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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Keep Moving

Storms have chased me everywhere recently, it seems.
I've been going through an extremely bad phase with my spine. Jolting electrical pain down my legs has made life miserable. It's been tough to keep moving but I know, from many years of experience, that motion is the best thing.

K joins me for easy mountain bike rides every morning. Look at that sky over the Divide even early in the morning! It's rare to be rained on and hear rumbles of thunder at 8 AM but it happened yesterday.
The Divide almost disappeared behind swirling and angry clouds a little later in my ride.
The stormy skies seem to reflect whatever is going on in my spine. I've done something, although I'm not sure what, to make my nerves very very angry. It wasn't the epic odyssey that I wrote about in the last post because I was fine for more than 2 weeks after that ride.

So, I'm keeping moving and trying not to let the word "surgery" creep into my thinking. I know that another fusion is sitting out there in the future waiting for me (my MRIs show a host of disintegrating discs) but I'm trying to delay for as long as possible to protect the remaining unfused parts of my spine. As soon as more joints are fused, the stress increases at the adjacent ones and degrades those discs. Thus, a fusion tends to increase in length as the remaining discs fall like dominoes.

Yesterday, during my easy ride, I ran into a friend who has a young horse. Her horse is inexperienced around bikes so we joined together for a combined horse and mountain bike excursion for a short loop. We were quite a sight - a mountain bike in front, a young and peppy trotting horse with a rider behind me, and finally a loose horse running along next to us. My friend and I giggled the whole way!
After saying farewell to the horse brigade, I spotted a mother wild turkey with TEN babies. I captured a photo of the mother and three babies but the others were nearby. The babies look almost ready to set out on their own.
Getting out and moving is the best thing for me. And, along the way, I see so many beautiful things that I briefly forget the pain - a very good thing!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

An alpine odyssey

I have a few more stories from our recent camping trip to western Colorado that I'll be interspersing with my regular posts over the coming week or so.

After we stayed at our spectacular campsite with tremendous views of the San Juan Mountains for a few days, it was time to move on. Because riding in a vehicle on a bouncy 4wd road is terrible for my back, we made a plan that involved me riding a gorgeous singletrack route from our campsite to a relatively nearby paved road.

I knew that the distance and climbing were well within my capabilities but there was one hitch. K couldn't run that far with me, and the runners in the family had a very long run planned, which was too arduous for K. So, I exercised K before starting my odyssey.

To give K some fun and exercise, I rode my mountain bike with her to a nearby alpine lake. K frolicked and swam until she was sated. Then, we rode some singletrack back to camp. We stopped for a few parting photos of the amazing wildflowers in that area.
I thought that these might be my last Columbines of the season but I was wrong.
When we arrived back in camp, I left K with the Runner and R. They would drive the long way around to meet me at the paved road. I bid them adieu with one last soulful look at our wonderful campsite. We will return to it, no doubt.

Then, I confidently headed off on the Colorado Trail. Almost immediately, I was confused by the lack of trail signs on a trail that normally is extremely well marked. I kept riding, trying to make good time. Soon, the trail descended steeply to a creek and then paralleled it. I was starting to question whether I was on the right route. I perused my map and turned on my GPS. 

Then, I realized that I'd made a classic KB mistake. I am a terrible navigator, and I tend to bull-headedly storm off in the direction that I think is correct while ignoring the evidence that I might be going the wrong way. It takes me far too long to realize that I've gone the wrong way.

I turned around and climbed out of the abyss that I'd descended into. I was climbing hard, breathing heavily, and feeling my burning quads. Eventually, I found the Colorado Trail. I looked at my cycling computer, and I realized that I'd burned an hour trying to find the trail. I also realized that, by the time I added up the time I'd spent riding with K, the time spent lost, and the projected time for the ride ahead of me, this was going to be a very long ride for my fragile spine. It was too late to find the pack and ask for a ride (and there was no cell phone reception) so I started on my journey with trepidation.

The other problem was that I was going to be at least an hour later than the Runner expected. I thought that he'd be worried so I started hammering on my pedals, trying to make up lost time. At first, I felt pretty good and kept up a brisk speed.

The beauty around me distracted me from the fact that I was not being smart. I was riding in the red zone at the *start* of a very long ride. If I'd been thinking, I would've realized that I was going to pay for my high intensity riding later.
After starting on open meadows and climbing a small pass, I descended into a jumble of canyons and creeks. Close to the creeks, wildflowers wowed me. The isolation was total. I hadn't seen another person or even the trace of one all day.
I emerged from the jumble of canyons and was faced with a long climb up a high pass, about 12,500' high. I started grinding my lowest gear up the pass. From the view in the photo below, it appears that the pass is in between the two peaks and just over the crest in the green meadow. With that vision, I believed that I could ride the whole way, without doing any hike-a-bike.
I turned myself inside out, burning energy, to pedal to the spot where I thought that the pass was. You can imagine my dismay when I discovered that the pass was actually far beyond the crest in the photo above. I tried to keep pedaling but finally allowed myself to collapse into the bed of wildflowers, completely spent.

As I lay there, I named the pass "Endless Pass".

I took a long break feeling completely wrung out. I'd been riding far too hard for such a long journey, and now I was bonking. I turned my backpack inside out searching for calories. I inhaled every morsel of food that it contained and had a long cold drink.

