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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Shyla's Growing Confidence

In the past, I've written here about Shyla's fears, and my efforts to help her live in our world more confidently. At one point last spring, I decided that I was going to continue my efforts but not be so focused on trying to "solve" all of them. That attitude has made a huge difference in our journey because I am less intense about Shyla's progress.

Recently, we met our trainer in town for the first time after month hiatus, our longest break since Shyla arrived a year ago. Before I edited my thoughts, I blurted out to my trainer: "I'm really happy with where Shyla is now. I love her. Some things still scare her but I honestly think that she's generally happy in her world now". That unplanned speech sums up my feelings pretty well.
Except for certain situations, Shyla navigates the world in a quiet, timid, but happy way. As long as I'm aware of my surroundings and potential scary situations, she rarely "spooks" (i.e., darts away from something, holds her body low, starts making jerky scared movements). A year ago, spooking was routine.

Even more surprising to me is that she has the courage to take the initiative to meet certain strangers. I never ask or require her to meet anyone so this has been entirely her idea. I haven't figured out all of her criteria for choosing who she wants to meet but, when she picks out someone, she seems to melt their heart in an instant.

Moreover, on the trails near our house, the one thing that she has found very scary in the past is hikers with dogs - to the point that she used to refuse to pass them on the trail. We'd have to go off into the woods to let them pass before we could continue on our way.

Just today, we met two hikers with five off-leash dogs. Shyla used to be terrified of this particular group, both the dogs and the people. Today, she met the dogs in her unassuming way, and then, to everyone's utter surprise, she spontaneously greeted each hiker, sitting nicely in front of them with her tail wagging in fast little arcs. I was thrilled! This was an epic step forward for her.
I suspect that Shyla will always be a sensitive girl who will inwardly be scared of certain things, like skateboards or big crowds. However, in recent months, she's learned to cope with some of these scary things in such a way that it's not obvious to my eye that she's scared. However, when we get home, diarrhea hits with a vengance (telling me that she was secretly scared).  This week, by tweaking her diet and keeping some distance between us and the scary stuff, we've kept her GI tract calm. I'm hoping that we can continue that streak!

I haven't shown you any new tricks that I've taught Shyla this summer because we've shifted our focus to agility training. Due to our training, Shyla is comfortable with many agility obstacles now, including the teeter-totter and the weave poles. I've used Susan Garret's shaping methods to teach her the obstacles, and they've worked beautifully. Shyla seems to love BANGING the teeter down really loudly (can you believe that?), which makes me laugh. And, she can navigate 10 weave poles in a row. She's not super fast yet but she's accurate. 

She's so intense about agility. She doesn't want to stop when I say it's the end of an agility training session. I never dreamed that I'd see such intense drive in the Shyla who arrived a year ago. When we have a sunny afternoon (a rarity these days), I plan to make an agility video for you so you can see her in action.
The last change in Shyla is the most subtle but she seems to have completely dropped her guard with the Runner and me. She's always been affectionate but in a frantic and needy kind of way. Since about two months ago, she has truly relaxed. Now, if she wants to snuggle, she just rests her head on my shoulder, lets out a big sigh of contentment, and falls asleep.
I cannot describe how wonderful that feels to me.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Leaping into the Weekend

The battles continue with my spine, and I'm hurting today. My cervical vertebrae have been the ever-escalating culprits for the past 6 weeks or so. I'm just hoping, with all my being, that I can finally get rid of this excruciating arm pain with some physical therapy. As many of you know, I've had multiple spine surgeries, and I'd like to avoid more for as long as I can! So, I saw my doc today, and I'll see my PT soon. In the meantime, I'll keep on moving, like I always do. It make me happy and quells the pain, at least for a while.

I'm sure that everyone is looking forward to this long weekend, and Shyla wants to help you leap into it!

Isn't she an amazing athlete? I love watching the graceful and strong movements of an athletic dog like her in her prime.

Both halves of the Duo wish you a happy weekend!

The ghost of Colorado does too.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sunrise and Bears

After Shyla seemed hot yesterday during our bike ride, I promised myself to regularly get out on the trails earlier while the warm weather is here. We saw sunrise again today!

