Thursday, July 18, 2024

Vapor Trail 125 Course rider's breakdown

This post is simply a way to communicate to riders who need beta about time to complete the Vapor Trail 125. This document breaks down the ride from Aid Station to Aid Station, giving a rider some idea what the day will be like.

How I arrived at this description: I sliced up the GPX file I recorded when I rode the course on my own early in August of 2013 and analyzed it with my gps software. I am not fast, my sustainable pace is generally barely fast enough to make the event cut-offs. When I did this I was going with no support, so that cost me some time. I was on a pace that would have gotten me through cut-offs, but not by much. So this is kind of the analysis of a slowest possible finisher pace.

Start to Aid Station One. 26.5 miles. Between 4000 and 5000 feet of climbing. Took me a little over 4 1/2 hours moving time. Some pavement climbing, then a dirt road climb that is quite mild, but with an increasing grade. Nearly 3000 feet of climbing. Better be there in two hours or less or you're already looking marginal to finish. Then it's Colorado Trail, a very rugged and technical bit of it.

Aid One to Aid Two. 33.5 miles. Between 5000 and 6000 feet of climbing. Took me a little under 7 hours. This is a big section. Through the night, coldest temps, most remote part of the course. This is the first and most important real test of the event. Leave Aid Station #1 ready for a long, cold, dark ride that you'll remember forever.

Aid Two to Aid Three. About 2,500 feet of climbing 14 miles. Took me 2:15. Aid #3 is where you'll have access to your drop bag. This is the Good Morning section. The main feature is the climb to Old Monarch Pass. It'll be getting warm, so you'll have that to get used to. It's a fairly mild climb, but a long one. It's about 2500 feet of gain. Just a little on the tedious side. Wakey wakey!

Aid Three to Aid Four. 10 1/2 miles. About 1000 feet of climbing. Took me an hour and 40 minutes. Monarch Crest Trail. This is a piece of candy that always seems to go by easily even when exhausted.

Aid Four looping back to Aid Four. 11 1/2 miles. 2,500 feet of Climbing. Took me 2 1/2 hours. It's a little inner loop, so you visit Aid Four on Marshall Pass twice. This loop is what cracks many of the riders who don't finish. Be prepared for a honkin' big effort from a tired body. This little test is probably the most often-discussed part of the course at the after party.

Aid Four to mini-Aid Station at the Rainbow TH. 7 3/4 miles. About 800 feet of climbing and then a long descent. Took me about an hour 15 minutes. This is mostly candy. The climbing isn't bad, and it's broken up with lots of nice descending.

Last mini-Aid Station to Finish. Rainbow Trail then pavement down the highway to Poncha Springs and on a County Road back to town. Around 20 miles, a little over 1,000 feet of climbing. Took me a little over 2 hours.


So it's 5 aid stations, 6 aid station visits.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Blue Skies and Tailwinds


All is well. Changes have been falling steadily this fall. New season, inbound and outbound farm animals, and overall smooth sailing have been the flavor of the season for me and my crew.

Sometime earlier this calendar year my vision for my place and my animals gelled. Goat dairy based on Alpine Goats. No more moo cows. No more meat goats. Careful management of male goat offspring. Better physical resources for goats. Early on I was planning to build a new building, then realized I had a building already but it was being wasted storing junk. 

In October changes in population happened. In the middle of October I drove to Silt, CO to buy two registered Alpine nannies. Same age as Marilyn the Alpine I have from the stock sale in Fowler. I bottle fed Marilyn so she is sweet and easy to manage. The two new girls, Polly and Greta are possibly even sweeter. Tina who I bought them from runs a very mellow dairy operation.

I had three Boar nannies, but took them to Fowler October 28 and sold them back to where I bought them. I made a little money, probably almost enough to pay the gas for two round trips to Fowler. But they were wild. Wild goats are a pain in my ass. They are impossible to manage. And Boars are meat goats. You can milk them, but they were not part of my vision. And now I have two bottle fed babies and these new Alpines who are perfectly behaved.

Finally, the day for freezer camp for my steers arrived. I borrowed my neighbor's ancient trailer, made of lead and iron, and loaded up the boys. Chuck went right in after the morning grain I put in there for the purpose of chowing down like every other morning. Brisket the Angus wasn't freaked out, but was hesitant to step in. I texted Andrea and she came over. Three minutes later he was on the trailer.

My Tacoma hauled it surprisingly well. It's rated for around 5500 lbs towing capacity, but we had to be well over halfway there. The cows were at least close to a ton. The trailer was at least a ton. On CR 1A there is one grade that's pretty serious. It's less than a mile long, but it was a slow pull for me. But it's all done, the truck didn't explode, the drive was made, the trailer was returned and the boys were dropped off.

