Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Either Sh#$ or Get off the Pot - the Speed Dilemma

New purchase.  Keep or send back? 
Speed up or slow down?
There’s moments in life when you just have to decide.  It makes me weary to be on the fence about something.  I’d almost rather make the wrong decision than be struck dumb with indecision.

And so, I’ve come to a major juncture in my life.  This is my 'Come-To-Jesus-Meeting' with myself. My 'Shit or Get off the Pot' moment. 

New helmet with chin guard -- or not? 

Obviously I’m not some freerider sponsored by Red Bull or Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC would in fact be my preferred sponsor.) I'm just a middle-aged mom for cripes sake.  But for the past year I’ve been quietly feeding a speed addiction.  As my skill climbs a notch or two, so does my speed.  I flippin’ love it.  Now I understand adrenaline junkies.

In fact, I don’t want to go for a ride without some sort of hard and fast payoff, preferably at the end of the ride and followed by an ice cold beer.  Hey, we all get stuck in our routines.

But this passion for speed has been to the detriment of why I fell in love with riding in the first place:  the beauty of the mountains, the quiet and solitude that feeds my soul, inner peace and enlightenment, blah blah blah.  It used to be about a lot of things but lately it’s about the One Thing.  And if that one thing doesn’t pan out because I'm having an off-kilter day then it makes me cranky.  In my book, being cranky on a bike is sick and wrong.

Mountain biking is on par with good sex. A mountain bike ride with awesome downhill when you are totally in the zone is on par with great sex.  And who doesn’t want great sex?

The conundrum is this.  I am 46 years old and in good health. I thank the heavens for every day that I can get out and pedal.  Shouldn’t this be enough?  Shouldn’t it be enough to be getting any at my age? 

It doesn't seem to be 'enough' because I just bought a better helmet with more coverage. It has a removable chin bar, effectively turning it into a dumbed-down version of a full face helmet.  Is this silly?  Shouldn’t I just slow the heck down?  Where will it end?  Full body armor?

A little bruising from Sheep's Bridge Trail.
 This one left a permanent dent in my thigh.
If I’m honest with myself (yeah, right!) I might consider that it’s because I'm 46 that I'm pushing the limits.   It could be about embracing my inner child while I still can - and swinging her joyfully around by the arms.  Or it could be about bucking middle age. I'm like one of those guys that buys a Harley plus all the requisite black leather and loads it on a trailer bound for Sturgis (I know, ick). 

Which is it?  Indulging the little girl that likes to feel like she's flying or fighting the backside of 40?  Or both?

Recently a friend of mine got hurt and is sidelined for the rest of the summer season.  This made me take stock.  It’s always the most random things that throw you out of the saddle without warning. Something I don't want to happen at 33 mph on a nasty jeep trail.

But damn, as with anything in life, if you don’t keep pedaling (especially on the downhill) then you’re just along for the ride.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Field Notes 17 July 2015: Ode to Hay

I visited a ranch near Lander this week, pictured here with Table Mountain in the background.  The old-timers in Lander used to say that you were safe to plant once all the snow was off Table Mountain.
The smell of fresh-cut hay is one of the raptures of summer.  It sends me back to my childhood: staying with my grandparents on our family farm, shucking sweet corn in the front yard, riding our motorcycles through the fields, and playing with my cousins in the barn.

Most of the easements I visit are on working ranches and some of the most important land they conserve are the riparian bottomlands.  These areas have been irrigated and hayed for well over a hundred years.  Even though it's not a 'natural' system, they provide important habitat for a number of wildlife species.  Flood irrigation in the spring brings an array of water birds, shorebirds and ducks.  Simply put, because birds' natural wetlands are shrinking, flood irrigation offers increased foraging opportunities.  Hay meadows are a great place to watch for sandhill cranes caught up in their mating dance each spring.

Somewhere, someone must have written a beautiful poem as an ode to the hay meadow.  Let me know if you find it.

Also visited a ranch near Elk Mountain, WY, this week where they were trying out a new mower.  Because of the phenomenal amount of rain we've received this year, ranchers have hay coming out of their ears, a nice problem to have.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Field Notes 1 July 2015: World Cup Soccer and the Whiskey Tent

On a beautiful summer evening a few years back I found myself inside a crowded bunkhouse watching World Cup soccer with about a dozen Peruvian sheep herders, subjecting them to my bad spanish and swapping recipes with the camp cook.  I always love visiting the Ladder Ranch....

Ladder Ranch entrance with Aldo Leopold Award sign.

The Ladder Ranch sits at the base of Squaw Mountain in the Sierra Madre Mountains of southern Wyoming.  It is the only part of the state that has Gambel oak (which makes it a stunning place for a fall visit).  The easement helps protect a number of species and habitats including key habitat for mule deer and elk.  It also ensures that the land will remain in agriculture for many generations to come.

The Whiskey Tent on the Ladder Ranch - the American Mountain Men Rendezvous was held here in 2013 (photo by Sharon O'Toole).  The area is rich in history: Jeremiah Johnson, trapper and mountain man, lived in the area near the confluence of the Little Snake River and Battle Creek in the late 1840’s. 

The ranch has been in the O’Toole/Salisbury family for over a century.  The family runs sheep and cattle and have been widely recognized for their excellent stewardship of the ranch: in 2014 they received the Leopold Conservation Award.  They are currently working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to conserve habitat for the greater sage-grouse, a candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act.  On my visit this year they showcased the latest work they've done on Battle Creek  to improve stream quality for the Colorado River cutthroat.

Battle Creek stream improvements include deepening the channels with boulder placement, restoring eroded banks due to flooding and planting willows.   It was about 20 years ago that I worked for the Medicine Bow National Forest doing stream enhancement on this very creek, just a few miles upstream.  I always feel like it's a homecoming when I'm in this neck of the woods.