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!!!!!