Thursday, December 8, 2016

Four Years of My Life, Each Ending in 6

I was born in 1964, in January. As of this writing in December of 2016 I'm nearing the end of my 52nd lap around the sun. As I've been thinking about my life now and the time of transition I'm in, I recall other transition times. Oddly, four important transition times in my life have come to their culmination in a year ending with 6.

1986. I had been going to school at University of Wyoming (pretending to be a student) since fall of 1982. I arrived at Laramie from west Michigan where I was born and raised in a small town. I showed up with a pretty impressive substance abuse problem for someone my age. During my years in Laramie, in the heyday of the 'Just Say No' Reagan 80's, I went pro. As a friend and roommate put it, in the summer of '86 we were Promenading Down the Funky Broadway. When the fall semester started that year, my lifestyle was off the rails. I actually tried to keep up with my classes, but I was too engrossed in a culture of drugs and alcohol. I flunked every one of my classes except for an Economics class, for which I believe my major advisor (who was the instructor) gave me the gift of an A.

This was taken in 1986 at a sister's wedding reception. My face tells the story. Two of my three sisters are there.

My life had become a shambles, and dangerous. I was messing around with a culture that had the potential to send me to a prison or mental hospital. When I wasn't high I was depressed. So finally I figured out that I needed to leave Laramie. And I needed to be at least several hours away. My long time girlfriend had a job and was living in Grand Junction. That seemed far enough away, and I didn't have many other options. We had more or less broken up during my crazy summer (she had graduated in May and left town to go to work). Now I begged her to let me escape Wyoming. Grudgingly, she did. In December I moved to Grand Junction with no job and no plans other than getting away. I've been in Colorado ever since.

1996. I defended a thesis and graduated with a Masters Degree in Computer Information Systems from Colorado State University. I accepted a job at Hewlett-Packard in Colorado Springs.

On the way home from a house-hunting trip, I stopped at Mt Falcon Park near Morrison, CO to ride my bike. During that ride I crashed and sustained a traumatic brain injury. I still have an inches-long scar on the left side of my skull from the impact. I drove home to Fort Collins from Mt Falcon by myself after the accident. Drove right to my house in rush hour traffic and remember none of it at all. I used my golden hour to make it home. I lost the memory of most of that day. I know I was at Mt Falcon only because I knew that was my plan. First I remember is being slid into a CAT Scan tube at midnight.

I think this was around January '96. The mullet was replaced by a grownup short haircut before I went to work at HP.

I started my career at HP with stitches hidden under my hair. I didn't want them to know, because I was afraid I might not be as smart as the guy they'd interviewed and hired. I worked my ass off that first year. By Christmas I was fat, as heavy as I've ever gotten. But I'd figured out how to be a valuable staff member. So my job was secure, I was married to the girlfriend from Wyoming, and had a house in Black Forest. I was 32 and had become a responsible grownup.

2006. My marriage had been falling apart for the whole year. In May of 2003 I had been laid off from Agilent Technologies (an HP spin-off). Agilent had moved me to Salida to be a stay-at-home programmer. Things had been tense between my ex and I from the job loss. Then there were some deaths in her family and we lost some beloved pets. We were withdrawn from each other, each of us pursuing our individual interests. I was suffering from anxiety and depression and a loss of identity.

During the Thanksgiving holiday that year, we had the fight that ended it. We separated, but there was no place for me to go. We weren't ready to sell the house, and she was the one who loved it, so I was going to need to find a place.

It was December. As soon as I knew that we were separating I signed up for a 24 Solo spot at the 24 in the Old Pueblo near Tucson. I had been wanting to do a 24 Solo after years of being on 4-man teams. Now I was free to do whatever I wanted. So I signed up and started figuring out how to get fit for it in the couple months I had until February.

I sold my last chunk of Agilent stock and bought a travel trailer. To hell with getting an apartment and sitting in it through the winter. Our early winter had already been suckful and it was making me miserable. I decided to drag the trailer down to Southern Arizona to live and train.

During December I was getting the trailer ready. And I was looking for a window of good weather to get out of the mountains. I wrote a blog post when I finally decided to stop waiting for dry road and just GTFO. I don't mention the trailer in the blog post, but that was really the deal--hauling a 4400 pound 2-axle trailer in a raging storm was scary. But eventually, the need to be gone overcame the need to be safe.

Standing in front of my trailer in Colossal Cave Mountain Park east of Tucson. First day. So... now what?

I met some amazing people down there, got involved in Arizona Trail trail work, and was eventually offered a job on a Pima County trail crew that could lead to supervisor. I almost stayed. But Salida drew me back.

2016. Which is now.

During the last 10 years I took endurance riding to a level that I'd never achieved. I had a long relationship with a wonderful woman that sadly didn't work. Relationships with women have gotten harder to keep working. I've become a crotchety old fart. I sustained injuries in a motorcycle accident in 2014 that kept me off the bike for four months, and it aged me. My beard is now totally gray.

Snow biking 12/7/2016. The hunting beard has become the winter beard. Needed it for the warmth that day!

In 2010 I went back to a programming staff job after working for Absolute Bikes starting in 2004. I worked hard, and made enough to buy a house of my own in 2011. That first return to IT job was in Buena Vista. In 2012 an old friend gave me an IT job here in town, 13 blocks from home.

This year, I seem to have lost the ability to do the work. My brain simply is not as agile as it was years and decades ago. Keep in mind, I had the 80s with vigorous substance abuse, a major TBI in 1983 and an even worse one in '96 (described above). And I'm aging.

I don't find the new technology exciting any more. The pace of change is exhausting to me. Becoming low-productivity and resistent to change is classic for aging softward developers. I remember the people we called dinosaurs back in my HP days. Now I'm the dinosaur. If I still worked for a big company like Agilent I would have had the option to go into management perhaps. But I chose Salida--I stayed when corporate America barfed me out.

Being a software developer is hard work. And it's over for me, at least as far as I'm concerned right now. I can still do things with computers, but writing the stuff that runs on them is now somebody else's job. I am both crying uncle and choosing life. So there's my transition theme for now.

I'm back to working at the bike shop, which is good for me. I'm trying to get my body healthy again (desk time and the impact on my energy level from feeling inadequate at work have taken their toll). I want to lose 15 pounds and get VT125-fit again.

