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Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Fear. We all know how it feels to be controlled by fear. Indeed, sometimes it's a good thing, preventing us from doing something foolhardy. But, at other times, we know in our hearts we need to let go of it and take the plunge.

This morning, I found that the snow had melted from 4wd road that opens up a whole new world of mountain biking to me. This newly melted 4wd road was very easy mountain biking for me before my surgery. I just whooshed over the rocks and ledges without a thought.

Today, I discovered fear smoldering deep in my heart. I saw the first rocky and slightly technical section, and I slammed on the brakes. I stopped, took a deep breath, and thought carefully about whether I should ride it. I've never fallen on such minor bumps since my early days of mountain biking. Moreover, my medical advisers tell me that my spine is stronger now than before my surgery.

So, I turned my bike around and re-started from about 20 yards higher on the trail. My palms sweated as I forced myself to let up on the brakes and set the bike free to roll over the rocks. And, although my heartrate spiked to dizzying levels, I made it through unscathed.

The hardest part about fear is that it makes me less likely to overcome any obstacle in life, not just rocks on a trail. In mountain biking, a touch of tentativeness can cause me to crash. I must aggressively commit my body to staying upright, banishing all fearful thoughts, to ride safely. I find the same to be true in everyday life but it's not easy to banish the fear.

In all except one trail section today, I succeeded in banishing the corrosive fear and rode almost confidently. In one section, I decided it wasn't fear but prudence, and I walked it. Pretty good for my first day off the roads since having the majority of my neck fused. However, I definitely should emphasize that this was NOT tough riding - it was just scary because of my recent history.

Many people ask me both how and why I mountain bike in light of my spine problems. First, how? I have bikes with incredibly soft suspension systems that protect my body from the jarring of bumpy trails. I felt no more pain after today's ride than before it. In fact, the jarring of each heelstrike in walking hurts my neck more than bike riding. Second, why do I mountain bike? The reason is that love it. Pedaling through nature's wonders is one of my favorite things in life. I know that my spine is deteriorating (the surgeon already knows what problems my next two spine surgeries will address) but I don't have any evidence that riding a bike makes it worse. In fact, I always feel better after riding because my back spasms relax during a ride. So, I ride... and I'll continue to ride until the day comes when it's absolutely impossible.

Today, after I made it through that psychological gauntlet - I entered a whole new world, where spring is always a couple weeks earlier than at home. I left behind the snow and mountains.
On the other side of the ridge that I traversed, it's truly high desert, with rocky outcroppings lining every road.
As I stopped to take the photo above, I spotted my first Pasqueflowers of the year, wild purple crocuses that herald spring. One spread its petals open to greet the sun.
Another tentatively opened its petals to let the sun shine in.
After seeing this wondrous sign of spring, I turned toward home, retracing my outbound route instead of doing a favorite loop because I know that my neck muscles aren't strong enough for the loop yet. I climbed up out of a ravine, and the chinook winds coming down off the mountains hit me head-on with a fury. Although they slowed me, I kept imagining the mountain spirit flying in wind and infusing me with courage. I returned via the same scary 4wd road but rode with far more panache than on the way out.

After I crested the dividing ridge, I rode back into winter, where no Pasqueflowers have sprouted yet - they're almost a month later than last year. I spotted a few elk, although the majority probably hid from the wind in the trees.
For a brief instant, the cloud front that hurled the the screaming wind at me lifted expose our mountains.
When I arrived home, happy and a little tired, I still needed my dog and forest fix so I took the duo for a short hike behind the house. We descended toward a canyon. Dry boulders guarded the lip of the descent. K looked worried about how to climb down.
But, soon she realized that she didn't need to take any huge leaps. She needed to go around! When we're afraid, both K and I often forget to look for the logical solution.
Once we hit a snowy section, the pups went wild playing, kicking up snow behind them as they bounded through a couple of feet of heavy old snow.
And R took a snow bath!
It went on and on and on... but I couldn't bear to stop him because he was ecstatic! As he rolled and wriggled, he made wonderful snorting noises!
Shortly later, we entered almost pristine wildlife habitat, I leashed the duo to avoid scaring wildlife too much. I scoured the area for signs of active bears or lions.
We found one bear sign but it was old. A large rock had been flipped over. It was so heavy that only a bear could have done it. The rock had lichens on its underside, a sure sign that it was dislodged in the past couple of years. But, the evergreen leaves of the kinnikinnick below it had recently died so I knew that the rock had laid there since at least last summer. I'm told that early in the spring, bears start their foraging by flipping rocks to find insects to eat. So, my eyes are peeled for freshly flipped rocks as a sign of active bears.
We also found an animal bed just below a towering Ponderosa Pine. The ground was churned and soft with pine needles. The dogs sniffed with a frenzy. I wanted to look up in the tree but that's one thing that my fused neck won't ever do again - it won't allow me to look directly overhead. So, I walked away to examine the tree from a distance and saw bark stripped from the trunk next to hefty branches strong enough to hold a bear. My best guess was that we'd found a day bed used by a black bear last summer. Occasionally, the bear or its cubs climbed the tree and chewed on its bark.
When we finally returned to the people trails, I let the dogs run, and R made the most astounding breakthrough in his training. He scared up a Mountain Cottontail rabbit like the one shown below.
However, unlike the rabbit in the photo, this one was caught a long distance (50 yards) from his den in a boulder pile. R chased like a streak and was within 10 yards of the rabbit. As R closed the gap, I called him. To my complete and utter amazement, he stopped in his tracks. He looked genuinely confused, like I'd just awakened him from the best dream ever. After a few seconds of looking dazed, he returned to me. We had a celebration of proportions rarely seen on a hike. That dog must have eaten a pound of treats while I fawned over him for letting the rabbit go and coming to me. I guess that our seemingly endless training eventually payed off. Or, alternatively, even crazy boy dogs eventually start to grow up!

