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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A victory and a journey

I want to use this post to tell you more about our trip to the San Juan Mountains. However, first, I want to share a small victory. Prior to the theft of my trail cameras last weekend, I caught hints that something fishy was going on in that section of forest - perhaps even criminal activity. Consequently, I removed one camera, and it wasn't stolen. In retrospect, I should have moved all my cameras but the area is where lions and bears like to hang out. I didn't want to miss any wildlife action so I ended up losing two cameras - a lesson learned the hard way.

Here's the victory part. When I moved the one camera, I took it to the deepest and secretest part of our forest where I'd noticed a well-worn animal trail previously. Believe me, *no one* will find my camera in the new spot. In a single day, I captured photos of a mule deer doe with one spotted fawn, and another one with spotted fawn twins. Wow - that's the fastest that I've ever had success at a new camera site! I'll share the footage as soon as I have time to put together a video. I'm very curious to see how long it will be until mountain lion or bear passes the camera. Scat, tracks, and other signs indicate that both pass through at least occasionally.

So, my spirits are resurrected. I may not have many cameras but I'm doing pretty well with what remains. I also didn't lose my cameras close to the house - criminals are smart enough not to use power tools to cut locks within hearing distance of a house. Last night, a camera captured a coyote trotting away from my house - a canine on a mission.
Now, I'll transition to a story from our San Juan Mountain vacation.

Partway through our recent trip, I did a long solo journey on my mountain bike to meet the pack at a faraway and remote campsite. With some trepidation, I set out under endless blue skies, warm air, and soft sun. At the outset, I felt some fear, like I always do when I'm heading out into the lonesome wilderness with many miles between me and help. This fear is fairly new for me - it emerged after doctors started warning me about how easily I could hurt my spine. Yet, I refuse to give up the adventures that I love so much.

As I felt those tiny butterflies in my stomach, I pondered why I take on these adventures. I concluded that I love finding my limits, both physically and mentally. It's an amazing feeling to be in the middle of nowhere, having seen no one for hours, and be successfully negotiating tough mountainous trails. I also like defying the odds. Doing these rides despite my fragile spine makes me feel like my disease hasn't stolen everything. "Defy" is one of my favorite words.

On that day, my path was longer than expected but easily within my capabilities because I've trained hard this year. After about an hour of riding, I looked over my shoulder at the miles that I'd traveled. My trail had paralleled the rusty and rocky ridge, just above the trees, for many miles.
Then, I looked forward and saw that the trail dropped into a mountain paradise - a lush basin filled with wildflowers. Scarlet Paintbrush gave the grass a rosy hue.The pencil-thin trail headed out of the basin and toward open tundra.
A symphony of colors met me as I pedaled out of the basin.
On the open tundra, I met a glossy-furred marmot named Marvin who seemed completely at ease with having me just a few feet away. He watched me but basked in the sun at the same time.
I stood next to his boulder for a few minutes enjoying the endless view of mountain peaks and thinking about how many future adventures beckoned from the mountains surrounding me. I looked back at the boulder, and Marvin still lay relaxed in the same spot. Maybe he liked the view too!
After crossing the tundra and an almost 13,000' mountain pass, I descended into a deep and dark forest winding around raging creeks tumbling out of the mountains above me. The water roiled and fell with a ferocity that's rare for so late in the summer.
Another waterfall gushed less vigorously among what looked almost like cobblestone cliffs with many layers of the Earth's history exposed for me to see.
Between the rushing creeks, I navigated below huge cliffs with glorious wildflowers adorning them.
This section was mildly spooky because so many rocks and cliffs towered over me. My imagination conjured lions poised to pounce on me from above. Moreover, the riding was tough with many "rock gardens" poised to bounce me off my bike. However, I was at least 10 miles from civilization and enjoying the utter solitude. Occasionally, I glimpsed an expansive view through a gap in the suffocating cliffs.
After several hours on the trail, I began to realize that the ride was taking far longer than I'd anticipated. I mentally whipped myself, wondering why I was so darn slow. I decided to take no more photo stops and pedal steadily toward camp. I looked at my GPS - although the route description said it would involve 3000' of climbing, I'd already climbed 4000'. Huh? I had brief visions of my day lost in the San Juan's last year before banishing them from my head. I knew that I was on the right route.

I kept pedaling and actually caught and passed a trio of guys riding the same route, the first people that I'd seen in several hours. We chatted and they expressed surprise about how hard the ride was. It had already taken them an hour longer than expected. We commiserated and continued at our own paces. To my utter surprise, my pace was faster than theirs. I kept listening for them to ride up to my wheel from behind but it didn't happen. I guess that I'm stronger than I thought that I was.

Just about then, I rounded a curve and caught my first glimpse of a view that I knew signaled that I was closing in on our campsite.
When I finally rolled into our remote camp, I was awed. The view was about 270 degrees of the horizon and encompassed absolutely gorgeous mountains. Sunlight bathed our campsite almost all day so it was warm and inviting despite being over 11,000' in elevation.
We lolled around in camp, basking in the sun like my marmot friend from earlier in the day. I wished that the day would last forever. When the sun finally sunk toward the horizon, I photographed my chocolate friend while scheming about the adventure that she and I would have the next day. I had a very fun mountain bike ride and canine swim planned for us!


  1. Ah yes - more for the 'timing is everything' theme!

    I love the coyote on a mission pic!

    Of course, the rest of the post is filled with awesome stuff too!

  2. I knew you'd have cameras back up for the same reason that you said you kept riding! That "d" word! ;) I just don't see you as a person who would let that kind of shenanigans keep you from one of your passions, and I'm glad that you aren't! Your spine may be diseased, but your backbone is stiffer than almost anyone else's that I know!

    I love those shots of your ride in the mountains! I can see why you didn't want the day to end!

  3. The views are absolutely stunning. I have always enjoyed exploring the canyons, though I do not have the mountain lion fear that you do (since we are not SUPPOSED to have them here).

    P.S. - Sorry about the loss of cameras, but glad that at least some survived.

  4. Congrats on the victory - bet that video made your day.

    Oh, the rest of this post is just beyond description - how I wish I lived in an area with such raw beauty.

  5. Glad that you've salvaged a couple cameras, KB. Your photos are taking us along on your wonderful adventures. So many wildflowers still blooming! Like you, I'm amazed at how much water is still flowing and cascading. I guess it's all the rain we've had. What a glorious place to camp!

  6. You're never alone when there's a marmot called Marvin nearby. Still can't figure out the logic of why anyone would want to drive out into deep country, clamber a tree, and then use a chainsaw to remove your cameras. One hell of a lot of work. Guess they must have really wanted them.

  7. What an AMAZING ride!! I also get nervous at the beginning of my runs. I worry about crazed animals and people. Thankfully, if the fresh air doesn't help me relax, a really hard climb shuts my mind off pretty quickly!

    I love the feeling of making it to camp after a long day. Getting to scheme a next-day adventure with my dog would only make it sweeter! Thanks for sharing a great journey!

  8. I agree with a previous commenter who said you have more of a spine than most. I don't know that I could have even pretended to be as cheery and upbeat as you come off in this post after what you've been through.

    You are an amazing person. And these are some more spectacular photos. I just love it when you have skylines I recognize!


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