I hunted successfully this Fall, killing a young mule deer buck. He's in my freezer. My life will hopefully be simpler and cheaper in the coming years. It will need to be cheaper because my income just took a pretty severe haircut. I have my amazing little dog and three good cats, a house in a town that has become my place to put down roots (17th year!), and many dear friends. As I have in four years ending with 7, I'll create a new reality for myself. Nothing to do now but get on with it.

Funny how life can happen in tidy little decade chunks.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Killing a deer

I've been drawing permits to hunt deer and elk in Colorado for the last decade, on and off. I've put in serious efforts, casual efforts, and some years I've blown off hunting the permit altogether. My feeling about buying hunting and fishing licenses is that it's not a bad place to contribute money. It's not for nothing, even if I don't shoot or catch anything. And hunting is an excuse to spend a bunch of time outside, looking and listening intently.

Point is, for my ten years as a big game hunter in Colorado I have never managed to be any threat to the well-being of any game. I've tried to get smarter about it; reading, talking to people who hunt, thinking about what I've done that hasn't worked. One of the things I have known is that I move around too much. Better off getting somewhere and staying put, but I get antsy, or cold when I'm sitting. A better strategy is to be quiet, stay in cover. Look and listen. Use your binoculars. Be patient.

This year I decided to take it a little more seriously. I have a camper again, so I did a bunch of exploring around my game unit, which was actually a handful of game units, in the Arkansas Hills north of Salida, and decided where to locate hunt camp. I intended to go up and stay up for at least the first three days of the season. Wednesday (10-19-2016) I dragged my camper up a heinously steep, rough jeep road. Then came back Friday outfitted to stay and hunt. Saturday morning long before light I was putting gear together then driving my truck half a mile down another jeep road.

hunt camp
Hunt Camp

I'm going to tell the story of the hunt, but first will reveal a spoiler: I did shoot a deer. In the story that follows, there are some very specific descriptions of things I saw and did that might be hard for some people to read. Killing and field dressing a large animal is an intense and humbling experience. And often quite gory. Much of this is described. Be warned.

Morning hunts are about getting to where you want to be sitting an hour before it's legal to shoot. Bothering to wake up in the hills right where you want to start hunting on opening day is worth the trouble, or at least it should be. The one nearly-shot I had at a cow elk years ago was on an early morning opening day. After that, never saw another animal the whole season. So Saturday morning 90 minutes before sunrise I was heading down into a draw that's more or less familiar to me from scouting.

I had made a GPS line to follow, but it was hard going. Darkness, backpack, rifle, binoculars, trying to read a GPS in the dark. I was wearing a good headlamp, but it was still awkward, difficult, and noisy walking. Unexpected thick brush and blowdowns appeared. Since I was following a line I'd drawn based on slope steepness rather than a track I had walked to confirm, I knew there was a chance it would lead me into a dumb place, like a 20 acre blowdown tangle. After about 20 minutes I vacillated; lost confidence in the line I was following. "Right here looks pretty good", I thought.

Yeah, it wasn't. I sat there as the morning light advanced until it was legal to shoot. I used my binoculars to scan all around, but once it was light I could see I was in a crappy place. Couldn't really see very far. Five minutes after legal light I heard rifle shots to the west. Somebody had done what you are supposed to do with first light opening day. With a sigh, I got up and started looking for a better place. Doing what I always do, walking around like Elmer Fudd during the best hours of hunting in the whole season. I found a good place and hung out there from about 8 to 9:15 or so. By then sun was high, the prime morning hunting time was done. I had watched the morning from a beautiful place but saw no animals other than birds and squirrels.

Hiked back to the truck and drove back to the trailer. Got some food and got comfortable to rest. Then the wind came up, and it blew an absolute gale all day. Wasn't even gusting, just a steady river of wind. I was so happy to have a trailer to sit in. But not pleased about the weather. Wind blowing dirt into your face all day? Yeesh. Hope tomorrow isn't like this.

At around 3:30 I got my lazy butt up and laced up my boots. Time to go out until it was illegal to shoot (too dark around 6:10). I had been planning to 4-wheel back south to a place I'd seen in the morning, but instead just walked from the trailer. The wind had me bummed and skeptical about the hunt.

I headed up onto what shows on the topo map as Loco Ridge. I angled off to the east, the leeward side of the ridge. I got to the edge of a large park lined with thin stands of aspen. I checked my GPS and it showed I'd walked only .2 mile from camp. The ridge and aspen above me were good shelter from the wind. I found a place to lean the rifle, a round chambered and safety on. I sat and started looking around through my binoculars (AKA glassing).

hunt camp
Vicki on Loco Ridge during a scouting hike the day we brought up the trailer. Kill site was down the slope behind her less than half a mile.

So I start scanning the horizon. Yeah yeah, grass. Trees. Bushes. Wait, what's that?

Unmistakable. The head and ears of an ungulate. Far away. Half a mile or more probably. Looking with naked eyes I couldn't see anything. Even with binocs, too far to tell if there are antlers. Not even entirely sure whether it's deer or elk. My tag was for a buck, antlered deer. My thought was, "oh well, pretty far. I'd have to walk right across the meadow out in the open to get closer. No way I'd get there without spooking it. Can't even tell for sure if it isn't a funny shaped log."

My head was in the old way. I was out here with a tag and a rifle, but come on. I'm not going to actually get close enough to shoot a buck. After probably at least 5 minutes, looking over occasionally to see if he was still there, finally I thought, "I might as well try to get close enough to at least see what it is. What have I got to lose?" So I got up, gathered my junk and started crouch-trotting across the open field.

After I'd closed 2 or 3 hundred yards I stopped and kneeled down with my binoculars. Wow. Definitely mule deer. Antlers! Forker. He stood as I was watching. I figured he knew I was there and would run off soon so I crouched a little lower. He was still at least 500 yards away from me, so I wouldn't dream of taking a shot from there. After a couple minutes he was still there, and his back was to me. Maybe he didn't know I was there and had only stood because it was the end of his daytime nap.

