today. At the start of my ride, I had blue sky ahead of me but I saw threatening skies when I looked over my shoulder.
Today's ride, like many of my rides, was 'backloaded' - I started out going downhill with the wind at my back and then climbed home while fighting the wind. Our location makes this pattern very common. However, today, when I reached the lowest elevation of my ride and turned to face the hardest part of the ride, my smallest chainring became impossible to use. There was such bad chain suck that the chain was getting caught between the chainring and the frame on almost every pedal stroke. So, I was facing 45 minutes of climbing without the use of my smallest chainring.
That thought made me nervous because my strategy for protecting my back is to spin easy gears. I was too deep within a trail network to phone anyone to bail me out. So, I focused on keeping my back stable and straight, and to my amazement, I pedaled home with little pain. I also climbed faster than I've climbed since last summer despite the soft mushy snow.
At the end of last summer, I was noticing on group rides that I was among the only people who could actually ride, rather than walk, super steep climbs. I think that I've unknowingly become stronger than I thought that I was.
It started raining during the climb - RAINING in January - and with blue skies shining through!
Thanks to the rain and warm temperatures, I didn't have a great time during the last couple of miles on our dirt road. The road had turned to liquid mud, and I had a stream of almost-freezing muddy water spraying in my face. I even felt dirty grit grinding between my teeth. I was riding along holding up my mitten to block the mud spray from hitting my face. Two different drivers thought that I was waving them down for help. I must've looked pathetic! However, it's another example of how nicely our neighborhood drivers treat bikers, giving us tons of room and stopping to help if needed.
When I got home, we changed my small chainring, and the chain suck problem was solved. But, I won't forget that I'm stronger than I think I am!