It was a little emotional. It was nothing like losing a dog or cat, but bittersweet. That they were so trusting was helpful but also made me feel like I was disloyal. I didn't want to have to drive them nearly an hour on account of their stress, but surprisingly it didn't seem to bother them. I pulled the trailer into the drop off at the processor and coaxed them out. They didn't seem frightened. Maybe a little relieved to be off the trailer, but not freaking out or anything. Which was good.

I went home and constantly checked for them in the pasture for a couple days. I have 5 of my neighbor's steers here and they were all together before Chuck and Brisket left. For a couple days I'd see one walk up to the water tank and check to see if he was one of mine, then remember. 

Last week I put together a spreadsheet of people who want to buy the meat and posted a notice to Facebook. Nikki who manages the Ark-Valley Humane Society for which I sit on the Board of Directors reached out, interested in a quarter since her husband's hunt had come up empty. I had been thinking of giving close friends a brother-in-law deal, but then I considered the staff at the shelter. They are like my children. I offered them a crazy-low price. So Nikki is taking one and there's another one and a half going to staff. That makes me feel great.

I'm keeping a quarter, one of Chuck's. He was a dairy calf, and it was visually obvious that he was an inferior beef cow compared to Brisket the Angus. His other quarters are going to the shelter staff. The Angus is going to friends and acquaintances. I intend to drive up to Westcliffe when they are ready and then go deliver quarters. Hopefully only 1 quarter will ever see my freezer.

It's all a relief. Pieces of the vision are falling into place. I now have a small herd of very manageable goats. This winter I won't have to witness my boys' suffering in the cold and enduring long dark nights. I won't have to constantly worry about their water freezing, and/or that I adequately drained the hoses. I can finish my barn insulating early this week if I get off my ass and do it. Then on nice days I'll work on sealing the outside of my house so the wind doesn't go right through it.

My firewood kicks ass. I've had 8 or 10 fires so far, and it's a remarkable difference compared to the Cottonwood I burned exclusively last year. It lasts. I can get it going and load the firebox with fuel and it doesn't need to be fussed with for over an hour. Almost no ash. Pleasant aroma.

It's all good. At least for now, it's all good.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

My Dad

My dad died this morning.

Dr. George Purvis was born March 30, 1933 at home in an uninsulated farmhouse in rural Bent County Colorado. This part of Colorado along with parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico were part of the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression.

He lost his father, Francis a week before his 9th birthday. He and his younger brother Dave were raised by their mother Delma and relatives.

He went to Colorado A&M in Fall of 1950 to play football and avoid the army. The Korean War was raging and sending home dead or badly damaged soldiers. He actually wanted to join the army when he graduated from high school but was only 17 and his mother wouldn't sign the papers.

After he graduated from college with a degree in Agriculture he was drafted and went to the army. He complained about it, but also described a life with two buddies both called Ray that was pretty awesome.

He met my mother and they were married within 3 months, in September of '59. They had two girls while he went to grad school at what had become CSU. He left with a Masters Degree in Food Science. And two daughters, Amy (1960) and Beth (1962).

He entered a PhD program at Ohio State but became disillusioned with the position and found a job at Gerber Products Company in Fremont, Michigan. While working there in 1964 I came along. My sister Meg came in 1966 and they called it a wrap.

Gerber wound up sending him to Michigan State University where he got a PhD in Infant Nutrition. His career was stellar. He eventually became a Corporate Vice President and the Director of Research.

He left Gerber to form a consultancy (just him) and he worked for a couple foreign governments and the US Agency for International Development.

During his life he traveled the world. He had a marriage that lasted until my mother died in November of 2021. He never lost his facilities and he never had to go to a nursing home. His life was a success by all measures.

Rest In Peace Dad

Friday, September 15, 2023

A Red Fork


Aight, shit's getting real with this little scooter. Getting parts is a bit of a bitch with these guys. I was trying to find heavier coil springs for the crappy stock rear shock and was striking out, so I decided to take the gold-plated option and order one of the killer EXT rear shocks endorsed highly by fullfacekenny of the Just Riding Along show, a podcast published by friends of mine. The good people at EXT put on the weight of coil you want and tune it based on your weight and riding intentions.

Was the shock cheap? No it was not. But it arrived promptly after I ordered it and I'm sure it's going to be badass.

My rear wheel shipped from eastern Canada. A very simple headset part was almost impossible to find. So that basically ate the end of most of August and first two weeks of July. Now I'm pretty much complete other than stuff I can get locally.