I saw a large bush almost between us. If I was uphill 50 yards it would be between us. I quickly moved uphill to put the bush between us, then I ran to it (well, you would probably call it lumbering more than running). I got to the bush and he was still there. I could see antlers well enough to know that he was a 2x3 (two points on one antler, three on the other). Seemed to be 200 yards or less. I don't even remember how I set up the shot, whether I went prone, kneeling; just don't remember. But I did shoot. I had steady crosshairs on an animal standing still sideways to me. Other than being closer, there's not a better situation. So I took the shot.

The deer was hit but didn't go down and started heading away from me into a stand of aspen. I sent a second shot but it was a Hail Mary at a running deer's butt. I really wanted a clean, instant kill. But it was no time to mourn. I had wounded an animal and now there was complete urgency, I needed to put him down. If he kept going I had to track him until I could.

I waited behind the bush for about 30 more seconds after I couldn't see him in the aspen stand he'd gone into. A friend gave me that advice: don't immediately start chasing an animal you've wounded. It might not run for the horizon if you aren't immediately in pursuit. But if you're chasing and it is capable of running, it will run. Wait just a bit then stalk carefully and quietly. Which is what I did.

I crossed the distance I had shot quickly but as quietly as possible toward where he'd been hit. As I reached the edge of the aspen I saw a lot of blood on the grass. It was easy to follow where he went, and after about 100 feet into the aspen I saw him laying in the grass. I felt a little better about my shooting, I'd obviously hit him well enough with one or both shots that he was down. I probably wouldn't be tracking him until it was too dark to see without the headlamp I hadn't brought with me.

As I approached, he moved. Still breathing. Damn. Probably too wounded to get up, but not yet dead. I stopped. Remembering that I'd never extracted the spent round in the chamber I cycled the bolt and loaded a live round from the magazine. He could possibly leap to his feet and run. As I slowly moved closer I could see a jagged exit wound on his chest, I doubted that he would jump up. But he was going to need to be shot again right away.

Emotion was strong in me, as well as adrenaline. I remember as a kid shooting a bird with my BB gun just to kill it, not because I wanted to eat it. As I watched that little bird die on the ground I felt like a terrible, selfish person for just choosing to end this animal's life because I could. That feeling came back to me--a sense of being selfish and cruel. It surprised me, because I'm very comfortable with my reason for hunting. I want the meat. But here I was, an irresponsible little boy holding a rifle above a wounded animal. Then I remembered, I'm harvesting a resource. It's only irresponsible if I waste the resource.

He was beautiful, with healthy coat and looking well-fed. We faced each other, I looked into his eyes and said "thank you", then shot him in the neck from 10 feet away. His rib cage deflated like a un-knotted balloon. The light left his eyes.

my buck
A beautiful, healthy creature whose life I took for my own needs. Grateful for his life. Every bit of meat will be cherished.

I cleared the ammunition out of my rifle chamber and magazine and leaned it against an aspen. It was time to get to work. As I left the trailer to hunt that afternoon, I had grabbed a knife as an afterthought. Honestly, when I left for the hunt I was pretty sure I'd be back drinking beer pretty soon. Another lesson, don't go out with your rifle unless you have everything else you might need.

I had grabbed the one knife I have with a gut hook, which is fortunate. A gut hook is a curved back tab that's sharp on the inside. It helps to slice open an animal's belly without cutting into the guts.

You want the whole GI tract to come out intact. It's full of bacteria, and that bacteria can help spoil your meat. I knew this. Luckily my bullet hadn't gone through the belly. That happens. It is awful for the animal, and also makes a mess which is a threat to the meat. Gut shot animals often run far before dying slowly in severe pain. It is so very important to place shots carefully.

My first shot was placed very well side to side, but it was 3 or 4 inches below the heart. There was a jagged hole in his lower ribcage where the bullet exited. It could be that I was further than 200 yards, and the bullet had started the drop in trajectory and I hadn't accommodated it by aiming up a little higher. But that would only be an inch or maybe 1.5 at that distance. And I really don't think it was more than 200 yards. As I think about it, a more likely explanation was that I was above him enough that my bullet was slanting downward. It may have entered at the right place, but was heading in the wrong direction and went under the heart. Perhaps I had a little flinch and shot low. Or it was placed wrong and I should have aimed little higher. One of my several regrets about that day is that I did not think to do the forensics, specifically locating the entrance wound so I could know more about how he was shot and why I missed the heart. I'm pretty sure elevation is the answer, but if I'd checked the entrance wound location I would know for sure. Just wasn't present enough.

The bullet took out a big chunk of lung, which also means it took out some large blood vessels. I'm guessing he would have died on his own after 5 or 10 minutes. But I'm sad that I lost the chance for a more humane instant kill.

I read an article a while ago where the author was talking about how primitive even a modern hunting rifle truly is as a tool for killing animals. A small pellet of metal is spit out of a tube from hundreds of yards away by a human being who probably has a high heart rate and shaky hands. The pellet must find vitals and dispatch the animal reliably. Sometimes it works perfectly, sometimes OK, sometimes it's a disaster. Sometimes the bullet just takes out a leg. A deer can still outrun a man using only three legs. I heard a story yesterday about how a young hunter destroyed a deer's lower jaw and the wounded animal wasn't found. That animal could run as fast as a healthy one, and probably lived for weeks before starving or being killed by a predator. To me, causing something like that would be a nightmare.

So obviously shooting well is extremely important to hunt ethically. To shoot well means being able to reliably place the bullet where you want. It takes practice, and you can learn how to shoot well at a rifle range. In my case, I think I shoot reasonably well but I don't fool myself into thinking I'm a great marksman. I have a distance limit. In order to be accurate within inches out further than 100 yards, the rifle needs to be held perfectly still. The tiniest little shake will make the bullet hit feet not inches from the target. Even on the range, I'm hard pressed to reliably perform acceptable shots much past 200 yards.

Another issue that's critical to shooting well especially at long distance is to know your rifle's ballistics/trajectory. My rifle, a .308, is pretty flat out to about 250 yards, but past that the bullet starts to fall fairly quickly. Beyond 250, you better have a range-finder and remember exactly what the drop will be at the accurately-measured distance.

Of course you can also shoot badly in shorter range, which typically comes from not practicing, and/or failing to adjust your scope to confirm that the rifle is even aiming at what the scope is aimed at. And practice will hopefully show you what your limits are, as it has for me. Bad shooting causes gut shots, broken legs, etc. In my opinion, it's unacceptable. Take the shooting seriously or do not hunt.

