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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mellow hike with the elk herd

I 'took it easy' today, although I'll openly admit that resting isn't a talent of mine. K and I started a walk when the sun still hovered low in the sky. She led me up a snowy hill, with the golden sun highlighting her chocolate fur.
Almost immediately, however, I had to call her back. She vibrated with high intensity energy over something that I couldn't see or smell. As you can see from the photo below, she feels great, enthusiastically sprinting to me, despite a minor eye infection. R is also feeling great, and exercised during the 'boys only' outing this morning.
After I called K, I leashed her and noticed the brilliant sun peeking onto this north-facing slope. I don't think that I've seen the sun from this slope since last fall!
I asked her to 'show me' what was so exciting uphill of us. She led me straight to a snowpile that looked boring. But, then, she started digging, uncovering mountain lion scat and urine. The stench immediately almost gagged me after K dug it up. I think that it was an old scent post, preserved by snow. No fresh tracks marked the new snow around it so it wasn't brand new.
So, as usual, K and I were wandering, well off the course that I'd planned for us. No problem - we just kept exploring. We found a live but thin pine tree with half of its trunk denuded of bark and parts bitten roughly. When I looked closely, long black hairs stuck to the tree. I'm guessing that the bears debarked this tree last summer based on the fur.
I wonder if this jet black bear left the fur. Our wildlife camera captured this photo last summer.
As we hiked on, we reached a ridge, and followed its rocks around the rim of a meadow. K stared down into the meadow. Notice the dots on the meadow floor - the elk herd!
Zooming in on the animals showed that they definitely were elk but didn't show the whole sprawling herd that must have numbered a hundred or more.
We continued to pick our way along the ridge, trying not to alarm the elk. They seemed to realize that we were above them but didn't act worried. K was entranced by the herd but remained silent.Eventually, we had no choice but to plunge down the other side of the ridge to avoid creating a thundering herd of fleeing elk. We tried this route last week and ended up in waist-deep snow. I think that I chose the absolute worst route last week. So, today, I carefully searched for some animal tracks, with the notion that the forest-savvy animals would use the easiest routes. The only tracks that I could find looked like they were left by a large animal who'd passed through a while ago.
Our animal guide led us down the slope by a super relaxed route, with only a few areas of snow deeper than 6" or other obstacles. Before I knew it, we intersected the trail I'd been aiming for.
It was yet another hike where K and I didn't even vaguely follow my initial plan. First, we followed her nose, and then I improvised from that point. As I hiked, I pondered whether K is becoming a 'lion hound' based on how many of their signs she's been finding. Upon thinking about it, however, I concluded that she'd probably been showing me these signs for years but I was clueless. Now, I recognize what she shows me.

After my 'easy' day, I'm in less pain than last night but still not back to where I was before driving. I realized a potential reason why driving caused my low back and leg so much pain. Because I can't turn my head very far, I was twisting my lower back whenever I needed to look left and right. Twisting is extraordinarily hard on discs so it probably aggravated my herniated lumbar disc. In any case, at least I understand *why* driving set off such pain. Now, I just have to figure out how to deal with it!


  1. Yet ANOTHER interesting day of awesome sceneries!


    Glad the pain is subsiding - as you wrote, now to figure how to deal with it -

  2. I'm glad you're feeling less pain! Maybe you need a lot of strategically placed mirrors.

    It's good to hear that K and R are both on the mend and doing so well! I know you're excited to get back on the bike, but I've found your walks really interesting!

  3. How do you not get lost out there? I can't even navigate our own little pathetic woods without getting confused - you're amazing and so lucky that you're this in tune with nature!

    Resting is not a hobby of mine, either - but I'm trying to do more of it lately. A sore throat is creeping up on me.

  4. you said "thundering herd!" LOL!

    i really want to know, and someday you could tell me if you want: what do/did you do for a living? You seem like a scientist!

  5. Hey ya! Wonderful hike! Just curious as to how long your hikes are!? Love the sun-peeking-through shots. And...driving positions are horrendous on the body. Need the 12-way power adjustable seats :)

    Hugs and snaggle-tooth kisses,
    Sierra Rose

  6. Like Sam, above, I wonder about getting lost too. Do you ever require a compass or is is old home place, where after some years, you just know. Also like Sam, I can easily get lost, so I always keep markers in mind if I am in an unfamiliar place. But its never the wilderness! I know, my loss!

    Cheers and hugs,

    Jo and Stella

  7. We talked about this over breakfast this morning. 'The font' suffers from exactly the same thing when driving - there is nothing, but nothing that hurts like twisting your vertebrae when coming to junctions. Some car seats are better than others - the VW is hopeless but the 4x4 has a high driving position that makes it a little bit easier. Maybe, it's a relief to know what's caused the reurgence of pain and that the underlying healing process continues apace. We found a gravity free chair that was shipped from Oregon that seems to help when the soreness become too intense.

  8. love the pic of the tree with bear hair!
    drive less, walk more!
    hope your weekend is a good one!!

  9. Glad you guys are on the mend!
    This makes me want to visit Cataloochee, NC and see the Elk!

  10. It's good to see K with so much energy in that picture. When you wrote about her leading you to the lion scat and then uncovering it, I had an image of the two of you in detective hats..toting a large magnifying glass.

    I hope your leg pain continues to decline. I do find it amazing that you're able to make it through the terrain you travel even while you're healing.

  11. And better yet, if you're lucky your lower back is going to get used to the new motion and leave you alone! Elk today, huh? As for hiking plans, they're meant to be broken :)

  12. Any way you can get around driving for a week or two? Sounds like it would help.

    BTW, off topic...but I love the collar! We have one just like it. ;)

  13. We love wandering the woods (with a map, compass and GPS of course) and just discovering new paths. And following the animal tracks seems to always lead to the easiest paths. Of course here, being a lower altitude, we can get into very thick areas of laurel.

    P.S. - We love the "thundering herd" of elk. Grins.

  14. Chauffer. That's the solution. A hired driver. :o)

  15. I can only imagine how thrilling it must be to come to the crest and see an elk herd.

    Yes, twisting is the worst thing. Hope you continue to recover with less pain.

  16. A couple of you asked about getting lost. Buying a GPS has helped me immensely. I actually don't use it very much for navigating. But, when I'm in a section where I feel afraid that I might get lost, I set the GPS to track my route. That way, if I do get lost, I can turn around and follow my electronic track back out.

    Seriously, the confidence that the GPS has given me has made a huge difference in my willingness to take the risk of 'exploring'.

    I also carry a 'Spot' which is a satellite-based rescue beacon-type device. If I fall and get hurt, I can hit 'help' which summons my husband and friends to specific GPS coordinates. OR I can hit '911' if I'm unable to move. It sends my GPS coordinates to the 911 dispatchers who then summon rescuers.

  17. Also, thanks to all of you for your thoughts about the driving problem. I think that I need a power-swiveling driver's seat! If I need to look right, I could hit a button that would twist me to the right. Same to the left. Do they exist?

    More seriously, I plan to curb my driving as much as I can until I gain more neck mobility and can avoid twisting my low back. And, I plan to ask my PT if I need to be as cautious about twisting my neck as I think that I need to be. Perhaps I'm compensating more than I actually need to.

    I love the chauffeur idea. Perhaps she could triple as a driver, bike mechanic, and dog chef (making K's special food is a big job). You think that I could find such a multi-talented person who would work for a dollar a day (my budget)?


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