I have to dish the rear wheel and spent an extra hour while in Canon City yesterday to acquire a motorcycle spoke wrench. With that enticingly knobby rear tire dragging on the chain, until that's done it's un-rideable.

But damn, I'm excited. My buddy Matt (also on the JRA podcast) came over last night to set the headset and install the fork. I've had this thing for 6 or 7 weeks, and now it's close to being ready for the purpose it was purchased for. Which is getting my lazy body way up into the aspens on singletrack.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Toy Update

 Here it is, a full 30 days since I announced my toy. Well it came! And I put it together! It wasn't too exciting at first. Not too powerful, not too fast. Then after googling all over the interwebs I found a video that showed a combination of button presses. Hurray! I did that all day right after it was built. There was also a vid that showed cutting a wire up inside the beast. Huh?

Couldn't be right. But then a support question I'd sent to the outfit I bought if from was answered. "You need to cut the wire" it said. Huh, go figger.

Cutting the wire changed the whole world. This thing rips. 

Bad news is that it needs a ton of upgrades. I've gotten started, but it moves slowly because it's hard to find what you need. So far it's stock except for pedals being lowered using a kit that was surprisingly not cheap. I have a 21" front wheel like a real moto. Also a tire and tube, which I mounted using my remedial skills. And I pinched the tube. So I ordered a Baja No Pinch Tire Tool (look it up). Should be here this week. My very good friend Matt got me hooked up with a bro deal on a prior model year brand new Rock Shox Boxxer DH fork. Boom!

As it is stock it's tiny. One of the reasons I didn't post a follow-up after it got here was that I made the dreadful mistake of trying to do some challenging stuff. As soon as the wire was cut I was rarin' to go. Long story short, I crashed. Three times. Creek crossing 1, whisky throttle and down in the creek. Rocky barrier, whisky throttle and down. Creek crossing 2, you can guess.

The stock position is cramped. Like an old school YZ80. And I hadn't gotten familiar with the throttle, which is on the touchy side. And it's light and powerful. It weighs half what my Yamaha WR250R weighs. And it has basically a mountain bike wheelbase.

So it's going to be big fun but it's going to take a minute. By this weekend I will hopefully have the new fork and front wheel. Once I have that I'll get a new handlebar. It's just a mountain bike handlebar so I can just go pick one at Absolute Bikes where I still have store credit.

What do I still need? A bigger rear shock coil spring. A better rear tire, probably on an 18" rim (stock was 19 front, 19 rear). Maybe better pegs. The stock ones are pretty blunt. But with the 21 up front I may be ready to throw it at some trail.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

New Toy on the Way

My life since I moved to the country and got livestock has been pretty boring. Enriching for me, but boring for others. This blog for example; the more of my current state of being and activities I share, the fewer readers. My readers liked reading about how I got caught in a hailstorm at 12,000 feet while on a hopelessly ambitious mountain bike adventure. Firewood, not so much.

By the way, my firewood is a completed project. Yesterday I split the last bit and tarped the enormous pile. Which is neat, but don't go away! That's not what this is about.

I have been mumbling about doing this for a while and now I've done it. I just ordered a Talaria Sting R MX4. I already have a motorcycle. It's a Yamaha WR250R which looks like a dirt bike, but is really more of an ADV or adventure bike. It's awesome for exploring the vast network of dirt roads in Colorado. But it's heavy and underpowered. And it doesn't have sophisticated suspension like a YZ250 does. I like it, and I'm keeping it, but it's not a singletrack bike. This new sled is going to be a game changer. 

Battery driven electric. It only weighs 145 lbs. My Yamaha is 300. It's lighter than a Yamaha YZ125 2 stroke which weighs 210, and that's about as light as it gets for a gas powered dirt bike. But what's really compelling to me as a rider is that there are no gear selections, no clutch, no constantly monitoring your RPM for power band and appropriate gear selections. Just apply throttle for go, apply brakes for slow.

Stoke is high. I can get on the Rainbow Trail 3 miles up a county road from my house. Can't wait.

Maybe having and riding it will make my blog readable again.

Monday, July 17, 2023

A Day in the Woods

 I got another load of wood! It was awesome. In ways.

This place I'm gathering is not Forest Service, it's in a subdivision called Trail West above Buena Vista (which I pronounce "Bee Vee"). The woodcutters have been cutting it to stove length and stacking it. Many of the stumps have been cut down to be able to drive over. But not all of them.

I got a solid load on the trailer and was ready to exit the premises. I made a bit of a mistake in route planning. A stump, not huge and not really high, presented itself as a problem. I failed to give the stump his due. First he destroyed my trailer jack. I mean, fixable. But not optimal. Then he caused my trailer's axle to stop. Hard stop. I did a little 4-wheel low struggle for control, but it was a fail. The stump was winning.