You need to know how to put the little pellet of metal where you want it, but you also need to know where that should be. And that means not just putting it behind he shoulder. It means that you need to figure out where is the heart. You need to aim at the heart, where it is in 3D space. If I'd been on flat ground I think I would have been aiming at the heart. But I was far enough above him that I was actually aiming low because of the slant. Next time, if there is a next time, I'll have a lot more knowledge.

Gutting a 250 pound animal is gory. Now might be a time to skip down a few paragraphs if you aren't into specifics.

The method I've been taught is that you use the gut hook to open up the belly while you keep the animal rolled onto its back. Then you tip the animal down so the stuff can fall out. Well, it doesn't just fall out. Your hands are up inside this warm animal, you're cutting and pulling. Massive amounts of blood. Guts you've seen pictures of are right there in your hands, warm and slimy with fresh warm blood. You have your hands way up in there, one holding a sharp knife. Every once in a while a muscle twitches to remind you that this creature was alive minutes ago.

At a point early in the process I dropped the knife and staggered back a couple steps then got down on hands and knees to breath. Overwhelmed. I was a little light-headed, more like faint than puke. It all was so intense. Still had adrenaline from stalking and killing. I didn't need much time to get over it. I caught my breath and in less than a minute and went back to work.

I got as much out of the deer as I could, but I needed a saw to cut the ribcage and pelvis.

Think about that for a second if you aren't familiar with butchering. You need to cut a LOT of bone. You are sawing away on bone that is bleeding; meat and tendons and skin and hair are clogging up the saw teeth. This is intimate. You have ended this creature's life, and now begun the process of dismantling him. It's not pretty. Unless you have a macabre sense of what's pretty.

It was time to go get the truck. But first I needed to drag him out to the jeep road.

The jeep track I'd driven down for the morning hunt was about a quarter mile downhill from the kill site. It was slightly closer to the north, but flat or climbing to get there. Immediately it became obvious that just dragging this guy, even with 30+ pounds of his guts out of him was work. I had my rifle and binoculars flopping around on me as I yanked at his antler, steering him around rocks and brush. Downhill was hard enough so I didn't bother to take the closest path to the road. Thankfully the kill site wasn't truly rugged ground and it was so close to where I could get my truck. It was hard work, but probably less than 10 minutes. If it had been miles to move him I would have had to go get the saw and frame pack and cut him into multiple parts to carry. And that would have been happening in the dark.

I left him laying in the grass next to the road with my tag attached to an antler. I might have done the tagging later since I only had a little more daylight left, but if a game warden found him before I could get back it would be technically poaching without the tag attached. Ten minutes walking back to camp, start truck, probably ten minutes to creep down the jeep road to where my deer lay.

Loading this guy into my truck almost killed me. I couldn't lift him. Luckily I had a come-along with me, which is a winch tool. But even with that it was an awkward grunt. I had some lumber with me, but only 4 foot 2x4s. A 6+ foot long 2x8 would have helped but I had nothing like that. The 2x4s helped, but barely. It was awkward. With one other person, even if that person was a 12 year old, it would have been easy. By myself it was a bitch. But it had to be done and nobody was there to help.

When I got back to camp I noticed that it was 5:10. Wow. Only like 90 minutes since I'd left to go on the hunt. Seemed like it had been hours. But that just meant I wouldn't have to hang him, finish gutting, and skin him completely in the darkness. Found a tree to hang him from and for almost three hours I was working on dressing out his carcass. As I worked, he looked less and less like a deer and more like a carcass.

As I worked on this animal with knives and saws I was surprised by how well I adjusted to it. I've known people who hunted until the day they killed something and had to field dress it. Some people can't do it and I'm telling you, I get that. Field dress a deer and there's nothing abstract about the life that's been taken. It's as real as the blood and hair and shit all over your hands and clothes as you dismantle it.

Very hard work, and dangerous. I cut myself three or four times, luckily only minor. But you really have to be careful, because often you are in there pulling with your left hand and cutting with your right. After I cut my left thumb at around 7:30 I made myself stop and think. If I cut myself BAD it will be an hour of 4-wheeling just to get to town for stitches. If it was REALLY BAD I might have to use my SPOT beacon to call in Search and Rescue. Be careful dipshit!

I was struggling with the animal's rear end. The way the pelvis holds the poop chute plumbing is hard to deal with. I remember that there's a clean method for doing it which I tried from my memory but couldn't get to work. I'll need to find that youtube and review it before elk season starts. But I didn't have youtube and I was struggling.

The deer's bladder was hanging out of the gore, and it was pretty full. My tired and addled brain said, "Wish he'd peed before I shot him. I don't want that pee all over the carcass, maybe I should drain it before cutting it out so I can control where the pee goes." So I poked it with the tip of my skinning knife and it immediately flopped over to aim right at my chest. Argh! Really controlled where it went. 90% of it wound up all over me.

At least I didn't get much pee on the carcass! For just a second I was angry (might say pissed off), but then I just kind of chuckled at my goofiness and got on with it.

Skinning was the easy part. Glad I did it while he was still warm, it's harder once the animal has gotten cold. I skinned him down to where the skin was all hanging over his head inside out (he was hung by the rear legs) and then called it a night. I was super tired and there was beer to drink. And really, the next thing that needed to happen to the carcass for the sake of the meat was to chill down. It had been dark for a couple hours and was starting to cool down, but only the 50s. A nice night in the 20s would really make Sunday easier because I wouldn't have to hurry so much to find him a cooler. But 39 was the low, which was adequate. We've been having a fair (but windy) October. Even at 9500 feet where my camp was it just wasn't very cold for the time of year.

In the morning I cut away the now very leathery skin and then used a saw to cut off his head. Then I backed the truck over to where I could just swing him onto the tailgate rather than drop him to the ground and have to lift him. I laid a blue tarp in the truck and slid him in. The skin, head, complete guts had to be close to a 1/3 of his weight. So much easier to load. I could have dead-lifted him if needed. He was loaded up. I gathered meat scraps, organs, etc that had been scattered around, and took them and the skin a couple hundred yards from camp. Most of it other than the hide are probably gone already. Lots of smaller critters will benefit from the parts I did not take. If there's a next time I'll keep some of the organ meat.

