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Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Long Journey - Part 2

This post is about the second half of my point-to-point ride in the San Juan Mountains during our recent trip. When I left off the story on Tuesday, I'd just arrived at the high point of my ride at a Pass that's almost 13,000' high. I was about halfway to where I was supposed to meet the Pack. The problem was the weather...
As I stood on the Pass, the threatening clouds started bombarding me with hail. I didn't linger but started downhill at a good pace. As I lost elevation, the ice balls became drizzle, and I started noticing the world around me again.  Pretty flowers in the foreground. Hmm, what are all those white lumps in the distance?
It took me a moment but then I realized that they were sheep. Hundreds of them.
Soon after that realization, I heard angry barking, and I remembered reading that these flocks are protected by specially-bred sheep protection dogs. The dogs work independently so there isn't usually a person nearby to control them. I'd also read that hikers and bikers needed to be careful around these dogs because they will go after anything that seems like a threat to their sheep. In my case, I simply got off my bike and walked (since some dogs are provoked by fast-moving targets). The one dog that I could see kept his distance as he barked at me. He was a great deterrent - there was no way I'd approach those sheep with him around!

The huge flock of sheep reminded of the poignant stories of the demise of the Grizzly Bear in Colorado. They were driven to extinction by bounty hunters who were paid to kill them to protect the sheep being raised in the mountains. Some people believe that there are a few extremely secretive Grizzlies left in the San Juan Mountains (a book called "Ghost Grizzlies" tells the story - it's fascinating).

After I'd passed the flock of sheep and their canine protectors, I resumed pedaling, mostly downhill from the Pass for a while.

For a brief time, I thought that I'd escaped the storms, and I slowed to enjoy the flowers.
High above treeline, they were endlessly glorious!
I even got down on the ground to drink up their beauty and their scent.
Alas,I was wrong to be so complacent. As I slowed to enjoy the wildflowers, the iceballs resumed their aerial assault. Even more scary to me, the thunder started booming from behind me. As you can see, I was still way above treeline. However, I had descended from the zone were the purple flowers dominated to a lower zone where the yellows were out in force.
I pedaled as hard as I could, forgetting the "no red line" rule. Then, the oddest thing happened. I hadn't seen a single cyclist all day, and suddenly there were a couple of large groups of mountain bikers heading uphill directly into the storm. I was aghast that they were so brash. In their shoes, I would've at least waited out the storm at a lower elevation - lightning above treeline is no joke.

Because the brash cyclists were going uphill, I had to yield the right of way to them. I stepped off the trail to let them pass and wasted seemingly endless time with crackling lightning and booms of thunder nearby as a couple of large groups moved at a snail-like pace past me. It wasn't my happiest moment in the ride...

One cyclist decided to turn around rather than face the fury of the storm, and she became my downhill guide for a while. She was a local and knew the trail very well. As we continued the long descent from the Pass, I watched her from behind so I could be forewarned of obstacles too tough to negotiate at full speed. We talked a little, and she was in disbelief that her friends had chosen to pedal up into the storm.

Eventually, the descent from the Pass was over, and the trail started undulating up and down as it crossed snow-fed creeks tumbling down from the high peaks. I took a moment to appreciate how strong I was feeling. Before the ride, I'd expected to limp to the end but instead I felt like I could power up the finishing climbs. What a great feeling! I guess my body hasn't totally betrayed me yet!

I didn't take any more photos for a long time as I continued to flee the storms that seemed to be nipping at my heels. Only when I was within about 30 minutes of my destination did I take one more photo. There were storms on all sides of me by then.
I was a little worried about whether the Pack was at our rendevouz point yet. We were using Delorme satellite communicators (there was no cell reception up there) - and I hadn't yet received the message that they had arrived.

I rolled down into the trailhead parking lot just minutes after they'd parked the Labmobile. I was so happy to see them! They'd stopped for a long run to break up the drive, and they'd had a lot of fun too.
After the ride, I tried to distill some sort of wise lesson from it. I'd totally surprised myself with how strongly I could pedal my bike over a long distance and lots of elevation change, despite all the health challenges of 2014. Perhaps the best advice is not to doubt myself so much. I'm a champion self-doubter... and it wasn't necessary this time. As I look back at my cycling life and my everyday life, I usually am stronger than I expect to be.

I will keep doing these high alpine adventures every year, for as long as my body will let me. I adore them - the beauty and the adventure make my heart sing.


  1. The beauty is indescribable so I'm delighted to see the photographs. Being out in hail is no fun at all. Those little balls sting! But oh, the wildflowers and the scenery and the sheep. I feel refreshed just reading the post.

  2. it is truly beautiful and scary, too, with the storms. i cannot believe the 'locals' chose to ride towards the storm uphill! yikes!

