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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday - My Girl

I love my girl more every day. Her eyes...
The Eyes Have It

And, her grace...
Snow Ballerina
... both awe me .

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Snowbiking with Shyla at -11°F

The forecast had warned us of negative double digit temperatures this morning. When I stayed cacooned under our quilt for longer than usual, the Runner tricked me. He said that our thermometer read 11 degrees - which, in my sleepy daze, I interpreted to mean 11 degrees above zero. It wasn't until I was out of bed and sipping my coffee that I realized that I'd been tricked! It was actually -11°F.

Years ago, I would stay inside when it was cold, riding a stationary bike. One time, as I fought off boredom while riding indoors, I read an article about snow bikers who ride the Iditarod trail every year, through snow and -50°F air. I decided, right at that moment, that I was done with letting the weather keep me indoors. If the gear existed to make riding outdoors in extreme conditions possible, I decided that I was going to find it and use it!

Over the years since then, I've amassed an impressive array of gear for riding my bike on days like today. I suspect that my clothes alone weighed 15 lbs today. My pogies (giant mittens attached to my handlebars) are rated to -50°F and my riding boots are similarly warm. I also use chemical hand and toe warmers on days like today. I was toasty the whole time.

After we got moving this morning, Shyla didn't appear to be impressed with my resolution to ride outside no matter what. Frost was forming all over her, even on her eye lashes.
But, the GREAT news was that she didn't seem to be bothered by her boots today! I'd almost given up on boots for her. Perhaps she knew that they were truly necessary in the extreme cold. Despite the face she made in the first photo, she seemed to have fun during our ride this morning.
I also brought along two different hats for her to model during extremely short breaks from our ride. Her Nepalese hat...
And, during another break during a brief flash of sunshine today, a bear hat...
Here's what she had to say to both hats! She'd rather run and jump than sit around modeling hats!
The big news is my BEAUTIFUL new Meriwether fatbike arrived today. The tires are humungous and the frame is as graceful as a swan. I can't wait to try it out for churning through all our snow!!!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Predators and Prey All Around Us

The wildlife have been following their winter patterns, with the elk passing through here before big snows to go to lower ground.
Of course, they usually don't just "pass through" without lingering in the meadows to graze a bit.
Their predators, mountain lions, follow. You've seen this photo before. My trail camera took it when the elk herd was nearby. It's very rare for a mountain lion to be moving around in the midst of our trail system near the middle of the day.
You haven't seen the next photos yet, taken by a trail camera in the same general area. I quickly moved a camera to this spot after I saw many mountain lion tracks all over a look-out area where the grazing elk herd can be seen.

Within 24 hours, I had mountain lion photos taken by the newly placed camera. I believe that the photos show a mother mountain lion and a kitten. Here is the mother...
She stopped in front of the camera, with her beautiful long tail pointed toward it.
Then she turned toward the camera, perhaps noticing its soft red glow.
She sniffed the ground in front of it, almost exactly where I'd seen dozens of overlapping mountain lion tracks the previous day. She looked strong, and she had no paraphernalia like collars or ear tags weighing her down! Her belly wasn't bulging, suggesting to me that she was hunting.
After a short sniff, she walked toward the elk herd.
Then, about 40 minutes later, she passed the camera at high speed. The camera triggers within 0.1 seconds of an animal entering its field of view so this lion was moving fast, only letting the camera capture a view of her tail and back leg.
Then, about 5 seconds later, a smaller mountain lion sprinted past the camera going in the same direction as the first one.
My best guess is that this is a mother-kitten pair. However, because I didn't get a great photo of the second lion, it is also possible that it's a pair of adult lions who were fighting for position near the elk herd.

Since all the snow has fallen, the elk herd has passed nearby again, probably heading to lower ground where there's less snow. However, I can't ride my snow bike to the cameras that might have mountain lion photos on them because the snow is still too loose and soft.