I also filled a construction garbage bag with glass, cans, and various junk that previous campers had left around the camp site. I always feel good about using public land when I'm able to leave it better than it was.

I hooked up the trailer and got everything ready and by probably 7:15 I was on my way back down to town. As I was approaching the top of the first steep rubble filled section of jeep road I stopped to shift my transfer case into low range. It dawned on me that I should try to post to Facebook for help finding a cooler to store him until it was time to process. Fortunately my phone had data service, so I sat there in my idling truck in neutral typing a post to Facebook asking if anyone knew of a cooler in town where I could rent space. Sunday morning! I wasn't going to find many businesses answering phones. It would certainly get up into the 70s in town, no way I could wait until Monday. So I sent the post and then went to work getting my truck and trailer safely out.

Getting to town took time. I can get there or back in the truck without the trailer in under an hour, but it took close to 90 minutes to get down with the trailer. Lots of 1.5 mph engine braking and bumping and lurching.

Thanks to the closeness of the community, I found a cooler within a couple hours of getting home. Met the guy who had the cooler and dropped off the carcass. Then I went home and sawed a cap of his skull that had the antlers growning out. Then put the head without antlers into a plastic bag and into my freezer. The enormous ears (there's a reason they're called mule deer) had to be folded down to get the door to close.

Then it was time to clean knives and saws. Unload the trailer and sort out all the gear. Before I knew it 4 PM had arrived, I'd never eaten lunch (had an energy bar for breakfast), and I was shelled. I didn't do anything else the rest of the day.

Monday I took his head to the Division of Wildlife and dropped it off for CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) testing. CWD is related to BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy), aka Mad Cow Disease. This is most often found in Colorado deer populations east and north of us, but it's been found elsewhere. I will not eat any of the meat until I get a negative test result.

boiled down to meat
The end goal of the whole process, meat ready to cook and eat.

Tuesday afternoon I get 100 lbs of ice, picked up the carcass and packed it in ice in my truck bed then drove to Buena Vista were my friend Wes had offered to process/butcher the carcass for me for a reasonable fee. More importantly she'd let me watch and learn.

Wow, there's way more to processing than I had expected. Wes is a chef, and she focused on and prepared each piece of meat. Even the stew meat and grinding meat got focused trimming and examination. And of course she knows which cuts are better meat and which should be used for soup or sausage. While she was working she frequently commented about how nice the meat was. It was a healthy, well-fed animal, and I handled it well. I'm proud of that. I honored his life by focusing on the care of the meat and making sure I got a good harvest.

I can see the value of having the meat professionally processed now. I would have hacked it up and packed it away not knowing much about what to write on each package. But processing is not free, even if you have a friend who will do it for a reasonable fee.

So this meat was not cheap. I spent weeks scouting. I probably used up two tanks of gas getting up into the hills for scouting and hunting. And there was lots of 4-wheeling which is hard on tires and pretty much everything else on the truck. Cost me $20 to store for three days in a cooler. About $25 just for ice to transport him. I'll be handing Wes some cash, I won't say how much in case she wants to charge someone else who reads this a different amount. She deserves it for hours of effort. It was money well spent but still money. Burned a couple $30 boxes of ammo sighting in my rifle. Time, effort, whatever part of a $750 rifle and $100 worth of knives and saw I assign this animal (depreciation?).

You do this because you enjoy the process and because you prefer game meat to domestic meat. And in my case, I felt that it was an important experience to have as a meat-eater. Buying meat that someone else has killed and butchered is handy, but I needed to know I could handle doing it myself when needed.

So all I have to do is drive up there to collect my meat and pay Wes, then put it in my freezer. Once it's there and I get back the results of the CWD test, this chapter will be over. But then next week I'll be dragging my trailer up into a different game unit and getting ready to hunt elk starting 11-5-2016.

I'm humbled by the prospect of killing an elk. I don't think I'm going to hunt as far from the road as I have traditionally. I'd like to be inside of 90 minutes for haul trips. A strenuous 4 hour haul trip would make for days of retrieval. And if it isn't cold enough during the day, some of the meat waiting to be hauled out could spoil. I have some friends who've offered to come up and help me haul, and I may need to take them up on it. But I can't ask them to do 4+ hour round trips. And even with help there could be meat out there for too long.

I've learned much from this experience; about hunting and myself. I'm moving forward as a hunter, hopefully a little wiser. And now I'll have at least the 70-100 lbs of meat that came off this buck for the winter. As of now, I intend to buy no meat until all my venison is gone.That's the rest of the way I'm going to honor the life that I took.

Friday, April 29, 2016

West Elk Bicycle Classic 2015

I love Gunnison, I love Crested Butte, I love Paonia, and I love the Kebler Pass road. I have loved this part of Colorado since I first saw it way back in the mid-80s.

kebler pass road

When I first saw this country, I loved it for its rugged beauty and remote places. As the years have gone by, and as I've lived close by just over the Continental Divide in Salida, I've learned to also love Gunnison County for the people. They tend to be kind, generous, fun, and friendly. Many are amazingly talented elite athletes with the humility of a novice.

Over the years I've been able to meet many of the key characters in the Gunnison County cycling universe. I met Dave Wiens, first through an event I help to manage, the Vapor Trail 125. Dave raced and won the event in 2005, the first year it ran. Then he assumed the role of aid station captain at our critical Aid Station #2. I raced the Growler a couple times, saw what a quality, well-run event it was, and became a volunteer.

I met Jarral Ryter also through the Vapor Trail 125, first as a competitor and then as our Aid Station #2 captain during some years when Dave's boys were busy with high school athletics and he couldn't be there to run it.

Jarral and Dave started an event several years ago as a benefit for the Mountain Sports program at Western State Colorado University. It's a road event, and I'm mostly mountain biker. But the course! The road I had only seen once between the Blue Mesa Reservoir dam and Paonia! Kebler Pass! And the Gunnison County people! With Jarral and Dave involved, I knew it would be run like a swiss watch. (Turns out I was right!)

So enough gushing about Gunnison County! What about the ride?

I got to Crested Butte the night before and had beers at the Brick Oven Pizzeria and Pub. The next day started before dawn. I got dressed and had some coffee thanks to my friend Dan who had offered me his spare room. When I stuck my face outside for the first time, raindrops were spattering. Whaaat?

