Thursday, May 5, 2011

An Unexpectedly Long Day - Part 1

At 8:50am yesterday morning I left LC in the driveway chopping wood for the fire, clipped into my bike and headed onto BLM land in back of the house.
It was a warm day with that now familiar, mountain influenced, partially sunny-partially cloudy sky that dominates Cody in the Spring.
The day before, I had hit the gym and its uninspiring indoor bondage of treadmills and stair climbers.
So when I woke yesterday I eagerly set out - looking forward to exercising outside, the opportunity for exploration on my bike and also the opportunity to be alone.
In a training I attended while working in Juneau the facilitator identified the core difference between extroverts and introverts.
Extroverts rejuvenate through social interaction with others.
Introverts rejuvenate through alone time.
An issue related to social preference vs social discomfort.
I definitely fall into the latter introvert category.
My Mountain Boy has been a integrally stabilizing and loving and supportive player in life after Juneau.
But I need more time alone than he does and was greatly looking forward to biking the BLM expanse alone........
I saw these antelope within the first few minutes of my ride.
As they have many times, they ran across one open and sage brush filled field, crossed the trail about 100 yards in front of me and then continued running full tilt for at least another 1/4 mile before finally slowing and then coming to a stop...........
Every time I head onto BLM land I figure out the lay of the land a little more.
There are thousands and thousands of acres.
Thousands and thousands of unexplored acres.
A now-familiar trail heading towards the ridges that I worked towards the last time I was out.............
Picture taken while I was closing up one of the cattle gates.
Still a long way to go before reaching the ridges I was aiming for, and truthfully I was taking my time and stopping frequently to take pictures..............
These guys were in almost exactly the same place as they were the last time I was out here.
No cows - just very big bulls...........
As I continued past the first couple of bulls I came across another one (God those suckers are huge!).
When I first saw him I was riding on the right side of the double track and he was also on the right side of the trail.  A few hundred yards from him I saw him lift his head, walk across the trail and continue grazing again on the left side.
This picture was taken after he began eating again.  
As with the other day I had stopped to watch him - both feet on the ground straddling my bike and drinking water while trying to gauge what kind of mood this big guy was in.
As I started to clip into my bike again he turned his body so that his head was now facing the trail.
Oh hell.
He was just off the trail looking at me as I approached.  
After internally debating whether or not I should turn back (I didn't want to) or bushwhack off trail (too many small cactuses that would kill my tires) I decided to ease on ahead.
I watched him closely for any sudden moves, monitored myself so that I did not make any sudden moves, and silently wondered if a shot fired into the dirt would stop him in his tracks if he decided he did not like me invading his territory.
We ended up passing each other without incident but I think I will stop pushing my luck.............
Rain clouds coming off the mountains.
They were so isolated I could actually stand in the sun and warmth and see where it was raining to the west of me..........
The gate where I turned back last time I was out this way.
I unlatched and then relatched the cattle gate as I went through and was eager and excited to see what lay up ahead.............
I had ridden gradually more interesting up-and-down terrain for about a mile when I unexpectedly came across this herd of horses.
They had been grazing quietly and although I tried not to, my approach down the trail startled them.
As one they all took off in a fast run.
They ran not-too-far and then again as one stopped and turned to look at me.
I had been immobile through all of this commotion, fascinated to watch them.
They were beautiful and in this beautiful terrain seemed just a little mystical.
I don't know enough about horses to know what their herd mentality or typical herding actions look like.
But it all appeared so coordinated to me when they caught sight of me, lifted their heads, took off in a run and then stopped and turned to again assess what kind of danger I might present to them.......
Still unmoving I continued to watch them closely, absolutely loving the encounter.
They also watched me closely for another minute before one then another then another and then the entire herd ran in a line up into the hills and disappeared.............
The flat and sandy ground that is filled with sage brush close to the house holds little appeal to me.
But there are hills and valleys and ridges that are very interesting and very wonderful places to explore and it is that type of country that I eventually began to move into.
My excitement (as it always does when I move into the land of hills and pine trees) began to increase..........

I do not know what this is but it was partially ornate, very rusty, had been used for target practice and was interesting enough for me to stop and capture it in pictures..............
I had come to an intersection a mile or so back and (not knowing anything about either direction) on-a-whim chose to take the left fork.
After some increasingly challenging riding I disappointingly came to a chain across the trail and a Private Property sign.
With a sigh I turned around and headed back the way I had come........
Heart Mountain.
It owns the landscape in Cody..............
As I was backtracking I was more-than-a-little surprised to again come across the same herd of horses that I had scurried into the hills only 30 minutes before.
They were fairly close to the trail and as I slowly came to a stop I was surprised that they had neither seen nor heard my approach............

