I headed out into the dark to enjoy a dawn bike ride. No animals greeted me. And, believe it or not, that disappointed me. One of my favorite things about dawn bike rides is seeing the forest creatures who are active under the cover of dawn and dusk.
The sun started to backlight the eastern horizon a good 10 minutes earlier than last week. I love knowing that our hours of sunlight are growing rapidly. Springtime is coming.
It won't be until late May that the aspen trees transform from bare skeletons to leafy trees but the buds seem to grow daily. Here, backlit by the rising sun, I imagine that I can see the buds.
Yes, springtime is definitely coming, and the robins are heralding its arrival. To my surprise, a flock of robins foraged close to the ground ahead of me after the sun was fully risen. They exploded into the air as I approached. They looked like flaming red birds as they alighted with their rust-colored breasts illuminated by the low sun. I don't see them in our forests during the depths of winter. But, they delight me by appearing for the end of winter every year. In the cold of winter when no tasty bugs are available, they primarily eat berries from the juniper shrubs that carpet our forest floor.Although I didn't see many mammals today, I saw their tracks deep in a conifer forest. One set caught my eye because the gait pattern and stride length are similar to the ones that I posted two days ago, although I saw them about 5 miles from the previous site on the edge of a pine forest. Today's tracks were from an animal moving quickly up a steep hill in loose deep snow. The prints themselves were not clear but were about 1-2" long per paw. Based on my research, I'm becoming more convinced that these are American Marten (AKA 'Pine Marten') tracks based on paw size and the gait pattern. However, I'm having trouble finding out about the prevalence of martens in my area.
A Pine Marten is a small mostly carnivorous mammal that's part of the weasel family. It weighs about 3 lbs but has big paws for its size as you can see in the photo. Martens eat mostly rodents but also some berries. They're secretive animals who live in pine forests. They've been trapped for their fur for many years.
Shortly after riding this morning, I drove down 3000' to town. For every 1000' lower in elevation, spring arrives 10 days sooner. So, over the course of a short drive, I traveled forward in time by about 30 days. This 'time travel' had become more dramatic over the past week as the aspens, cottonwoods, and willows were showing signs of spring life in the warmth of lower elevations.
All the snow biking that I'm doing this winter, like this morning, is making me a strong rider with good endurance. However, many rides don't provide a sustained high intensity cardiovascular workout. To remedy this, I've been designating part my weekly dawn ride as a higher intensity workout. Specifically, over the course of a 35 minute climb with little snow, I do 2 minutes at moderately high intensity at a fast cadence and 1 minute relaxed. I repeat this cycle for the whole climb. It seems to give my legs some 'snap' - a reminder that that they can pedal at a faster pace than the slow slog that snow biking often is. It's a workout that I did when I was a bike racer because it mimics the surges and decelerations of racing on big climbs. I don't race anymore but I still like to push my physical limits sometimes.
To provide a bookend to the day, the dogs and I went for a sunset stroll. I was tired after a long day but enjoyed the pink sunset and the company of my three labradors.