I think that Shyla loves it as much as I do. We play and relax in the early morning time when the new day is dawning.
I love Shyla's intensity. She adores scanning the forest with her nose but she stays nearby even with tempting scents all around her.
Some of those scents might be our bears. I've captured lots of bear action with my trail cameras in recent weeks but I've fallen behind in showing it to you. Much of the action has been at springs where the bears go to drink and cool off.

The larger female who we've dubbed "Cinnamom" has two cubs. Her territory overlaps with the black sow's ("Mabel") territory. It's been interesting to see the behaviors of the two of them. Cinnamom has taken to marking trees near valued resources like water sources.

Standing tall...
Rubbing her back hard against the tree (notice her enlarged teats)...
And posing for the camera...
Here are Mabel and her cub near the same tree. There is a spring within about 30' of this tree and another one within a quarter mile that both mother bears seem to value highly. As a side note, look how big Mabel's cub has become! Single cubs get lots and lots of milk and grow quickly.
I captured footage of both sows and their cubs in the springs. First, Cinnamom and both cubs visited a small pool fed by a spring (watch here or at Youtube).

Then, both mothers visited another spring within a half day of each other (Youtube link).
Based on recent sightings, it seems that Cinnamom has headed away from these springs while Mabel (black sow with one cub) is still near them. It'll be interesting to follow them as the summer season winds down.

Thank you to all of you who voted in the Trail Camera contest. I got third place in the US and Canada category due to your votes! Unfortunately, that doesn't come with a prize but it's a big honor because the competition was so tough. I'll enter again in the future!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Almost Wordless Wednesday: One Year

One year ago today, I met Shyla. I was full of hopes and dreams for her and me. They've come true. She makes my days brighter and happier with her vibrant spirit and love.

Our bond grows stronger each day. K is smiling down on us.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Finding a fire and seeing a sunrise

Yesterday had some unexpected "excitement". After I rode on the trails with Shyla early in the morning, I headed out on my own. As I pedaled along in dense forest that is remote and unvisited by people, I suddenly smelled intense smoke. I screeched to a halt to investigate.

We've had almost daily intense lightning storms. On Saturday, we had more than 100 ground strikes in a fairly small area near our house. So, I was worried about a lightning-triggered fire that was just flaring up yesterday (Monday) morning. I explored the are a bit more, and the smoke would billow up and then disappear. It was in the densest and steepest forest area near our house so a fire there would be a disaster.

I decided to call the fire department. The first firefighter to show up and I hiked to the smoke and then searched for the fire. Based on the quantity of smoke, the authorities decided to send a chopper to help find the fire. So, as we searched, a chopper was hovering over us. Eventually, we found the fire.
The actual burning section obviously wasn't big. However, it looked to me like the fire had crept up the hill for a while burning everything on the ground in its path. I hate to think what might've happened if no one had found it before it took off.
The whole thing took a really long time. I'd started my bike ride in the morning, and I didn't get home after the fire until 3:30 in the afternoon! I was tired and hungry! But, what I did was nothing compared to what our volunteer firefighters do regularly.

Today, crews were still monitoring it, just because there is so much fuel on that steep slope. As far as I know, the fire is still quiet.

Fortunately, it rained very hard overnight, helping prevent the fire from flaring up. The forest was soaked this morning.
Shyla and I made it out in time for sunrise this morning, and her fur was wet just from running through the forest.
She and I were both happy to be out for our first sunrise of the autumn season! (Sunrise is too early for me in mid-summer).
Last year, when she first joined our family, she chose one boulder as her favorite place for sunrise. She remembered to visit her boulder this morning, and she looked noble while gazing over the meadow from it.
Then, I rode and Shyla galloped through the wet and cool pine forest. The morning sunlight is getting richer and deeper as we move toward autumn.
And, the sky looked fiery at sunset - but thank goodness that the color wasn't actually from a fire!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Journey Home and a Close Call

I have one more chapter from our mountain trip. After my icy bike ride that I wrote about two days ago, we headed eastward, generally toward home, with plans for one more stop along the way.

Believe it or not, as we drove home, we suffered *another* flat tire. We'd had our original flat tire fixed in a small town, and the Runner had taken off the spare and put the original tire back onto the LabMobile because the original was a better tire than the spare.