After watching them all for a short while one (and then another and then another) raised their heads and looked at me with measured alarm.
I took this (unzoomed real-distance) picture of the horses when they were all finally aware of my presence.
At this point I had their full attention..............
I was straddling my bike, and aside from taking sips of water had not moved the entire time from the moment I first caught sight of them grazing.
Once they all raised their heads and saw me they all automatically and quickly worked themselves into a straight line, watching me the entire time.
And then they did something I totally did not expect.
As a line they all moved towards me.
I was stunned.
Completely taken aback.............
Real-time distance from me.
I still did not move or make any noise, even though a herd of horses were lined up and in unison had closed the distance between us to about 40 feet.
We all looked at each other for about a minute.
Them as cautious and curious about me as I was about them.
And then I clipped one shoe into my bike.
The moment I took my first down stroke of the pedal they all scattered in different directions and like scared rabbits.
I had never had such an interaction with a herd of animals before.
Never in my life and I rode away in wonder at having just experienced such an extraordinary adventure...........
When I again arrived at the intersection I turned left intending to ride up towards the ridge line I had been heading for originally.
After biking uphill for only a couple of minutes I on the spur-of-the-moment decided to drop my bike and walk the rest of the way.
My bike shoes have a cleat on the bottom that clips into my pedals.
While I was racing I decided to wear shoes with cleats but with softer soles (similar to running shoes but with slightly sturdier soles) instead of the hard plastic bike shoes that many racers wore.
What I lost in "pulling ability" on my bike I gained in comfort while on foot.
And there were many many times during races when our team had to bike whack with our bikes, or we had to drop our bikes to go retrieve a checkpoint.
I never regretted that decision and yesterday I was glad yet one more time that I was wearing bike shoes that were comfortable enough to be able to walk a good distance in.
I began to walk up the hill and a sudden commotion to my right startled me.
A pheasant jumped out of sage bush and took flight.
I had startled him and he had scared the crap out of me.
Moving on..............
I walked up one hill and then one more.
Yes, I was glad that I had dropped my bike.
After walking through another cattle gate I continued up hill, seeing a small herd of deer in the adjoining field as I continued to move higher.
I tried to take a picture of them but they blended too well with the terrain and did not show up in the picture.
But the scenery around me was gorgeous none-the-less.............
The ridge line in the center of the picture is the one I had been heading towards but I did not make it there yesterday.
I had been out for about 2 1/2 hours and was still 20 minutes away from the ridge.
Time to get there, time to explore, time to get back to this spot, time to get back to my bike that was 15 minutes away.
Nope.  It was time to stop, to rest, to eat banana bread and head back.
I sat on the rocks looking out over the wide open space down below me and the mountains across from me...........
I grabbed my jacket and put it on while hungrily scarfing down banana bread and water.
The wind was picking up and the temperature was beginning to drop.
I looked at the sky and the mostly sunny-sky of the morning had turned into mostly cloudy-sky in the afternoon.
As I was sitting on the rocks I realized that I had zig-zagged quite a bit while walking up the hills and while taking pictures.  For a few moments I hoped that I had not zig-zagged so much that I would have difficulty finding the cattle gate and then the downhill trail that led back to my bike.
That mild-concern took me back in time to a 24 hour race I did as a solo in Tennessee a few years ago.
In the middle of the night and after having raced for about 14 hours at that point I found myself kayaking and heading towards a small island on a lake.
I had the checkpoint plotted on the south side of the island but I knew from talking with other teams that some had it plotted on the south and some had it plotted on the north side.
As I approached the island I saw headlamps dead center in the middle of the island.
I paddled around to the south side and as I was making my way around the shore looking for a place to stash my kayak ran into a fisherman in a power boat fishing close to shore.
He yelled at me and asked me if I was looking for an orange flag.
"Yeah!!  Have you seen it??"
"OK.  Thanks"
That is not what I was thinking at that very moment but that is what I said.......

I paddled around to the north side of the island looking for a spot to ditch my boat so that I could make my way onto the island on foot.
After leaving the boat I climbed up onto the island, zigged and zagged my way through dense underbrush making my way to the center of the island and did indeed find the checkpoint without incident.
And that is when I realized how much I had wandered and that most likely I was not going to be able to straight-shot my way directly back to my kayak so that I could continue on.
I made my way back to the north side, looked down boat.
I was fairly certain that it was located further down to my right and made my way along the side of the island, fighting soft dirt along the way that wanted to crumble underneath my feet.
Eventually the ground gave way under me for real and I started to slide uncontrollably, certain that I was going to take an uncontrolled fall down into the lake.
Thankfully a tree broke my fall (the second time that day that had happened and becoming a running theme with me as a racer) and after catching my breath for a moment I dropped down into the lake and swam the rest of the way to my boat.......

After eating and drinking and putting on my jacket I headed back to my bike and found it without incident.
Unfortunately the rest of my adventure yesterday became more interesting.
I ended up getting lost on BLM land.............

After posting this blog I realized that I lost a good part of it.
Problems with my internet over the past couple of days so I will have to finish this story later..........

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