I gave a little uh-oh and started re-thinking my clothing. I had hoped to get away with wearing shorts, short-sleeved jersey, arm warmers and light rain jacket. Leg warmers too? Rain pants? I needed leave soon with everything I would need, and to be able to carry everything all day. I did not want to wear a pack. I decided to stick with Plan A. If the weather wound up too nasty, the day would probably end early for me anyway. And I probably wouldn't be the only one.

Loaded up in a van a little while later in a dark, wet parking lot. Weather was the topic of conversation for the first 10 minutes or so, then we drove out from under the dome of Crested Butte moisture and into the gray dawn, and the rain stopped. By the time we got the the Western State Colorado University campus to the starting line, the sky was blue and the air was crisp and cool.

starting line at WSCU

Boom! The gun went off and so did the peloton. We moved through town and west on highway 50 toward Blue Mesa. It was hold yer line and stay in the draft of the rider in front of you. The pace was brisk but comfortable even for an old fogie like myself. I just sat in the middle of the peloton and let it carry me along.

in the peloton
And then about 10 miles from the start, it seemed that the riders at the front decided it was go time. The whole train upshifted and the chit-chat went away. Slowly the peloton started to break up. I wound up hanging with groups of 6-10 until we arrived at the dam and it was time to turn right onto CO Highway 92.

The first aid station was on the north side of the dam. I stopped and filled bottles with Tailwind Nutrition calories. The station was stocked with all kinds of good food choices. But I was only interested in water to mix my Tailwind.

riders on CO92

The next section of the ride on CO 92 was one of my most anticipated parts of the day. And it did not disappoint. The views into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, undulating pavement, cool air, and the near absence of traffic other than skinny-tire two-wheelers made for a wonderful mid-morning.

Funny how you never really know how much climbing there is on a bit of road you've only driven.

out on highway 92

What a beautiful place for a bike ride!

view from CO92

view from CO92

view from CO92

Colorado Highway 92 rolls up and down along the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, then eventually drops into the clay hills and rabbitbrush of Crawford and eventually Hotchkiss, CO. Fast descents on smooth, empty roads; deeper into the beautiful western slope landscape.

And warmer. The cool of the morning up in the hills had burned off. Not hot really, but definitely not cold. I became conscious of how much elevation I was giving up. There will be payback for all this la-de-da descending!

Did I mention aid stations? They were common, stocked with great food and drink options, and manned by friendly, helpful people. You could probably do this event carrying nothing more than a single water bottle. Crawford and Paonia are sweet little towns. Rolling through on my bike made me want to come back some time to look around. But the clock was ticking, and there was a boatload of climbing to do before it was beer:30 back in CB! I kept turning over the cranks.

out on highway 92

After leaving Crawford and the wonderful aid station there, it was time to start the climbing. Very gradual at first, while we rolled on CO Highway 133 along the N. Fork of the Gunnison River. Shortly after passing through the old mining town of Somerset, we turned east off the highway onto a narrow paved road that soon became a narrow gravel road. We had reached the Kebler Pass road, and it was time to start really climbing. Between the low point on the course around 5,200 feet and 10,007 foot Kebler Pass there was nearly a mile of climbing to do.

The climbing was tough, but every pedal stroke took me up a little higher into cooler air with more shade. My fatigue was significant, but the scenery was so amazing! I had driven the Kebler Pass road before, but never pedaled it. I'm here to tell you, pedaling it is the way to go. So much to see, such a beautiful cruise through the West Elk range.

Arriving at the pass was wonderful. Lots of cheers, photos being snapped, and the promise of a long smooth downhill into Crested Butte where beers and food were waiting. When I rolled in to the finish a band was playing and a crowd of bike people were strolling around in the green grass. It was a wonderful finish to a great day on the bike. I got to catch up with lots of old friends, ate some amazing food, drank perfectly cold beer and heard some great music.

Perfect day, can't wait to line up this year!

view from CO92

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Two Years with my Sweet Little Dog

On the evening of March 20, 2014 I stopped at Kenosha Pass to let the dog I was adopting have a chance to relieve herself. We had left the Foothills Shelter in Golden around 6 PM, Vicki had been on the floor of the passenger seat in my truck. She didn't seem particularly frightened, more like apathetic. She didn't look at me unless I spoke to her. She let me touch her, but didn't seem to either dislike or enjoy it.

Vicki on Kenosha on the way home

I was worried that I may have made a poor decision. I hadn't been looking for another dog with baggage. This time I was going to get a fun-loving, unafraid, non-aggressive, easy buddy dog. I wanted a herding dog. I was thinking of maybe a heeler that had been born on a ranch but just hadn't turned out to be a great herder. I was checking ranch-country pet shelters and breed-specific rescue organizations. But also there are pet-finder sites, and Mara (Vicki's slave name) popped up often.

Turns out, the people at the Foothills Shelter were working hard to find homes for their animals. Vicki's sad little face was on all the relevant pet-finder sites. Foothills stood out as an organization that was really doing a good job. My questions were answered quickly and completely.

So it all seemed right, except that this dog I'd gone to meet was too scared of me to let me touch her unless I had a biscuit in my hand. These good people gave me a chance to back out on adopting her, and they promised that I could bring her back if it didn't work out. I looked at this scared little dog and decided she deserved a chance. Might not be the easiest for me, but she at least should have the chance to be in my home for a while and see if she can feel like it's her home.

Vicki on Kenosha on the way home

Here's my little girl on her first morning in my house. The rawhide bone and toy she refused to acknowledge are on the floor. She watched me warily for the first several days. When I gave her a treat I could touch her briefly before she slipped away to eat it. If she had been adopted by a woman it might have been an easier transition. I know now that men are often seen as threatening to her but women rarely.

Slowly she started to loosen up a little around me. She would let me touch her head. After a few more days of feeding her I could reach down and scratch her chest. But always this touching happened when all four of her feet were on the ground. Sometimes she would suddenly bolt away.

One day after a couple weeks, we were in my back yard after having gone for a short hike. I was sitting on the ground talking to her and petting her head. Retaining eye contact the entire time, she slowly laid over and rolled onto her back, for the first time inviting me to scratch her chest and belly. We had a good long belly rub.

