K and I made the painful time change to our summer-time riding schedule today and sleepily headed out into fresh and cool air before 7 AM. A purplish hue washed over the snowy western horizon.
From a different vantage point, we gazed at the closest peak.
K seemed full of zip and confidence today. She's a perfect mountain biking buddy. Her forest manners are as close to perfect as I could ever ask. Today, a mule deer dashed down a slope and onto the trail in front of us. The ungulate froze in shock, standing like a statue, staring at us in surprise. K's reaction? She looked to me for treats rather than chasing. What an awesome girl! Of course, K and I have done tons of training to reach this point. When she was one year old, I have no doubt that she'd have charged after the deer with a vengeance. But, what I've learned through my journey with K is that, in the long-term, positive training creates a more reliable dog than old-fashioned training.
Early this morning, the trails that weave through deep forests felt dark and foreboding but the bright green aspen leaves lightened the atmosphere!
Many of the aspen twigs held both colorful catkins and unfurling leaves.
I dropped K off at home and rode out to meet my friend for a ride. We rode trails that neither of us know well and flew along a swoopy and unmapped trail that we discovered last fall. While most of the trail was still endless fun, we were horrified to find acre upon acre of clearcut former forest obliterating a trail section. The photo shows a small fraction of the carnage. Apparently, our sage open space officials believe that clearcutting large patches of forest will speed forest rejuvenation after the devastation of the invading pine beetles. I find that premise hard to believe but I hope that they're right. After all, many trees have given their lives based on it.
The only, and I truly mean 'only', bright lining to this carnage was that it created some mountain views from what was previously a forested area.
After riding with my friend, I decided that the verdict is in - snowbiking almost every day of winter made me a better mountain biker, even on dry rocky trails, primarily because I'm more confident. This spring, I've felt smoother while negotiating trail obstacles. I've even felt that unique athletic phenomenon of time slowing down, giving me the illusion of extra time to make decisions, when I reach a particularly difficult section. But, I wasn't sure that I'd improved until I rode with a friend today. I've ridden with her for years - since I was a novice trail rider and had trouble keeping up with her despite her swollen pregnant belly. Today marked the first time that I felt comfortable and confident at her fast speed even on technical descents.
So much of life, including mountain biking, depends on confidence. I see this rule etched in K's face when her thyroid levels creep too low. She stops believing that she's capable of simple things, like walking across the deck or greeting unfamiliar dogs. All due to fading confidence, her world shrinks as fear builds new boundaries. When K's thyroid levels are low, she hides behind me when we meet our local 'dog pack', a woman who hikes and runs with seven dogs. As you can see below, when we met them recently, K (chocolate lab in photo) ambled through the yipping and herding bunch to greet the human, unperturbed by the pandemonium or by the scariest herder being held under my neighbor's arm.
In the photo, most of the dogs clustered around me, and R (black lab) delicately negotiated with the pack leader, a shepherd mix who needs to establish her supremacy over all young dogs. R is expressing subservience with his lowered head and tail, pinned back ears, and averted eyes. Once the queen pronounced R to be sufficiently submissive, R wedged himself between my knees while I chatted with my neighbor. R gradually realized that the little dogs posed no threat and played with them a tiny bit.
Today on the bike, as I confidently followed my friend's path over rocks, logs, and roots, I thought of K's ups and downs in confidence and realized that her life experiences apply to me too. Confidence can expand life's possibilities, including in seemingly trivial activities like mountain biking.