In the meantime, we humans and dogs continue to go about our everyday activities. If I didn't have a knowledge of animal tracks and hadn't posted trail cameras in key spots, I'd have no idea that there was so much wildlife activity near us as we play, whether it be in the calm sunshine...
...or the wild and windy weather of recent days!
I'm so glad that our fiercest predators are flourishing despite the ever-increasing presence of humans and their pets. Except for rare cases, our mountain lions stay invisible, not wanting to interact with us. That's the best way for them to survive around unpredictable predators like us humans.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Starry Sunday

A flashback - at K's Rock in Utah in November, it was a mostly clear night with just a wisp of a cloud above us. I'd set up my camera to shoot the stars when I saw a shooting star zip above the tallest part of K's Rock. I hoped that my camera had captured it.

After I arrived home and started wading through my photos, I discovered that the camera did capture it.
After the shooting star, I left the camera going for hours, and this was the final photo. So many stars...
The thought of warm sun and clear night skies seemed almost surreal in our blustery winter world today. The fierce wind was whipping the fresh snow horizontally.
Quite a contrast...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Mountain Winter

Winter is truly here. It was about 2°F when Shyla and I headed out this morning. Some of you asked how I pedal through deep snow. The answer is that I try, but sometimes I fail. Then, I hop off my bike and push it. During one of those pushing phases yesterday, I took a photo of my bike being held up by the snow alone.
Gradually, after a big snowstorm, I pack down the trails closest to home so that I can ride on them easily, and then I expand the network. I'm hopeful that others will be out using the trails this weekend which will speed up the process.

Shyla and I were cold at sunrise today. Can you tell? To my eye, the world looks cold but perhaps that's just because I know how cold it was!
It was not a morning to linger for long. Shyla kept lifting paws, as they got cold, so we played games that kept her moving while I took advantage of the sunrise light.
After warming up by running or biking around, we could stay still ever so briefly again.
Just after sunrise, the wind started howling, blowing the new snow off the trees and covering Shyla in it. Her thick luxurious coat seemed to keep her warm.
For me, the reality of a mountain winter set in today. I need to toughen up so I can enjoy it. My puppy dog sure loves it. Look at her agility and happy eyes as she romped through the snow!
Tough winters are part of the cycle of mountain life. Since I was told that I had to stop skiing due to a fragile spine, I have more trouble staying happy about extreme cold and snow. I try to focus on the gorgeous sunrise light and snowbiking with Shyla to keep me feeling upbeat through the winter. And - my new snow bike will get here fairly soon, which makes facing the predicted sub-zero temperatures and snow for the next three days easier!

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Labraduo Snow Day

As promised, a snow storm painted our world white overnight. I was thrilled to have both halves of the Labraduo with me on the trails!
I was "riding" my snow bike (still my "old" one as I wait for my new one to arrive), but I have to admit that I spent most of the time reveling in the Duo's joy at our first really big snow of the year.
I especially felt thrilled to see R frolicking in the snow because he missed most of last winter's snow play due to elbow surgery. He was a an unstoppable flurry of energy, and his elbow seems to have endured the tough workout just fine.
His sister egged him on to play and run even faster. Shyla loves it when R joins us for bike rides.
The Duo became more covered with frost and snow as our outing went on. Not only were they galloping through deep snow but it was still falling into our absolutely frigid world.
The Duo sometimes got bogged down in drifts that seemed almost as tall as them.
I am so thankful that this boy was able to join us today!
I think that the snow was the best Christmas present that the Duo received this year!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Christmas!

Sunrise was brilliant this morning, and Shyla wore a vivid red neckwarmer in celebration of the day.
We enjoyed the sun while it shined! We played with a Christmas-colored toy.
 Storms were lurking on the horizon, making the sky over the mountains look glorious.
Now those clouds have become heavy snow. We are having a white Christmas!

I wish all of you a peaceful and happy day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nature's Christmas Light

We had that incredible sunrise light this morning that I've been craving. Deep winter is when the sun rays are unbelievably red at sunrise. The sunrise light around Christmas awes me every year.