Replenished, I continued the climb, but now at a more reasonable pace. I reminded myself that the Runner is not the panicking type and probably would not be very worried about my lateness. Soon, the actual pass appeared above me!
The view to the other side was magical. It felt like the kingdom of alpine tundra extended forever. I am in heaven when I'm on the tundra.
While I took a break to enjoy the view, Marvin the marmot entertained me. He was remarkably unafraid of me. I had a whole conversation with this animal, telling him about getting lost, riding too hard, and still having many miles to go before I reached my destination. He seemed sympathetic until he realized that I had no food to share with him. Then, he disappeared under a rock.
I continued onward at my new, more reasonable pace, passing a snowfield and seeing the sinuous path of my trail in the distance. I wished that K could be there to swim in the alpine lakes that I was passing.
I descended through a forest of wildflowers, believing that the rest of the ride would be pretty easy. Somehow, I visualized an all downhill coast to the van from this point. I was so wrong.
I stopped taking photos for a while as I followed the trail that was cut into the side of a long mountain ridge with side-gulches and creeks flowing down the ridge and intersecting the trail. I struggled with the steep descent into each of those gulches and then the lung-searing climb out of each one.

And, I've got to admit that my back was hurting, a lot. A reasonable quantity of bike riding is really good for my spine. That day's ride was simply too much.

Soon, I spotted a pair of lakes in the distance that I thought were close to the trailhead. I pulled out my 2-way radio to see if I could reach the Runner. Woo hoo - I heard his voice reply to me, meaning that I couldn't be too far from the van. I confidently told him that I was descending into the trailhead and would see him soon.
Alas, "soon" wasn't really very soon. I had a few more gulches to dive into and climb out of. A half hour later, I finally rolled up to the van, completely spent and with a blood sugar level of approximately zero.

I ate everything that I could lay my hands on - a Ben and Jerry's ice cream bar, a yogurt, plums, peaches, tortilla chips, cookies. You get the picture. I was like a hungry bear set loose in a well-stocked kitchen. All that food barely touched my energy deficit.

I think that there was a lesson learned somewhere in that day but I'm not sure what it was. "Bring more food than you think that you need" is the most likely candidate. Regardless, I now look back on it as a grand adventure, wending my way through bucolic mountain meadows with wildflowers blooming so thickly that a hummingbird would have trouble deciding which one to drink from.

Perhaps the biggest lesson is not to be afraid to embark on these adventures, for I always end up loving them!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A bobcat mother and kitten

We have a bobcat with a kitten in our neck of the woods. I had my first clues that a kitten might be nearby more than a month ago. A bobcat seemed to be working a small area relentlessly and carrying prey toward one spot on a regular basis.

I've never seen so much bobcat activity in a relatively small area. This post chronicles all of the hunting activity of the mother over the past month or so, and then it shows photos of the mother and her kitten. If you want to skip to the cute part, go toward the end where the kitten photos are!

The mother bobcat hunted on a hillside.
Soon thereafter, my camera caught the mother  carrying a squirrel along a nearby animal trail.
The very next day, she carried a rabbit along the same trail in the same direction.
A few days later, she moved with purpose along that animal trail in the opposite direction of the previous photos.
Less than ten minutes later, she returned carrying lunch toward her den. I don't know exactly where her kitten was hidden but I was getting a good idea of the general area.
She was still in the area more than a week later again looking very determined.
She passed the same camera in the opposite direction, with empty jaws the next day.
I think that she moved the kitten between 8/3 and 8/11. About a mile to the east, she carried prey away from where I thought that she'd previously had the kitten stashed.
On the same day, more than a mile further east, she still walked carrying prey. I'm guessing that she had hunted a long way from the kitten's den that day.
Another four days later, the bobcat mother carried a rabbit, very recently killed (based on the eye glow of the rabbit).

She hunted at all hours of day and night. Here, she searched for prey on a hillside.

Then, the BIG day. I spotted her kitten on camera. The kitten is crouched in the brush to the left of his mother in the photo.
Here's a closeup. See the distinctive black and white ears on the kitten?
Mom accelerated past the kitten who stayed crouched.
A closeup shows the kitten better...
Finally, today, I found a great kitten photo on one of my cameras in that area. The kitten looks very young and cute! The mother bobcat is almost out of the picture in the lower left of the photo.
I hope that we can keep following this mother and kitten as the kitten grows up!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Alpine hike

K and I had a glorious hike up high yesterday, reaching the thin air over 12,000'! Below the true tundra, the grass still glowed green and flowers bloomed. Alas, only a few bedraggled Columbines remained but the world still radiated beauty and peace.
Storm clouds circled us throughout the hike, creating magical light in which the grass beamed green and K glowed red.
Many crevices of the mountains held snow that doubtless will last until the first snow falls sometime in the next month.
K and I climbed up and up. This is one of the easiest routes to the Continental Divide.
As we crested the Pass, we paused, and I gazed down into the valley that we'd started from.
K looked happy but hot! The heat of the summer even reached the high altitude area where we hiked.
Up on the saddle, the arrival of fall was undeniable. Look at the autumn color of the low plants and grass.
One of the great parts of this hike is that it has amazing views of the surrounding mountain ranges and a lake for K to swim.
She romped with abandon!
It's a gorgeous lake that's still fed by snowfields nestled in the north-facing nooks of the mountain walls. We lingered for a long time by the lake, hiking around it and exploring its shores and scents.
I think that the lake was K's favorite part of the whole day!
On the way down, we stopped for a joint photo with angry storm clouds gathering behind us. I'm not hiding behind K - I'm whispering secrets in her ear!
Here's to more summer adventures before the snow flies! Our motto is "Carpe Diem"!