At some point around the same time, I realized that she actually does have a tail. Her tail was docked, so she has only a short stubby one. One day I said something to her and there it was, a stubby little tail popped up and wagged around. She had been keeping it tucked down the whole time she'd been with me.

Rainbow Trail

There were always setbacks. The fear in her will always be there. Even as there were more belly rubs and tail-wiggling, every once in a while something will spook her and for a time her eyes will go wild with fear. I learned to keep an eye on her body language, and to help her react more confidently to things that come up. I learned that she cannot tolerate being held and kept from moving. I learned the hard way not to grasp her collar and hold on.

She was completely indifferent to toys and play, like tug-of-war or fetching a ball. I would give her a plush toy and she would just look at it and then at me. But at some point, probably more than 6 months after she came to me, she started being interested in toys. At first she just carried them around, now she excitedly tears into them as soon as I give her one. Fetch isn't a big thing for her, but sometimes she'll play along. She loves tug-of-war now, with lots of fake growling and being swung around off the ground.

West Maroon Pass Trail

About a year ago she made a leap. She became a whole level more confident and able to relate to people other than me. Much of that is a credit to friends of mine and hers who worked really hard to earn her trust. My friend Nate crouched down and spoke to her and let her sniff his hand for almost a year on a nearly daily basis. And one day, she stepped two steps closer and let him put a hand on her head. After that, Nate was OK. After Nate was OK, more of the people she sees often could be trusted to be close enough to pet her.

Fresh snow Salida

She and I have bonded very tightly. She is very important to me, a member of my family. I love her deeply. People who know us know how devoted we are to each other. She looks to me for protection. She wants to go where I'm going without being called or leashed. She sleeps with me, and every night spends about a minute carefully licking my face before we both settle in to sleep. I love to see her tiny little tail pop up and wiggle, see her excitement over toys and playing.

She's really easy, other than the occasional piece of clothing or personal object that she chews. She was a little over a year old when I picked her up from the shelter. She had been pregnant, her teats and mammory glands were still enlarged. For a herding dog of her age, she is amazingly calm and attentive. She's an old soul. I never need to raise my voice. She never runs off unless I fail to control something that scares her.

I can't imagine life without my little dog. These two years have only been the beginning of a long, close friendship.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tailwind Nutrition

For 2016 I have been selected to be a Tailwind Trailblazer! I'm honored to be an ambassador for this product that has done so much to enable my success. What is it?

Very simply it is Endurance Fuel.
How did I come to be a Tailwind zealot?

Nutrition and Hydration is one of the key areas that an endurance athlete needs to master in order to be successful. As a cyclist, I've been pushing my limits for nearly 15 years now. When I entered my first Leadville 100 in 2005, I had been riding big all-day rides but I was still a total novice. I was experimenting and learning with training, recovery, race day tactics, and nutrition/hydration.

Nutrition was a problem for me. Friends would often use plain food like peanut butter and jelly or burritos successfully, but for me that kind of food would sit in my stomach and do more harm than good. I tried some popular sport nutrition products with a certain amount of success. But almost without exception, the philosophy behind those products included the strong assertion that you need to have a source of protein in addition to carbohydrates and electrolytes.

I believed this, and there was science to back it up. But all the sources of protein I tried made me feel lousy. Soy protein was terrible for me, and through my experiments using it during big 8+ hour efforts I learned that my body hates soya in general. So then I tried powdered rice protein. Fail. Eggs cooked and rolled in a tortilla or a mini croissant. Better, but still something I would eat that would set me back until I could finish digesting it.

In the summer of 2012 I was riding in the Durango Dirty Century. It happened that Tailwind was being offered at the aid stations. I filled a bottle and went on my way. The DDC is a huge effort (one that proved to be beyond me that year), and my body was stressed. That bottle of Tailwind tasted great, and while I was drinking it I felt good. When it was gone and I went back to whatever it was I was using then, I missed it. I filed that information away.

Later in 2012 I signed up for a Solo spot at the 2013 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. As I started to ramp up my training in early winter I decided to try a new nutrition/hydration strategy based on a product I had sampled at Durango Dirty Century. I went to the website and read about the product. A little way down the page I came to a section about protein. Here's how it started:

"We researched it. We tested it. We asked experts about it, so you don’t have to. Protein during exercise doesn’t improve endurance, but it does correlate with GI distress."

Holy cow! There it is! Permission to skip the protein, with science to back it up! My experience completely confirmed what I was reading. My most successful endurance achievements to date had happened on days when I (guiltily) skipped the protein. Now I could see that protein had been costing my body during big efforts. My gut tried to break it down into something useful, but the chemistry isn't there. It doesn't get broken down into anything useful, and it takes energy and water for your body to try.

Tailwind Nutrition was offering a deal where if you bought a fairly large lot of product and then named an event that you had signed up for, Tailwind would refund your money if the product let you down. It was a  pretty big buy, but I felt like the refund deal would help me out if it didn't work. And the philosophy behind the product spoke to me. So I took the risk and ordered a bunch of it.

Old Pueblo went really well for me, and I used Tailwind exclusively. Well, full disclosure: I had a Trader Joe's carrot cake cookie at midnight. But it sat in my stomach for the next lap!

That was it, I was officially a Tailwind athlete. I went on in 2013 to have probably my strongest season ever as a 49-year-old. Now, 4 years later Tailwind is a core part of my training and racing. My body loves it. Back in the bad old days I had to carry so many different things to support my nutrition. Among other things, I always had a little film can of sea salt crystals, because no electrolyte source I ever found before Tailwind was enough, especially on a hot day.

So now I'm a Trailblazer. You'll hear me going on about Tailwind on this blog and on social media. Have questions, or would like a sample? Let me know.

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Years Day should be December 22

But whatever. We have to pick some day to mark the end of one year and the beginning of another. Since we rock the Gregorian calendar, it makes a certain amount of practical sense to end the year at the end of the 12th month.

Vicki on New Years Eve 2015

To me it makes more sense to start when the sun's light, like a seed, begins to grow. The end and simultaneously the beginning of the year is immediately at the solstice.

It's natural at this time to remember the past and consider the future. But it's also a time when, at least for those of us who live more than 37.0000° N, the reduced photo period and chillier temperatures can have an effect on one's state of being. I think a focus on looking forward might be more effective around the vernal equinox. Let's all spend winter drinking whiskey and fat biking.

