Today marked the true opening of winter - snow carpeted skylights, steelshot gray skies, and 9°F (-13°C) frigid air. I knew that this was a key point in my season. If wimped out today, I'd start a trend. So, I started the inexorable process of readying for a mountain bike ride.
About 2" of powdery flakes had blanketed the world overnight, muting all colors except the white ground, silvery naked tree branches, and gray sky.
The same aspen tree blazed with glory just two weeks ago on a sunny and warm day.I searched the house for my absolute warmest riding clothes and for my blaze orange gear. Alas, today marked the first day of rifle season for elk. Usually, the elk remain up in the thin air of the alpine world through the first few rifle seasons but this year might be different. Arctic weather has already swept away all semblance of warmth and the easy summer life. The high peaks, where the elk wander throughout the summer, already wear an insulating layer of snow. I suspect that our 100-strong elk herd will arrive in the neighborhood for the winter before too long - a few critical weeks earlier than usual relative to the rifle seasons.
And, with the arrival of rifle season, we might run into hunters in our forest. So, K and I donned our blaze orange garb today. K wore an orange vest and snowflakes all over her face.
And, I wore my fluorescent orange jacket. I won't be moving unseen, like a secretive mountain lion, while wearing this outfit.Once we took the plunge into the winter world, I was surprised to find that I was warm. At no time did I feel chilled or uncomfortable. I think that I'm adapting already!
On days like today, I have moments of pondering "Why do I do this?". However, those moments always strike when I'm in the warmth of my house looking out through the windows. Once I'm immersed in the forest, I remember why I do it. I love the forest. I love the mountains. I love exploring. I love tracking animals. And, I love swooshing along with my girl, K, by my side.
And, another minor detail is that riding my mountain bike seems to be the best physical therapy for my twitchy back that money can buy.
Today, the aspen groves didn't radiate brilliance like they did just 3 days ago.
But, they have a stark and stunning beauty in the winter.
It was shocking today, truly shocking, but I seemed to be the *only* mountain biker out enjoying the elements. I cannot understand why!
Today, I scanned for animal tracks in the ideal tracking snow, hoping to see the clawed tracks of a bear heading for hibernation or the round tracks of a stalking lion. But, I saw neither. I did see lots of rodent and rabbit tracks. And, to my utter dismay, elk tracks marched across our land. These robust tracks bit all the way down to the pine needled forest floor, leaving deep divots, likely from a heavy bull elk. K watched from behind my stationary bike wheel while I tracked the elk.
My heart felt heavy as I followed the bull's path. He's at extreme risk of falling to a hunter's bullet down at this elevation so early in rifle season. Moreover, I'm at extreme risk of getting into dangerous arguments with hunters who insist upon traipsing across our land to slaughter these animals. I tried, and succeeded, in locking that thought process in a safe deposit box for the rest of the ride. No point in playing out a scene in my mind that may not even occur.
As I rode the singletrack that dominates our forest, my mind and muscles became laser-focused on negotiating the snow-covered obstacles. Soon, I realized that my mind hadn't wavered from my path and monitoring K's whereabouts in miles. That's another reason why I head out onto the trails on days like today. Riding snowy trails and feeling my muscles working hard is a form of meditation that unclutters my mind of the mundane thoughts that often occupy it.Out in the isolated forest, life is cut in clear lines - either you stay upright or you don't, either you possess the power to climb a hill or you don't, either you make it home in one piece or you don't. In contrast, the real world, contradictory factors must be weighed and balanced to reach a decision. It's easy to get mired down in details and lost in a maze of information. But, while I ride my bike out in the forest, on a 9°F day with slippery snow, I automatically make snap decisions that determine whether I crash or smoothly clear obstacles. Prevaricating by tentatively trying to find a safe path through a rock garden is a certain road to free fall. And, in weather like today's, I realize that free fall could be a very dangerous route down the mountain.
So, I ride, and I'll keep riding all winter long. I simply love riding and being with my K too much to let some harsh weather stop me.