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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mountain magnetism

The robins are singing from the treetops, and it's still warm enough to be spring. K and I rolled through the forest of bare aspens, needle-covered pines, and dwarf juniper this morning to hear the familiar music of the huge flock of birds. Today, we saw two new species with the group: Northern Flickers and Juncos. Whenever we see this flock, they're in a mixed forest that must have a wide variety of foods to attract this diverse bunch.

Although the temperature is springlike, the winds are winterlike. K and I climbed up to the highest local peak, and the wind nearly blew me off my bike. I walked the last 30 yards, and then lay down my bike because there was no hope of propping it upright without having it blown over. K sat next to the bike and looked scared. She hates the wind - as a puppy, she'd try to flee from it.

Today, K and I didn't stay on the exposed peak for long. I snapped some photos of the snowy mountains but had trouble focusing the camera because the wind gusts buffeted me. Then, we dropped down to a forested west-facing trail, and caught a peek of the same view that I'd just photographed from the peek. I took the photo on the left about 25 minutes earlier than the one on the right. Over that short time, the cloud cluster over the mountains grew astronomically.

This morning, I kept up a good pace on the forested trail because the scents had amped up K to high voltage levels. While we wound along the ledgy trail, she repeatedly sprinted ahead until she was just barely in view and waited impatiently. Occasionally, she zoomed up the wall-like steep slope to the east of the trail. I suspect her excitement stemmed from a recent visit by the elk herd based on the trampling, tracks, and scat along the trail.

The warm sun has melted much of the snow from the trails. By riding trails with less ice, I'm finding out that riding snow and ice daily has given me more confidence on the descents. I loved climbing from day one but I've always been tentative on downhills. Now, that's accentuated by the dire warnings of doctors about my unstable neck vertebrae. But, riding tentatively is the most direct path to crashing so it felt great to flow down technical downhills today. When my riding friends emerge from hibernation, I'm sure that we'll resume our usual pattern of them dropping me on the downhills and me catching up on the climbs. Until then, I'll keep the illusion alive that I'm an improved downhiller.

In fact, because of my observation that I crash most often when I'm riding tentatively, I've made a 'no bailing out' rule. Once I start a downhill, I don't allow myself to try to bail out partway down. It's amazing how much more smoothly and safely I descend since I made this rule. Another side-effect is that my crashes are more spectacular - that can be good or bad, depending on your viewpoint. Continuously descending the hill shown in the photo has been a goal over the past year. Near the top, I weave in and out of large boulders and tree roots. Closer to the bottom, I try not to skid on loose sharp rocks. Although it scares me every single time I face it, I love taking it on. And, I checked - my Spot tracker can send messages from this steep spot so I can summon help if needed.

When I headed out on my own, I stayed low and away from the howling wind. Down in the protected areas, the sun rapidly overheated me and butterflies flitted past. Out of the wind, it felt like spring. I noticed buds on some small trees bordering a creek. The right photo shows the small tree/shrub with the reddish tinge on the branch ends. I think that it's a willow tree but I'm not sure. This year, I feel like I've suddenly woken up on an alien planet because I'm noticing so many new things in the forest. I'll figure out what tree it is when its leaves emerge - it's too difficult to identify with naked branches.

I rode out onto a high plateau, mostly east facing, so it wasn't exposed to the gusty west wind. When I looked to the east, I saw the typical dry rocky hills overlooking a reservoir - very pretty in its own way. I looked over my shoulder and caught the snowy mountains peeking over a parched hillside. I felt like I stood on the knife's edge between two drastically different worlds. I decided to ride westward toward the snowy mountains.

I'm a mountain girl, through and through. The mountains pull me toward them.

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