During my ride this morning, the forest felt like a peaceful home. I couldn't imagine another place that I'd rather be. I realized, as I rode, that the forest has become a sacred place for me, where I watch the wonder of nature with true awe. Sure, I love riding my bike hard and the feeling of accomplishment when I cleanly navigate a tough section of trail. But, the real reason why I'm out on my bike is that I like being part of the forest, observing all the tiny changes from day to day, and soaking up its beauty. Today, I was rewarded, near the end of my ride, by getting to observe one of the giants of our forest for a few minutes before he fled.
At the start of my ride, I had the honor of two lab tails bouncing down the trail, leading the way for me through a dense grove of small aspen trees.Overnight, the leg power which I'd lost for a while after S's death, had returned. I felt like I zipped effortlessly up the steep, rocky, and root-infested trail to Hug Hill. Both Labs seemed to gaze at the mountains so I sat behind each of them, to see their point of view. Here's R's view.And, here's the beauty that K gazed at.Finally, my view zoomed into my favorite part of the mountains.After working out some of the Labs' frenetic energy on the trails, I left them at home and decided to explore an area that I haven't set foot or tire in for years. I almost immediately remembered why I'd eschewed the terrain. It was super-steep with loose rocks, making it tough to get traction to climb the hill. As I struggled up the hill, I recollected that my husband brought me here when I was learning to mountain bike many years ago, and I trudged along while pushing my bike almost the whole way. Back then, I didn't have enough power to pedal up the hills, and I didn't have the skills to navigate the descents. Today, I rode every last inch - I guess that riding your mountain bike almost every day for years pays some dividends!
As I climbed silently except for my pounding heart and panting, a smallish cinnamon bear caught my eye as he foraged in an open section of pine forest. At first, the yearling didn't sense me so I watched him with awe as his luxurious cinnamon fur glowed in the forest light. He ate grass and other plants from above ground but he also dug up something that he voraciously consumed. I wonder what it was - perhaps a mushroom.I stood, completely quiet, at least 50 yards from him but something alerted him to my presence. I noticed a breeze coming from behind me that might have carried my scent to him. As he alerted, his entire body tensed, his ears perked up, he walked slowly until he was partly hidden by a tree, and he scanned the forest. He didn't spot me right away, perhaps because I wasn't moving.At that point, I decided that I'd better make myself obvious so that he didn't get too revved up with fear before he saw me. I waved my arms. He zeroed in on me, and sprinted away, at a full gallop, straight up the steep hill. For such a bulky animal, he moved with incredible speed and grace, porpoising almost like a dog in deep snow. He weaved among the trees and shrubs, and in a flash, the forest engulfed him.
I was almost certain that this was the yearling cub who I saw with his jet black mother a few weeks ago. To assure myself that mom wasn't covering her cub's back, I stood still for a little while visually searching and listening for the large black sow or another cub. The only sound, aside from birds singing, was the fading footfalls of the fleet cub.
About ten days ago, I saw the black sow, minus her cub, on a nearby trail. I'm guessing that the sow has begun the painful process of separating from her cub so that she can breed again this year. I've read that she'll tolerate her cub lingering in her territory for a while but will drive the youngster further away with time. Then, the cub will travel, searching for an open territory. During the search for a new home, bear cubs tend to get in trouble because they're traversing unfamiliar terrain and often have trouble finding natural food sources. Because they're hungry and still growing, they can get tempted by human garbage, bird feeders, or a camper's food stash. I hope that this yearling survives the challenges - and that my neighbors don't leave food accessible for him.
On my way home, I thought about why I ride my bike in the forest almost every day. Two reasons dominate. First, it makes my back pain less severe. When I miss a morning ride, I suffer with spasms and referred pain into my legs and arms that intensify as the day progresses. I still experience those pains even after I ride, but less badly. The second reason is that the forest strengthens my spirit. It feels like my home, more than anyplace else on Earth. And, by visiting the forest almost every day, I get to have magical moments, like watching the bear cub today. I'll never forget it.