Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Stronger Rider

Rule #29. The stronger rider. 
If you come across one of those, be humble. Excuse yourself and ride at your pace. There is no point trying to be something you are not. Let them go and let go of your ego.”-Shona Living 
Six miles. Six stinkin miles. I was finally out the door. Two wheels. Turning pedals... Slowly. Where I ride, there is rarely a stronger rider to worry about-not one seen or spinning up dust in my face anyway. But they are still there, somewhere, riding a trail. I only see them as a memory of my racing days. I let them go years ago-there was no point. Now I just try to enjoy the ride.

This was my first outing on a bike this winter after surgery. To be safe, it was decided to get this pedal out of the way on safe ice and snow covered gravel township roads . For the fatbike beneath me, there were really only two options. I never could force myself to do an out and back ride-just can't do it, I've seen that country already. Sucked it in and spit it out and need new terrain. No, I have to do a loop, a start and finish ride with everything de novo in the middle.

Donned up in what I thought would be warm enough gear, and turning down the road, wind at my back, “it” was all behind me. “Rode” to recovery. The shorter of the two routes was just 4 miles, my usual hiking course with the lab, but that wouldn't do. Ride just 4 miles? Turning the first country corner on an up hill I wondered...maybe? Option two was six miles-that would have to work, for the only other course for a loop was 15 miles and this body would have none of that. The big tires rumbled down the frozen grader tracks, resonating the road through my waking legs. It felt good to pedal again. Just pedal, not chasing some stronger rider-that might creep back in another time, later in the year.

The four mile route was behind now-no choice but to go forward. The slight incline ahead was like a L'Alpe d'Huez in the cold biting wind. “Spin to win” it's said, and all I could really do, but I'm pedaling. Slowly. In the country, it's all about one mile sections and corners-easy for the snotty biker to check off the distance. “Rule 39. Coasting = coffin. You can rest when you are dead. Peddle in the downhills.”-S.L. Maybe, but the corner lead to a headwind and the legs cried to break the rule, but to move forward, the cranks had to turn.

Another corner, another climb. My friend Scott would say this was a “Three Sweater Ride” -sort of like a Three dog night, but moving and awake. Too few layers and the home stretch put the big bike in the big ring-time to chase the stronger rider or just survive to get home and thaw. One last corner and the mailbox is the finish line-wind at my back again and the legs forget how weak they really are. The driveway is long and the fatbike is glad to be tucked away in the shop again. I guess aluminum gets cold as well. If I'd learned anything from the skis the day before, it was to just get out there, enjoy the ride, the soreness and ache, the cold air-Excuse yourself and ride at your pace. There is no point trying to be something you are not. I'm not the stronger rider, but I am getting stronger. Ride #1, check.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Back to Kick and Stick

“Back in the saddle again?” That might be an appropriate phrase for the state of recovery I'm in at this point, 7 weeks after hip surgery. Although not pedaling as of this writing, I did finally clip into ski bindings, cinched tightly the straps of my poles and took the first baby steps to enjoying winter again. The surgeon gave me the all clear a few days ago, telling me to “wean yourself off the crutches” and “start using the muscles in your leg again.” Okay-that's a green enough light for me. Even though the joint itself feels good, the soft tissue will remain tender for some time. No matter, 4 inches of new snow was calling my name.

Typically, my winter involves a lot of ski trail grooming, skiing and snow biking, but with the lay up, other club members jumped in and did a stellar job keeping trails in shape. So good, in fact, that after the last snowfall, I could wait no longer. Usually I skate ski the majority of the time and even though I was excited by my Dr.s go-ahead, I knew that technique would have to wait. Classical skiing however, would be much gentler, smooth and lend itself to getting me back in ski shape again. So with some trepidation, I clicked in and slid my boards into the tracks at my favorite trail, Levis Mound.

To describe this morning, nothing would be more spot on than “Winter Wonderland. The beautiful snowfall was preceded by sleety rain, which helped glue the white flock to every branch and twig trailside. Simply beautiful.  Leaving the chalet is a gentle downhill, and not knowing what my leg would do, I started with some double poling. I figured two ski poles should equal one crutch, right? As my momentum slowed, I needed to start a little kick and glide to keep up with some imaginary ski partners ahead. Surprisingly, the ageless beauty of striding on classic skis started filtering back into my totally unfit body. Hip was good, muscles and busied tendons seem to work and soon the rhythm of the technique carried me down the trail.