  3. I guess the old saying is "expect the worst, hope for the best" - maybe it should be "expect the best, but be prepared for the worst" - which you are!

  4. We are just delighted to hear how well you and your body coped with this amazing trek!!! And the photos - beyond description!!! That first photo has me mesmerized - would love something like that hanging in our home - your work is fabulous.

  5. The scenery is spectacular, as usual, but we don't the sounds of that storm!

    Glad you reached the Labmobile unscathed.

  6. Your adventure has life smiles all around here. Just beautiful.

  7. I'm glad you made it to the bottom, too, and I hope that none of the cyclists who rode up into the storm got hurt. The views you had were incredible and I can see why it was worth the risk to you to go!

  8. sweet KB.
    We love it when you tell us about your adventures! You write so clearly that we can feel what your saying- like we are there- and we can see it too,,
    and the photos-- thank you for sharing because we really can feel like we were there.
    Its an amazing story,,, amazing photos and now as I sit here and listen to the crickets and night bugs,, I will read your incredible journey again

  9. you have gone beyond your expectations, and this trail is the most outstanding of all, stinging hail, sheep galore, barking dogs, and other bikers heading upwards, every part of your story captivates like no other. high alpine trails, with the Duo and Runner, the best life has to offer. Hugs.Jean.

  10. I'm so glad your body didn't betray you!

  11. You made it! But we knew that you would, KB! What a fabulous adventure!
    All of your photos are stunners but that first picture is a painting. It's just beautiful ♥

  12. I am in awe of what you can do! Such a long and vigorous ride and in very thin air to boot! You are in amazing condition especially considering your health challenges. Most people would just sit on the sofa and sulk.

    Thanks for the answer on what the dogs eat. It sounds like Shyla is a good keeper. For all of her exercise, she really doesn't eat a lot. I watch my guys' weight like a hawk as well. Anything extra on a corgi body is never good what with their awkward body shape.

  13. Wow, what a beautiful place to ride. And it sounds like quite the adventure. There was a time I would have ridden like that, but alas, no more. You are awesome for tackling that.

  14. Glad you made it back okay! What a interesting post! And what a gorgeous trail. Sigh.



  15. Those photos look like beautiful paintings!

  16. SO happy to hear the ride went so beautifully, and you were not caught in lightening...I was worried at some parts of your story! I agree about the value of doing as much of what you love as you possibly can at any given time. More power to you, KB!

  17. First of all, that first photography is like something out of a dream! I can't believe places like that exist. So lovely.

    Second of all, I would love to read more about your active lifestyle and training. The amount in which you push your body (and also respect its limits) is incredibly inspiring. Is this something that has always been a natural part of our life, or did you become active later in life? I'm so intrigued.

  18. KB, Girl you just amaze me! O.k. so I had a bit of a experience in Kauai. Hubby and I went to one of the beaches Val told me about-we were wearing shorts and flip/flops and water. We decided after walking the beach, that hubby was going to boulder hop to see a rock arch. I rested for awhile but finally decided it wasn't that far up to where he was, so I joined him. Mind you it was only in the low 80's but very humid. I had been perfectly fine, but halfway back to the car(with about 20 minutes left of hiking)I started to feel so very tired and also nauseous. We'd rest and go on. Finally, I made a big mistake and decided to sit down for awhile. Then I decided to spread out my beach towel on the sand in the shade to try to rest and feel better. Long story short-hubby hiked out, got more water and came back for me. I knew I had to get back to our car. Finally, after taking it slow made it back but ended up getting sick. I have talked to a nurse who just thinks I got really overheated. I think the humidity didn't help. So girl, with all your medical problems and your doing this-I lift my hat off to you. I'm home now and fine, just glad to be back in our beautiful state. Hugs to you today.

  19. I'm glad you had a safe trip! The storms sound very scary especially with the lightning!

    The pictures are so gorgeous! It really makes me want to come visit Colorado! :)

  20. Hi Rufus! Thanks for the question. Actually, I think that I am "hard-wired" for endurance exercise. I started doing sports as a young girl, and I have continued throughout my life. I've had to modify things as new challenges arise. For example, I was a decent runner until my 20's when I found out about my spinal problems. Then, I switched to bike racing. As my spine got worse and needed surgeries, I stopped racing but kept riding, within my limitations. My biggest fault is doing too much... because I am always pushing the limits. But, I adore biking - so I can't help myself!

  21. Good on you for finding a way to keep yourself happy and healthy even through injuries and chronic pain - it's amazing what the body is capable of, isn't it?

  22. What a tale! We don't ride mountain bikes, but we hike, and I certainly agree about the foolishness of going into a thunderstorm on purpose. I'm so glad you felt strong right to the end!


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