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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dead legs and pecking order

An inch of snow fell overnight. This morning, I found the most treacherous biking conditions so far this winter. Recent sunny days melted snow, and last night's frigid temperatures froze the trails solid. Then, the new snow provided the finishing touch, concealing the ice and making it even more slippery.

I rode my Stumpjumper rather than my Fatback when K and I headed out the door. The reason is that the Stumpjumper has studded tires - and they seemed critical for staying upright in today's precarious conditions. I gingerly rode up to a viewpoint where we saw two hiking neighbors who offered to take our photo.

After I dropped off K at home, I planned an easy ride on non-technical trails because of the ice. I saw the elk herd resting in a meadow with a mountain peak behind them. I took closeups of some animals and saw that the males still have their antlers. They won't drop their antlers until spring when their budding new antlers push off the old ones.

Females by far outnumber males in the herd, a normal state of affairs in a species that uses a harem mating system. In this system, the biggest and most dominant bulls each collect a group of 10-30 cows and actively defends them from mating with other bulls. The dominant bulls bugle, chase away other bulls, and even engage in antler combat. We've observed a herd broken up into a number of harems in vast meadow at Rocky Mountain National Park, and it's amazing to watch the jockeying by the big old bulls. The younger or less dominant bulls hang around the periphery trying to sneak in a mating when the dominant bulls are distracted.

In elk, equal numbers of males and females are born. But, more males die at the hands of hunters and due to winter mortality than females. Consequently, adult females outnumber males by 3 to 10-fold.

After passing the elk herd, I started to feel crummy - dead legs, stomach cramps, and a feeling that I'd prefer to be lying on the couch rather than pedaling my bike. To top it off, the snow had started to melt and my tires were churning grit onto my drivetrain - leading to serious chainsuck problems when I tried to use my small chainring.

I sat by the side of the trail to mentally regroup. I ate a peanutbutter cup and drank some water- following an ironclad rule for endurance exercise - when you feel exhausted, it's time to refuel. I gazed at the cobalt blue sky and pine trees. After soaking up some sun, I found the gumption to start the climb. I was forced to put my bike in the middle chainring due to the chainsuck problems. So, I pounded a much harder gear than usual on a long snowy climb. I felt the chocolate energy surge into my legs and realized that I'd probably be able to drag myself home. I chugged up the hill non-stop because, if I'd stopped pedaling, inertia might've sucked me down into a nap in the sun. Before I knew it, I was almost home.

I spent the afternoon by the fireplace. R and K entertained me with their play fighting. I was glad to see K relaxed enough to play with R. Recently, she's been 'correcting' him when he ignores her subtle signals that she doesn't want to play. Our pack seems to be in flux as R matures. R (1 yr old) has undoubtedly risen above S (13 yrs old) in the pack pecking order, and he now has K (5 yrs old) in his sights. We're trying to protect K from losing her new-found confidence while letting the pack find its natural order. For today, it looked like K and R simply played and had fun.

We ended the day by hiking down a northwest-facing gulch that's usually too snowy for hiking until June. Unbelievably, parts of it were bare of snow, making walking easy except for the blown-down trees strewn over the trail. Aside from some squirrels, it looked like we were the first to venture down the gulch since fall.


  1. Love the jaw-jive pic. I'm always nervous about how adding a new dog might affect pack dynamics, but I'm pretty sure that my S dog remained at the top until he died at age 14. Even after he became very frail, I just don't think that Z or L cared to take over.

  2. Dog_Geek,

    The hardest part is figuring out how much to intervene. R is such a strong personality that I had little doubt that he'd be a social-climber. But, K is fairly fragile so I find myself watching and holding my breath. So far, she still sticks up for herself without escalating. Short sharp corrections with no actual teeth contact are her style - and R goes into groveling mode after one. As long as it stays at this level, I'll stay out of it, I think.



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