I'd thought before that maybe a little short ski would be in order-just a test of my abilities for the first outing. But, as things usually go, I just couldn't turn back-not yet. Two skate skiers ahead continued on and I took a turn onto a different longer trail. “I'll just go a ways and then come back.” I tried to believe. As the kilometers started passing by and the scenery getting impossibly better, I gave up turning back. I was at the point of no return I figured, “I might as well keep going and do the whole Bad Bear loop.” I stopped more frequently that I ever would, but that was a good thing. I need to rest and more so soak in everything around me in the forest. Lord knows I had too many days and weeks cooped up inside. I was glad to be skiing alone for inside, even though I could give myself a pass, I'd be embarrassed by how slow I was moving. Again, no matter-it felt so damn good to be skiing again, sucking in cold air and feeling the heart pound a little cresting a climb.

The easier flat route was one choice on my return, or there was the hilly shorter route. The logic Steve on one shoulder said take the flat trail, this is your first time out. The “can't-wait-to-ski” Steve on the other side shouted “hills!” Although I'd pay the price on the climbs-on this day, I really needed to smoke down at least one hill-JackRabbit Draw. Upon cresting, and starting my descent, suddenly I realized maybe this wasn't the best idea. Classic skis don't have the stability like my usual skate ones, and my slight snowplow to scrub speed was a shaky at best. Set tracks however, soon had the boards locked in like rails and I couldn't help grin a little as I finished the run out at the bottom. From this point, it was a short ski back to the trailhead and the completion of my first outing. Unclipping and then getting some help removing the ski boots (not all the flexibility is back yet!) I realized how much I missed skiing. It's said you never know how much you miss something until it's gone. I may have over did it a little, but I'll forgive myself this time.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Of Fear and Loathing of Wolves


“loath·ing ˈlōT͟HiNG/ noun noun: loathing; plural noun: loathings
1.a feeling of intense dislike or disgust; hatred.
First off, I am and have been a deer hunter, bow and gun for my entire life. I spend about every living minute in our outdoors-if not hunting, then mountain biking, cross country skiing,snowshoeing and shooting pictures or building trail. That said, several “conversations” and recent articles all converged in the past week which got me thinking about wolves. The “fear and loathing” of wolves to be specific. Our own Wisconsin Outdoor Fun contributor Patrick Durkin wrote of the recent decline in Midwest deer kill numbers and suggested maybe wolves shouldn't take the blame when looking at surrounding states with few or no wolves. But this is not a “wolves-kill-all-the-deer” piece. Wolves have a much more vested interest than we do as hunters in keeping deer around-it's for their survival and they are very good at self regulating. But we compete for the same resource, so could that be cause for the hate I read?

Kevin Naze of WOF subtly suggested because the wolf hunt closed early, there may be far more animals than DNR estimates suggest. Adding that Wisconsin's 257 kill- 20-30% of the estimated population, surpassed Minnesota (2200 est. wolf population) and Michigan but not noting that Minnesota set a conservative quota of only 220 or 10%. That may be, but the majority were also trapped and trappers tend to be quite skilled in their pursuit and efficient in capturing their prey. It's no easy task to grab a gun, waltz out the door and find a wolf to shoot. Contrary to bar stool chatter, over the past several years pack numbers and populations appear to have stabilized in Wisconsin's limited suitable habitat. Grey wolves in the midwest tend to have smaller territories and fewer pack members when compared to their western brethren. But this is not a “Wisconsin-is-getting-run-over-by-wolves” piece either.

What really got me thinking were two replies I received, one on Facebook (I know..let it go!) and another by a friend via email. Both revolved around the fear of wolves. Wolves are sadly controversial and in my FB reply, I harbored no hope of changing anyones opinion. I think my insightful friends' email hit the nail on the head however- “Logic does not carry the day with emotional issues! It struck me today that we, as hunters, have moved from much of the skill-based tradition of the past and now the only thing that seems to unite us with those hunters of yore is the deep-seated fear and loathing of wolves!”

But why? Europe has a long tradition of fear of wolves and in doing a little research found that in most cases, attacks were attributed to two things, rabies and/or animals being habituated by man. In North America, wolf attacks are exceedingly rare, even though wolves are large predatory animals and can adapt to living in close proximity to humans-especially in Wisconsin. The facebook discussion revolved in part about the fear of stepping into our woods, “afraid to be attacked or eaten alive.” Also the need for carrying a firearm for protection. When looking at wolf attacks by comparison, there have been 59 people killed by bear (Grizzly and black bear) and 11 by cougar since 1990. Annually domestic dogs kill 20-30 people. Hunters (human) kill nearly 100 and injure around 1000 in the US and Canada each year. Only two cases of a human allegedly killed by wolves have been documented in North America in the past 100 years!

