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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Curative powers of pedaling and bird sledding

I was wrong in my post yesterday. I wrote that crashing on my Fatback into the powder left me unscathed. Well, my back and the referred pain in my leg first whispered yesterday afternoon, then spoke softly yesterday evening, then lectured authoritatively at bedtime, and finally yelled furiously this morning. I find the delay in pain to be the most frustrating part of managing my back problems. With blissful ignorance, I do things that brew up a delayed pain storm.

My usual solution to back pain is movement, and the best is pedaling a bike. So, K and I sluggishly headed out for a short trail ride on the frozen slush manufactured by the combination of yesterday's burning sun and last night's cold air. For now, riding a bike remains a wonderful drug-free way to ease my back pain. As I pedal, I feel muscles relax and my spine becomes less rigid. Then, as I check on my pain over the course of a ride, I find that it's talking more softly and finally only whispering. I'm lucky.

The sun transformed the natural world yesterday. We started yesterday with 14" of powder and ended the day with a compacted layer of frozen snow and scattered brown patches. The crusted layer made back-scratching irresistible for the dogs at sunset last night.
This morning, K and I rolled along in a leisurely snowbike tour of our trail network. Pine trees were naked - no snow hung from their boughs. The hard snow crust prevented nocturnal animals, except deer, from leaving tracks. The transformation since yesterday morning boggled my mind.I wondered about the Pasque Flowers and the Snow Drops that I saw blossoming weeks ago before my vacation and the following parade of storms. Those flowers are in suspended animation under the snow - the photo above includes a flower-laden spot. Usually, our spring storms are separated a bit more, and the flowers emerge through the snow between storms astonishingly unscathed. This year, however, the storms have hit in rapid succession, submerging the flowers for weeks. I wonder if the flowers survived? Perhaps I'll find out tomorrow if enough snow melts today.

After dropping off K at home, I knew that I needed to spin easily on a predictable surface for my back's sake, rather than trying to negotiate our icy, slushy, snowy, and muddy (all within 100 yards) trails. So, I headed toward our dirt road which was dry when I checked early this morning. Then, I heard the growling motors and back-up beeps of the road-grading equipment. I hate riding my bike on our dirt road during or just after grading. They soak the road with magnesium chloride and then plow the dirt into a disgusting and slippery slurry. Finally, a humongous rolling machine compacts it. To top it off, for reasons that elude me, they cover the road in gravel. Within a few days, cars throw the gravel onto the road shoulder. By this point, a thick layer of gravel lies on the shoulder - a veritable run-away truck ramp for a bicycle. I'm sure that motorists wonder why cyclists won't ride on the shoulder during these phases - and the reason is that the gravel stops bike tires faster than brakes.

So, I felt cornered - the trails were a mess but the dirt road was a bigger mess. So, I escaped my house using the icy and slushy trails that leave the back of my property and lead to - don't be shocked - the paved part of our road. I pointed my snowbike directly downhill toward the plains, and then I turned around and rode back up. I almost never do this ride but it beats riding an indoor trainer.

I actually saw some interesting things on this citified road. Two ravens took slushy snow baths and sledded on their chests down a hill. Then, they'd march back up the hill and slide down again. I've never seen birds play - but it looked like this pair was simply having spring snow fun. Their feathers looked like they needed a good combing after each sliding and rolling trip down the hill.

On the way up the hill, I paralleled pristine views of the mountains and focused on those as I climbed.
In the foreground of the photo below is a hill that burned 20 years ago. It used to be a heavily forested hillside like ours. About a month ago, a rare winter fire broke out on the same hill during a dry spell - an unlikely event that probably sparked the decision to declare a winter fire ban. Now, you can see that the hill in the foreground and the mountains in the background are snow-covered, a big relief for us mountain dwellers, even if spring snow makes bike riding more difficult.
At the crest of the paved road, I saw my favorite sign that signals the transition from city to mountains. Just beyond it, the mountains set the tone.

By now, pedaling my bike had performed its magic on my back, and I confidently decided to take a trail for the last couple of miles rather than spend another 5 minutes on a road. A bank of clouds hovered and occasionally covered the sun, leading me to optimistically reason that the trails had firmed up. Wrong! But, I never regret a little more time in the forest, even if I have to trudge next to my bike when I'm not struggling to pedal through several inches of slush. Bluebirds flitted next to meadows, invisible robins sang intricate songs from high in the trees, and aspen trees reached toward the sky. I love our mountains.


  1. I've NEVER seen birds playing in the snow like that. What a hoot.

  2. What a fully loaded post! Amazing to see the birds sliding down the hill. Makes you wonder what they were thinking.

    I have such admiration for you. Jumping on that back when the pain is screaming. Most of us would recoil and pop a pill. It is wonderful that biking is therapeutic for your back. And that you have the fortitude to follow through.

  3. That is so weird! At times, I'll see wing patterns in my riding ring. I thought maybe a hawk or owl was coming down and landing to catch a mouse or rabbit, since I see their tracks too. But someone told me they like to take sand baths. I wish I had a camera out there to see all the action.


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