By yesterday afternoon, angry-looking clouds sweeping across the sky painted a stormy but colorful sunset. My dogs and I wandered through the fading light as we watched the return of winter. Our peacefulness was punctuated by an occasional practice recall. The dogs' enthusiasm was undeniable as they sprinted furiously through the forest, leaping over obstacles, to reach me.After the yesterday's tumultuous-looking sunset, I expected today's weather to be ferocious. Instead, the wind had died, the temperature had fallen well below freezing, and snow gently fell. The carpet of snow was thin so I headed out on my mountain bike with my dogs. The sun weakly burned through the clouds and snow, making a surreal atmosphere for riding.
K, the chocolate lab, worried about something unknown during our ride yesterday. In contrast, today, the snow made her goofy, and she frolicked joyfully with her brother, R.The warm weather from the past several days rendered the snow unpredictable. In some places, I floated over the top of the snow like it was dirt. In other places, the top crust collapsed, and my wheel fell through to the ground. After a collapse, the old snow held my bike upright, and I took advantage of the opportunity to use the camera timer and get a photo of me and K with my bike.
This morning, the elk herd filed away from the meadow near my house where it had grazed for the past 24 hours. The herd has habitual routes that it follows through the forest, and this morning's route was heading toward wooded areas at higher elevations. The elder females lead the herd in a line, usually single file in deep snow or several abreast in shallow snow. They leave an unmistakable path that's churned and trampled by their hooves (below, left).
I think of these long-used routes as the 'elk super-highways'. Along these super-highways, the elk stop to eat the bark of aspen trees, which have deep black scars on their trunks as high as an elk can reach, and then no scars up higher (above, right).
One time, as I drove toward town, the herd decided to cross the road single-file. They acted like backcountry skiers crossing an avalanche chute - they crossed individually so only one elk was exposed to the danger of the road at a time. Each elk sailed over the fence on one side of the road, sauntered slowly across the road, and then sailed over the fence on the other side of the road. I waited a long time and counted almost 100 elk. The elk made me late for a meeting, but I had a unique excuse!
Today was a quiet day in the forest with no other humans in sight, as it usually is during winter weather. Except for the elk, most animals seemed to be hunkered down in their dens so the trails were like blank slates with only my tire tracks.
Quiet days like today encompass what I love about mountain biking - the solitude of traveling silently through nature, feeling like the forest and mountains are endless.