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Thursday, March 5, 2009

In the company of dogs

I had the honor of two canine escorts, K and R, for the start of my ride. After riding for only a short time, both dogs simultaneously threw the switch from 'happy-go-lucky' galloping to serious pursuit galloping. Through an aspen grove, I spotted six tan mule deer rumps, bouncing away but not terribly quickly. I recalled both dogs - this is no big deal for the more mature K - but fleeing deer or elk are still a tempting challenge to R. I watched the dogs closely, and R hesitated to check whether K whipped around to return to me. Only when he saw K turn did he start his sprint to me. It emphasized how much an older dog teaches a younger dog. If K had chased those deer, I have no doubt that R would've joined the fun. I gave them a huge jackpot of treats for resisting the temptation of an exciting chase and returning to the comparatively boring me.

I took the opportunity to practice stays and recalls while the dogs felt the adrenaline of a chase in their blood and smelled the scent of deer in the air. I've come to believe that these spontaneous training sessions when deer or elk are nearby have played a key role in making K reliable around them. The dogs love practicing recalls and sprint at top speed!

As we headed up to the exposed ridges and peaks above my house, I had my first mechanical mishap. Somehow, I don't know how, a stick caught in my spokes and nearly sent me over the handlebars. Believe it or not, this unlikely accident happened again in the next 10 minutes. Fortunately, both times, my speed was slow, and I managed to avoid an endo.

As we rode up to our favorite peak, I was shocked to see the tracks of other mountain bikers. Over the winter, I've been the only one on most trails! I welcome most of them back because they're friends who I like to see - but I have to admit that I love the solitude of the trails in the winter.

After a rocky climb, we emerged above the trees to a view that'll never stop taking my breath away. I felt like hanging out in the sun on the peak so K and I played a favorite game - I hide an object while she sits out of sight. Then, she has to find it and bring it to me. Today, I caught her peeking around a tree while I hid a handwarmer- a very cute moment. I wish that my camera had been handy. But I could tell that she used her nose rather than her memory to find the handwarmer because she didn't zero in on it until she was downwind of it. You can see her picking it up below.

This 'Find it' game is useful. I tend to do all sorts of tasks while riding my bike - I take gloves on and off, remove wrappers from food, hand out treats to K, and even take pictures. And, I regularly drop things while multi-tasking. I send K back on the trail with a 'Find it' cue, and she brings me the lost item. It seems to be my scent that she seeks because she brings me any object that I've touched.

After dropping the dogs off at home, I started enjoying rolling downhill faster than I do when I'm with the dogs. As I descended a rocky steep hill, I was getting in the zone when I felt that mushy flat-tire feeling - I guess it was my mechanical bad luck day. At least it happened in the sun! While I changed the tire, I felt creepy, like eyes were boring into my back, and I kept glancing nervously over my shoulder. I was on a rarely-used boulder-strewn descent down to a creek. A lion could've easily taken me as I focused on my tire. When K is with me, she watches my back if I'm distracted. I was wishing for her! I think lions were on my mind because a fellow local mountain biker found dog remains and a collar in a spot that was obviously a lion's lair yesterday.

As I picked up my repaired bike to continue descending, I noticed that my handlebar had rested on a lichen-covered rock (above right). I felt bad - as I've recently learned that lichens grow only 0.5 mm per year (Watcher's blog) - I hope that I didn't hurt any lichens. Based on the size of the lichen patches, I'm guessing the largest ones might've been almost 100 years old!

Just a little further down this slope, a 30 ft high cliff-face caught my eye. I'd never seen anything like the lichens growing all over it (at least I think they're lichens - maybe someone could give a more informed opinion). The top of the cliff leaned outward, shading the lower face that held large patches of these beautiful whitish lichens. My index fingertip is for scale.

I rolled along a ridge with the wind whipping me from the west. The trail has dried out in the sun and wind of the past week. But, the views kept peeking from between the trees as I rode to the west. It's tough to focus on the rocky trail when the surroundings are gorgeous!

I kept watching for the cinnamon colored mama bear and her two cubs on this ridge. They roamed it last summer, and this is prime weather for them to wake up for a stroll. I thought that I saw two bear tracks on the sandy trail - but the tracks were too unclear to be sure. I always look forward to seeing my first bears of spring but it's probably too early for them.

Before descending from the ridge, I took one more photo of the mountains.I wound down the day with a sunset hike with the trio of labradors. Our sunset hikes have recently been shortened due to S's sore joints. He gets gimpy whenever the cushioning snow melts - both last year and this year. Even though the hikes are shorter, we still enjoy them!


  1. Beautiful scenery! And such good dogs!

  2. Definitely lichen! It's foliose. If I took a wild (really wild) guess, I'd go for some species of Physcia, maybe Physcia adscendens. But don't quote me on it.


  3. Good dogs, for recalling off of the deer! I always keep good treats on me when we are out on the trails so I can jackpot those moments. A few weeks ago, L was running up ahead of us on the trail, and suddenly found himself literally in the middle of a herd of about 10 deer. I think his brain just about melted - half the deer went one way, the other half went the other way, (they kind of took their time about it, though - I don't think they were terribly concerned about my 23 pound barky dog) and I called him. I was thinking that there no chance his brain would function well enough to hear me calling him, but he turned came right away! I think there were so many deer on all sides of him, he was overwhelmed and probably a little relieved to be called away. But he got a huge reward!

  4. Often Lilly will take off after something, but she checks to see if Ginko is coming too, if not, then she returns. So, in many ways, if I can keep Ginko nearby, then Lilly sticks with us.

    It's not the idea scenario, but it does show how much she looks to him for direction.


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