We drove this route...(photo from
No guard rails, no shoulder, and a huge drop-off to one side (photo from John Prichard's Flickr Photostream).
7936 No Guardrail or Shoulder on the Million Dollar Highway 550, Silverton to Ouray, Colorado
Fortunately, our front tire blowout didn't happen until about 5 minutes after we'd driven this stretch of road. We'd made it out of the intense mountains and were on a flatter section of highway. Whew. We both were terrified when we realized how close we'd come to having a blowout in a very dangerous place where going off the road would have been fatal.

After the Runner changed the tire and we got moving again, we made it to a great campsite. We arrived late, after dark, and the Perseid Meteor Showers were in full swing. We ate a quick dinner and then zipped into our sleeping bags to watch the shooting stars in the cold mountain air. It was spectacular!

The next morning, I rode a favorite section of trail, under threatening but not yet storming skies.
It was glorious. I love the buttery consistency of this trail and the endless views.
I did continue my sprint training (ha!) as I eventually had to outrace the storms back to camp. That was the theme of this trip - I was constantly just barely ahead of big storms during my bike rides! The next view was looking behind me as the storms were catching up.
In the multiple LabMobile wheel changes he'd done during this trip, the Runner had tweaked his back so we spent the rest of the day lazing around camp, hoping that his back spasms would ease. This was the view in one direction from camp.
And, this was my girl near sunset.
It was so beautiful. Shyla and R remind us every single day to "See Beautiful", and it's hard not to when we're living our dream in the Rocky Mountains. (Hint - Notice Shyla's tag in the next photo).
After a day of total relaxation, we were both feeling good enough to travel the rest of the way home. It had been a memorable journey, full of wild mountain weather, close calls, and glorious beauty. We feel so lucky to call this place our home.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunny and Starry Sunday

This girl's eyes mesmerize me.

Her profile wows me against the beauty of the clouds in the sky.

And the number of stars in the sky astounds me. This image is a composite of a time lapse series of photos taken over 2 hours during the Perseid meteor shower deep in the dark mountains of Colorado. Much to my disappointment, there was only one meteorite in view during that time, in the lower left quarter of the photo. However, I loved the trails left by the zillions of stars as the Earth spun on its axis.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Icy Journey

We went to bed early after that epic storm because it was too cold and cloudy to sit outside and watch the Perseid meteor shower. The next morning, the skies were clear but the air was frigid.
We needed to start moving toward home, which meant that I had a point-to-point mountain bike ride scheduled for that day to avoid a long bumpy ride on a 4WD road. It was so cold outside that the water clinging to my bike chain was frozen. I was worried about the start of my ride, knowing it would go through deep subalpine forest where there would be snow and ice.

I procrastinated a bit, hoping that the warm sun would work its magic on my route while I waited. But, it was a tradeoff - by waiting, I was more vulnerable to being caught in the afternoon thunder storms in the forecast.
I headed out, saying goodbye to our campsite until next year, saying a secret little prayer that our pack would be as healthy and happy then as now. Life is uncertain. I departed this campsite a couple of years ago assuming that K would be back many times, and I was wrong. The tough stuff in life teaches you to appreciate when things are good.

As I started my ride, I was wearing a winter hat, neck gaiter, winter cycling shoes, mittens, and many layers. It was COLD. But, the start of the ride was through open land where the sun had already melted the snow and ice on the ground so I could pedal without worrying about ice.
I pedaled across the meadow and toward the forest, which you can see the start of in the next photo. Unfortunately, the trail became very hazardous in the shade. Every root, water bar, and other wood object on the ground was covered in ice. After trying to negotiate a few of these icy obstacles on my bike and nearly hitting the ground hard, I decided that I needed to be more cautious, especially given my delicate spine. So, although it was slow, I hopped off my bike and walked over all icy obstacles for about the first hour of the journey.
Eventually, I worked my way out of the forest and into the sun again. The trail was ice-free so I could ride continuously! But, as you can see, the mountains still sported their beautiful layers of snow.
Soon, I was climbing toward the highest point in the ride. For a moment, I thought that the mountain pass that I was aiming for was the snow-covered slope to the far left in this photo. Thank goodness that I was wrong!
This is a pass that I always end up calling "Endless Pass" in my mind. When approached from the south, it is a really long and hard climb.
It seems to go up and up and up. I was running very late due to the ice at the start of the ride, and I thought that maybe I could make up some time by climbing to the pass extra fast. Ha! There was no way to go fast without going too far into the red zone. Around every blind curve, I assumed that the top was waiting. But I was wrong many times before I actually made it to the top.
Finally, I got to gaze at the mountains from the top of the pass and then coast down the other side.
I could see my path laid out in the alpine tundra ahead of me. Clouds were building in that direction but didn't look too threatening.
It turned out that I had a tough time for the last quarter of this ride. I think that I hadn't been drinking enough fluids. At our last water refill station a few days earlier, we'd filled the LabMobile's tanks with water that I thought tasted horrid. I was carrying that awful water with me on this ride but I really hesitated to take sips.