I'm reminded of a recent All State commercial where a young girls says “Man-eating sharks live in every ocean, but we still swim. Every second lighting strikes somewhere in the world, but we still play in the rain. Poisonous snakes can be found in 49 of the 50 states, but we still go looking for adventure. Because I think deep down, all the bad things that happen in life, can't stop us from making our lives good.” I believe we shouldn't live in fear of what could happen. Statistically we are in far greater danger driving to and from our recreational playgrounds than from a wolf attack. Wolves generally stay clear of humans and ones I've been lucky enough to observe had other places to be and things to do within a few seconds of making eye contact.

Wolves in Wisconsin have become somewhat adaptable, living in areas that at one time may not have been thought of as suitable habitat, like so many other creatures. We need to keep in mind that while wild animals can adapt quickly, humans do not and it is we who are moving into their homes and territories. It never made a lot of sense to me why we get mad or upset at wild animal confrontations, when they have been here all along. We encroach on them by our “progress.” The animals piece of mother natures pie gets smaller by the day.

Some have called for a return of all out elimination of the wolf (again) because of the perceived danger (deer hunting issues aside). The same was once said of Timber Rattlers and the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, which both had a bounty in our state as recently as 1975. Because something could hurt us, we should rid our natural landscape of them? I find it interesting that the wolf seems to be singled out over our much more abundant large carnivore, the Black Bear. I don't see bumper stickers with “No/Bear” symbols slapped on the back of pick ups. Competition? Money? Politics? If we eliminate every risk in the outdoors, real or imagined, we end up with pretty much a vanilla outdoor experience. Safe, but vanilla none the less.

As a hunter and outdoorsman, I try to respect every animal I encounter, observe or harvest. Respect is life-enhancing, fear is life threatening. I'm of the belief that knowing those animals exist, that we share something with them, make life a richer experience. The natural world is good, bad and ugly. Who is man to decide which animal is worthy and which ones are not? The creator seems to have a pretty logical plan set out long before we walked here.
"Seca" 2012, (deceased, victim of "lead poisoning")

The Walker

The Walker
It's over.  I hope.  The calluses on the heels of my hands are thick and rock hard and hurt when I press on them.  The aftermath of 6 weeks driving and maneuvering the walker noisily around obstacles in the house.  But they remind me of what to appreciate.  They'll soften at some point.  It'll be quieter soon as I switch to crutches and a cane and to an unsupported limp.  The walker can sit in a corner.  The tool belt can take it's place back in the garage where it belongs, the rest of the pills flushed and remotes can rest on the coffee table.

In one week the surgeon should give the all clear.  All restrictions off.  Back to work,  Back to the bike,  Dig out the skis and find some wax to melt.  The poles may serve as expensive crutches for a while, but gentle classic skiing should give way to skating at some point.  I can't wait to hop back in my truck and just tool around the back roads a bit, camera along, hunting for pictures.  The hip pain is gone, so I guess in the long run the recovery was worth it, and with the brutal cold so far, maybe my timing was right.  It's over with the walker, but I have a whole new appreciation for it.  A respect for the "old" people that have to use them every day.  Their calluses must be infinitely thicker and will never go away.  When I see that shuffle the next time, I will understand.  It's a slow motion living and a lesson in frustration at not being self sufficient. I'll understand, but hope it's over with the walker for me, for a long time.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 In Images

Sunset-North Dakota
End of the year.  I could look ahead and decide to tackle some big photography project, like a 365 or something, but instead, I decided to just look back.  I've done this  for years now and it's always interesting to relive little things as I flip through the photographs.  I didn't strictly stick to one per month and they are not all great photos.  They're selected because of why we make pictures.  To make something beautiful, to relive a memory and to record an important event.  More or less chronological, enjoy the past year in pictures.
Deep Winter

Happy Holidays!

The Joy of Crust Biking

Pedaling the Sweaty Yeti

Head Coach Melting in South Korea

The Big Snow
The Sandhills are Early

Sturtz Prairie in Winter

East Snow Creek Turkey Woods
Horn Lake Camp

Isle Royal Beach

Gnomefest Derby

Oxbo Paddle

Molly in Blind-North Dakota


Happy Trey

Dave Spreading Deeks

Snowy Owl Invasion of 2013

Trey and Gpa

Lights and Shadows