But what evs, for now I'm feeling like doing a little 2015 Greatest Hits. Monthwise. Lotsa pikturs.


I got a Kona Wo fatbike at the end of 2014. In January 2015, at least according to what kind of pictures I was taking, my life was about going snow-biking with my dog. She likes it, I like it. Everybody wins.

up poncha road
Up the Poncha Creek Road

up marshall road
A sunny day up the Marshall Pass Road near O'Haver


My parents have been living in the Coachella Valley of California in the cold months for 20 years. In that time I've taken part with my Dad in an event called the Tour de Palm Springs probably 15 or more times. We did it the first year they put it on, and it became something of a tradition that I would visit in February and we would do the ride. Dad introduced me to distance riding back in the 70s when I was just a little kid--we did century rides. My first was in 1974 when I was 10.

This year my folks have changed their living arrangements and no longer live in the Coachella Valley. I probably will never ride that event again.

Tour de Palm start
The start, ~7 AM Valentine's Day 2015

Snow Bikeen
And then some late February snow-biking back home!


2015 was a rebuilding year for me. 2014 was frankly a shit show. A motorcycle accident in May cost me dearly in terms of health. And confidence. And it had to be the same year I turned 50. It felt like I'd gone through a gate; youth on one side, middle age on the other. And the AARP sent me an invitation to join!

In March of 2015 I got a glimmer of excitement about getting my body strong again. The snow-biking had helped me stay a little fitter than a typical winter. I was fat, sure. But at least I could get my heart beating fast without wanting to vomit. So I started making plans and goals, and I started working a little harder.

Poncha Pass
Not so many pictures from March. This is what it was about.


In April I kept after it. A typical weekend day would see me walking or riding with Vicki for an hour or two then riding by myself for 4+. Not a lot of pictures! Growing my endurance base, and enjoying the feeling that you get from building a broken body back into a capable body.



As the leaves started popping and the snow started to recede up the mountainsides, I was clawing my way up. Up toward the Divide. I was aching to ride all the way from my house to the Continental Divide. If I heard a rumor that a trail was dry or close to it, I would get up there and see for myself. Every glimpse of a place I never visited in 2014 was a treat. I was insatiable.

Rainbow MethodistRainbow Trail, Methodist. May 2nd. Barely clear. But clear enough.

tree down
Cleared a lot of trees this Spring. I was into it! So nice to be part of the world of trails again!


The Salida Big Friggin' Loop is a race/ride I've been putting on for several years. Due to a comedy of errors, I had never finished it. That was one of the things in March that I decided. Gol-dammer, gonna ride that gol-dang SBFL. I did that. I finished that. Then I got to the Divide. June was a winner month for me. Almost everything I did outside in June was joyful.

on the Divide
On the Continental Divide again at last. About to descend back down to Salida.

Silver Creek Trail
Silver Creek Trail with happy dandelions.


Summer was rich and green. Colors were saturated. A wet spring and early summer. Hard on the bike parts but easy on the eyes. As soon as the high country would allow it, my bike and I got up there. 

rainbow wet
Rainbow after rain squall.

rainbow lush
Silver Creek Trail with spring color

canyon creek
Canyon Creek, way up high. July 12 and still snow drifts.

Then at the very end of July, Thursday the 30th. I made an ITT attempt on the VT125 course. I failed, miserably. With a huge smile on my face. It was awesome. The best experience of my year. The best. Thank you universe.


The overnight adventure I undertook at the end of July released me. Since March I had been exploring and visiting places, but with big miles. I would often hire somebody to look after Vicki on a weekend day so I could ride 8+ hours. Once I had proven to myself that I was back, that my body could do whatever I asked if I worked hard, I was satisfied. I felt free to plan my weekends around fun. No longer compelled to have so much time in the saddle for the sake of fitness.

The first weekend in August, I took my dog to hike the West Maroon trail to Frigid Air Pass. So beautiful, and especially so as part of a wet summer.

columbine at dawn
Columbine with morning dew

west maroon trail
Vicki on the West Maroon trail

on frigid air pass
Vicki and I on Frigid Air Pass

I visited my parents in Michigan. It was nice. I so rarely see my home state, and it's always nice to spend a long weekend with my wonderful parents.



I rode in the West Elk Classic in September.

west elk roll out
Chilly morning, fast rollout. I am at the far right in my gray rain jacket.

west elk
Such a beautiful day, what a great event!

September has come to be a busy month for me. I help with the Vapor Trail 125, and this year again helped with the Salida Bike Fest. Then it was time to start scouting for elk! We had an amazingly long, mild, warm autumn. I wasn't too busy to enjoy it myself from time to time.

silver creek color
Same meadow on Silver Creek as one of the previous pictures, from when it was green.

more silver creek color
Glorious color


I rode a lap of the 12 Hours of Penitence, then crashed and remembered why I don't do lap races any more.

Snacks and a beer, after I am promoted to spectator!

Elk hunting was a bust. It was in the 70s at 9000 feet during my whole season. Vicki and I did a lot of homework, but the weather that made the autumn so enjoyable for biking and hiking made it a difficult elk season. Guess that was good news for the elk!

Certainly was a lovely, golden October.

sangre wilderness
Up in the Sangre de Christo Wilderness looking for elk poo


Mother nature continued to encourage the dog and I to explore outside. We hiked way up Dead Horse Gulch one day.

dead horse

Trail riding was stellar the whole month of November

n backbone
North Backbone

Cottonwood got some new linkages this year. What an excellent ride it has become!

For the Thanksgiving holiday, Vicki and I traveled east and north to visit my sister and her family in Wisconsin. Moist and mild.

Badger Trail
A moist rail-trail in southern Wisconsin


The final month of this year turned wintry right away. Vicki rejoiced, the fatbike came out of the shadows in the back of the garage. Boo-yah! I've had trouble with winter in years past. Mainly the trouble has been me hating it. But Vicki has really helped. Seeing her enjoy it has made me more enthusiastic about getting her out there. And when I wasn't watching, it seems that I started enjoying it too!

fsck summer

tracked up

It's been a good year. Not that there haven't been some problems and bummers. There have. But it's balanced. Keep looking for the good and sometimes you'll find the good.

Here's to everybody finding the good in this next trip around the sun!