I pedaled powerlessly through the last miles, about as fast as a snail. Climbs kept appearing in front of me that I'd forgotten existed. In the view below, I was getting close to where I was meeting the pack. I was hot and tired, and it was very hard to believe that I was running late due to ice on the start of the trail!
I finally made it to my patiently waiting pack. We found some good water, and I tanked up (and ate a lot of food), which made me feel much better.

As a side note, many of you asked about the hikers in the storm the day before. I didn't see those particular people but I asked the two "through-hikers" who I saw on my ride what they'd done during the storm. They'd set up their tents and hunkered down for the afternoon and evening. They were warm, dry, and safe.

I did, however, suspect that someone might have been lost in the area because a small airplane kept patrolling the Colorado Trail during my point-to-point ride. The pilot spotted me three times, and each time, he circled me. I didn't know how to signal that I was okay except to keep moving. Since I didn't hear any big news after arriving back in civilization, I guessed that there was no big crisis. Most people out in this wilderness know what they're doing... and I'm glad for that when big storms hit!

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Storm to Remember

I love our days in the high mountains. As I awaken, I sleepily shuffle out of the LabMobile and gaze around me, feeling utter happiness that I get to spend another day in my favorite part of the world with my Pack.
On one day near the end of our trip, I started the day with a short mountain bike ride with Shyla. She's becoming a trustworthy trail companion... and I can't tell you how much I love having her by my side. We kept the ride brief since she was still recovering from her upset tummy.

Then, I headed out to ride to a mountain pass on my own. As I rode, I could feel the restless breeze shifting from one direction to another. And, I could see the clouds building. I could feel that Mother Nature had something big in store for us.
I hustled, pedaling hard to make it to the viewpoint ahead of the weather.
As I took in the panoramic view, I realized that two major storms were closing in on me from the north and the south. I put the pedal to the metal, racing Mother Nature back to camp.

As I rode, I came upon a couple of hikers who were hiking the entire Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango. They'd been living on the trail for more than a month. They were happy and upbeat, and seemed to want to chat idly for a long time. I mentioned that the air felt like "all hell was about to break loose", and they laughed, saying that the storms were going to miss us. Despite their forecast, I bid them "Good Luck" and continued my sprint back to camp.

As I arrived and propped my bike against the LabMobile, all hell did break loose in the form of snow, hail, rain, wind, lightning, and thunder. It went on for hours and hours. The clouds had surrounded us so we couldn't see further than 10-20 yards from camp.

Then, around dinnertime, the swirling inpenetrable clouds suddenly lifted, and we were astounded by the sight of the world around us.
Across the valley...
It was gloriously beautiful, especially with handsome R in front of the snowy mountains!
Obviously, the snow hadn't "stuck" to the ground right where we were camping but it had in nearby places. And, the sun even shined for a brief period, making the snow on the mountains look even more beautiful.
But, the warmth of the sun was brief. As we stood on our perch, the clouds started flowing past us for the southeast and southwest, forming streams of misty air. And, the temperature plummeted. It went below freezing that night.
Watching the clouds flowing around the mountains and our campsite was better than any movie I've ever seen!
Then, as the sun set, it turned the clouds to gold.
The light was surreal. It was a warm and golden light from the setting sun being filtered through the clouds.
Then, the sunset painted the most beautiful picture through the clouds.
At dusk, the light faded with the Lizard Head (the pointy mountain) peeking through the clouds.
Despite all the time we spent as captives in the LabMobile during that stormy day, it was one of the most wonderfully wild days I've ever lived through in the high mountains. It reminded us of who is the boss, and it's Mother Nature, not us.
What a glorious world we live in!