The only problem was that we were up late last night having a celebration with our extended family - so Shyla and I had to drag ourselves out of bed earlier than we wished to see the sunrise. Shyla seemed as tempted to snooze as I was!
We could only stay in one place for a short time because it was so cold that I was having trouble feeling my camera shutter finger. So, we started moving around, getting the blood flowing again.

As we got moving, Shyla did a "stay" with her shadow lurking behind her.
 And then I called her - and I loved seeing her shadow dance across the boulders behind her.
After that, it was really time to get moving to ward off hypothermia, with me pedaling hard through loose snow and Shyla running next to me. I couldn't take more photos for quite a while due to numb fingers.

After our sunrise photos, we did a fabulous snow bike route that I've been packing down over the past few days. We may get a lot of snow on Christmas night so I'm taking full advantage of the nice snow biking conditions that we have now. We saw the start of the stormy weather over the Divide from Hug Hill.
With the clouds over the Divide, we also got the pre-storm wind, which lifted one of Shyla's ears straight into the air while we played fetch on Hug Hill.
Although it was cold and blustery, we had tons of fun during our ride. I am so happy with how Shyla's behavior has improved over the past two months. She's a reliable and very fun biking partner!

Happy Christmas Eve!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Snow, snow, snow AND a new bike!

Winter swept over our world just as the solstice arrived, and it feels as if it's here to stay. A little bit of snow is falling each day, and it's slowly building up.
Shyla and I have been out at our sunrise viewpoint on time each morning but a veil of clouds to our east has blocked it for a few days in a row. For a Coloradan, that's a long time without morning sun!

So, we play games and enjoy the solitude that truly cold and blustery weather brings to the forest.
As many of you know, I pedal our trails in the mornings with Shyla on a snowbike that I've had for almost 5 years. Since I bought my snowbike from an Alaskan bike company, snowbike design has changed a lot. Now there are even wider tires available plus good suspension forks and other subtle design features that make pedaling through snow easier.

The problem is that I am so small and have such a stiff spine that it's tough to design a snowbike that will fit me but also accommodate the new huge tires. So, I decided to have a custom bike built. My friend at Meriwether Cycles designed and built a beautiful new snow bike that will be arriving here soon! He photographed it near his shop when he finished building it.

I love the graceful curves of the frame.
This view lets you see how wide my new tires will be! Those are really snow tires!
I am excited to discover how easily I can float through fresh snow on this bike! If any of you is looking for an awesome frame builder for a fat bike (or regular mountain bike), I cannot praise Meriwether Cycles enough. The whole process, from brainstorming about designs to hearing about it being built, has been so much fun!

Shyla is betting that I still won't be as fast as her, even on my new bike!!!!
She's probably right but it'll be fun to find out. We're awaiting the bike's arrival with great excitement!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Gift

It is a season that brings mixed feelings. Memories of those who are gone are mixed with the happiness of spending time with those who are here. We try to focus on the happiness and give thanks.
Three years ago, on the day before Christmas, we found out that K had bone cancer. It was a difficult Christmas, as we pasted smiles on our faces for the festivities, but felt doom in our hearts.

Now, K has been gone for 2.5 years. And, I decided soon after her death to risk my heart all over again. On Shyla.
It wasn't an easy transition for any of us. Shyla was so fearful at the start of her time with us. And, we were still grieving. But, we all took the leap, with our eyes wide open. We started a new journey.
It's been a gradual journey, with sudden moments of realization of how our love has grown.
Yesterday, I had one of those seemingly small moments but it meant a lot to me. We'd had a busy day, with guests at the house and many out-of the-ordinary events. Shyla has learned to cope with many of her fears. However, I fully realize that it takes courage for her to handle life when it's not normal. Christmas festivities are not normal in a dog's eyes.

Last night, at the end of a long day, I lay down in bed, tired to the bone. Shyla joined me, softly rested her head over my heart, and let out a gentle contented sigh as she gazed at me. I knew, right then, that she sees me as her safe harbor - and that she loves me like I love her.
It's been a long journey since that day three years ago - but this girl has made all the difference. She's her own dog with her own spirit - but sometimes I feel like K is guiding her from above.