Here's to R!! Way to go!!!!!


  1. Wow!

    Yet another post-surgery victory for you!

    Thanks for the retelling of your day AND the image/sounds of R being such a happy boy!

  2. Yeah for R! And yeah for KB! You have a healthy mixture of reality and optimism to guide you through this recovery and help you face your chronic problems. Far better to do something you enjoy, especially if biking helps relieve the spasms.

  3. For me, a timely message about fear. Thanks for sharing your story.

    K looks like such the athlete as she works around those boulders. And R looks like such the goofball as he rolls in the snow!

    Amazing work R for not chomping the bunny! Kona fixated on a rabbit yesterday. The Rabbit froze. So did Kona. Kona is nowhere near being able to take her attention away from "prey." She was attached to my waist and all I could do was quietly plead with her in hopes she wouldn't yank me off my feet. "Please leave the bunny alone. Please Girl."

    The training you do with your pups is again an inspiration!

  4. Its wonderful and exciting that you are having good biking and know just how to do it.

    I love R's snowbath, because they smell so good after a roll in the clean snow.

    Last but not least, I miss our bears! What are they doing?

    A friend in Salida said they had snow all day today!

    Cheers and hugs,

    Jo and Stella

  5. Kudos to you for making it past your fear and finding the reward on the other side!

    Bunny says that R must be one heck of a dog! She'd have to catch the rabbit first, then let it go. Honestly, I don't know what she'd do if she caught one. The surprise of it all would probably overwhelm her!

  6. You go GIRL! Ride those trails!

    Way to go R! You are a ninja dog with a gentle heart :)

    Chasing my tale...
    Addie, Lucie and Hailey

  7. Fear gives way to determination. Winter gives way to the first wild flowers of the year. Isn't life wonderful ? Even more so when accompanied by the Labraduo . What an upbeat story to start the day.

  8. K looks so strong and healthy and R has grown into a good boy!
    i enjoyed reading about fear and your triumph over it! spring has finally reached your part of the country! beautiful pics!

  9. had me holding my breath reading about your tenacious spirit! You have amazing!!
    The rest of the post was really beautiful... celebration of your accoplishment! I love the flower pictures...everything blooms in the end!
    Lotsaluv to you and wishes for continued, safe recovery!

  10. Again, as always, a fabulous post -meethinks you have amazing insights to sources of fear. Victories for you and for R too - that's a huge wow - Sam would never stop in her tracks mid-rabbit chase, even for all the work - give him pats from us! Lovely views below - and above, along with the "finds." I sometimes think of your adventures as wildlife archaeology! And you present your days so beautifully - just love to read your posts so much! Thanks for sharing your amazing life so honestly and purely!
    Sam and Ma

  11. This post was SO much fun. I can so relate to the fear you've described, and I admire you so much for tackling it. On some levels, I still have yet to do that. I hope your courage and determination will give me the umph to get over my own fears.

    The pictures of the dogs playing (and bathing!) in the snow are priceless. !!! But man, oh, man, how those pasqueflowers make me wish I didn't have to sit at a computer eight hours a day!!! I'm still searching for my first fuzzy blooms of the year.

    I hope the day never comes when you are told to permanently dismount.

  12. Nothing beats a good snow roll! Except maybe the feeling of accomplishment at facing your fear and coming out on the other side. I don't like all the challenges you are facing but I do enjoy reading about your journey. It helps me face some of my own struggles.

    Thanks for the bear flipping rock tip. That knowledge will come in handy when I hopefully go camping this summer.

  13. I enjoy how you deduct what certain signs mean, I find myself doing the same in my woods, although it's on a much smaller scale than your mountain adventures. Love following along with you KB!

  14. You always amaze me....first the struggles with having to have surgery, the surgery, the let's see ...what's next ....fear yep, let's conquer fear. And you do.
    I realized as i write this that that is what you do conquer fear, and tell us how. the process you went thru before your surgery was a teastament to conquering fear , you do it so well too. Take your time, look for options, get familiar with it , do it , recover. Kudos to you KB, in conquering your fear you somehow diminish my fears.

    R is one of the coolest dogs ...ever!


  15. R is a Recall Rock Star, calling off a bunny is no small feat. Congrats!

  16. Ahhh - you speak of a topic near to my Heart - Fear. Luckily, we have both learned to forge ahead, KB - that is the only way to truly live. I am a little envious of your Pasque Flowers. I wonder if I'll even get a chance to see some before leaving in May for my CA trip? Still lots of snow at high altitude, though it's melting quickly. Good for R! Lucinda may someday visit you and she wants to make sure the dogs respect her.

  17. Kia ora KB,
    Back home from the hospital and recovering. Today I was thinking about the mountains, and the difficult terrain I will have to face, the climbs and desents, in my current state something that would frighten me beyond all possibility, and so makes me wonder if I will ever be able to do it again. So once again your words, photos, and courage fill me with hope and to focus on things one step at a time. So I gather my crutches and head outside for my big 10 minute walk. Kia kaha KB.


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