Every year, I pick out a couple of long mountain bike rides to be my big goals for the year. One is always a point-to-point ride in the southwest corner of Colorado, high in the mountains. The pack drops me off at a trailhead on a paved highway, and I ride through the wilderness to meet them at a campsite that we love on a very rough jeep road.
This year was different from most because of the drought. Usually, I see meadows full of flowers even in August. This year, most flowers were long gone. There still was beautiful color from the fiery stems of fireweed, and from the autumn colors of the tundra.
The ride starts at an elevation higher than 10,000' so there's thin air the whole way. This year, I felt nervous at the start. There's something about spending hours far away from any help, completely by myself, that gives me temporary jitters. However, after about 10 minutes of riding on narrow mountain paths, I settled down and could enjoy the beauty.
It was an odd day weather-wise for the high mountains. There was a decent chance of storms early in the morning, and then the clouds cleared out. This was early in the ride, just after the clouds stopped looking so scary.
As I pedaled along through a forested section, a sheep guard dog approached me. Large herds of domestic sheep graze in these mountains, protected by dogs who live with them in the mountains. This guy was very serious about his job. He walked toward me and then sat in the middle of the trail, planting himself between me and his flock.
I've read lots of warnings to be very cautious with these dogs. They see humans as worrisome interlopers. I started talking to the dog in the friendliest tone I can use. He never overtly acted welcoming but I could see him relax a bit. Eventually, he turned and walked along the trail toward his flock. I had no choice but to follow because that was the direction that I needed to go too.
We emerged into a meadow, and the flock was uphill of the trail. They look almost like boulders uphill of the dog.
I was pleased when the dog finally lost interest in me, and I could move forward at a more reasonable pace. A couple of sheep stood atop a ledge looking down toward the valley below.
While I do enjoy seeing the traditional mountain scene of sheep grazing, I am always mindful that sheep grazing was an excuse to kill off predators in our state well into the 1900's. Grizzly bears were driven to extinction by government bounty hunters who killed them in the name of protecting sheep. Wolves had a similar fate. The loss of those predators has left us with an out-of-balance ecosystem.
When I was clear of the sheep flock, I could pedal hard again, and I soon made it above treeline. This is the part of these summer bike rides that I love the most. I was at an elevation of well above 12,000' and approaching the halfway point in the ride. I was thrilled to be feeling incredibly strong.
I slogged up toward the high point of the ride. I met a marmot as I pedaled. He was looking fat and ready for winter. He whistled warnings to his family and then disappeared under his boulder.
After a brief chat with the marmot (for real! I talk to all the animals), I made it to the high point. Usually, I'd want to sit and enjoy it for a while... but a wicked wind buffeted me. I sent the Runner a quick message telling him where I was and that I felt great. Then I threw on a jacket and moved downhill to get out of the wind. This was the view from the high point with my "new mountain view" that I'd see almost to the end of the ride.
I was sad to see so many desiccated flowers but the autumn colors did make up for it to some extent. Also, parts of this descent used to scare me enough to make me get off my bike. Not this year! That's partly due to my gnarly trail bike and partly due to newfound confidence - despite my broken rib from crashing earlier in the trip.
After descending, I had to wend my way through forested terrain that isn't as gorgeous as the alpine tundra. However, there was one waterfall that was still running, despite the drought!
The forested part didn't require too many hard efforts... but the last bit of the ride is like a kick in the butt - it's a lot of climbing up to another high mountain pass. The wonderful part is that I was up so high that the views stretched for miles! I get euphoric when I can ride so high in the sky.
All too soon, the ride was almost over. The last mile tips straight upward toward our campsite. No matter how good I feel, it's hard to pedal up so steeply. But, I was distracted from the pain by the incredible autumn colors with the blue sky as a backdrop.
And then, there was the Labmobile, sitting in our favorite campsite in the world. I'd just completed the ride in my best time ever, and I didn't even feel tired. I was ecstatic that my spring and summer riding had prepared me so well for riding a long distance at such high elevation.
I treasure our days in this campsite... a sunny and warm day there is like heaven on Earth with truly endless views.
And our pups love it too! There's running, swimming, and dozing in the sunshine. What more could a pup want? Not much.
I wish that I were there now!