So then I decided to wage war on the stump. I produced the only saw I brought (!?), my cordless Milwaukee 16". I had to work on it with the trailer in the way. The stump proved to be an incredibly dense piece of wood. Like a chunk of granite. Sweating and swearing I worked that fucker, then thanks to awkward angles the chain jumped off. I went to get the integrated tool that's used to disassemble the saw and saw that at some point in the past I failed to put it back where it goes. OK. Game over on making the stump pay for its insolence. 

Out came my truck's emergency jack. I jacked up the trailer as far as the jack would go and put a vertical chunk of firewood in place to hold it up. I put a rail of tree wood under the tire on that side. Then I put the jack on the floor of the truck and yanked that fucker out of there.

Trailer seems fine other than the jack. Like I said, fixable.

Drove the hour home and parked the rig. As I walked past the truck on the drivers side I saw a stick in the front tire. I pulled it out. Air started to leak out.  

Sad panda.

But what I nice load of wood!

As a wise man once said, "Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes, the bar eats you."

Saturday, July 15, 2023



After a wet May and a mild June, July brought the heat. Not news to any of us really, because it's been on the news. 

So far it's stayed at or below the low 90's here at Casa Cabras Pequeñas, but that's hot as fuck at this elevation if the sun is shining and you are not in shade. The Weather Service is forecasting 99 for Monday. 95 for Tuesday.

The sun seems so damn powerful right now. It has been increasingly hot from my own perspective, and of course I could be wrong and it's just like it's always been. 

I saw Sheree, my dermatologist recently and she asked me if I wear sunscreen, and I immediately blurted out the truth, "I hate sunscreen." She didn't scold me, but told me to get and wear sun-protective clothing. She said J2, our local tech clothing company was selling some nice ones. I got a hoody and started wearing it when in the sun. I have been working, splitting firewood, fixing fences, etc and I try to start early. But I sweat buckets, especially wearing the sunproof hoodie. I just went the other day and bought another one. As little as I enjoy wearing it I do wear it and having only one means it's always going to be sweaty and nasty.

The dogs sleep through the middle of these hot days. The moo cows refuse to come out from under a bush that overhangs the ditch. They stand or lay in the ditch in the shade all damn day. My goats amaze me. In the middle of the day they lay in the open sun even though shade is available. Nutty. 

So far this post has been me bitching about the heat. But no, it's going to continue with me bitching about how completely in denial the human race is about climate change. I mean people, New York and Vermont major unprecedented flooding. Mississippi flooding. Canadian wildfires flaring. Fatal heat across the southern part of 'Merica, certainly Mexico though that doesn't make news, and now I hear Europe. Massive losses of Antarctic ice. 

People. It all has to fucking change. Until we can figure out how to make travel carbon neutral, we ALL need to do A LOT less of it. Next winter we need to take Jimmy Carter's advice and put on a fucking sweater. I think we're reaching a tipping point, which is an event or series of events that cause a trend that was moving gradually to begin moving rapidly. 

This is on my mind. Sorry if it's tedious. If you got all the way here, thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Problems for young people to solve. A geezer's perspective.

There are some big doozy problems in the world nowadays. Global Warming is the likely winner among existential disasters coming down the pike to kill and destroy.

I know, some readers will with every justification put up an immediate thumbs down about me delving into politics and bummer shit. K. Sorry.

I wanted to point out some things that the younger generations are going to need to deal with, particularly here in 'Merica. I'm not going to do the obvious and bellyache about climate change and how much nicer it was back when I was a whippersnapper. I choose to bring up some things that should be obvious but obviously are not.

The United States Senate

A great deal of power resides in the Senate. The Supreme Court nightmare we have right now is a direct result of Senate power being used by ideologues who are not representative of the United States' population.

The Senate is un-democratic. Every state gets two representatives. California gets 2 and Wyoming gets 2. I lived in Wyoming for four years and married a native (oops). I promise you, it is a FAR simpler place than California with far simpler problems and culture.

The framers of the Constitution could have never imagined that we'd have a Wyoming and a California. Or a New York and a North Dakota. In their world, it made sense for each sovereign state to have a strong voice in that body. But damn. So many low-population, low-tech, less educated states have an equal say. Which is, for example, why we can't do anything about guns.

One of two things needs to happen: the structure of that body needs to change to be more representative or the big states need to break themselves up.

Driving and flying

First-world people and Americans in particular feel very entitled to travel around as much as they can afford to, as if there were no side effect. We drive stupidly big vehicles, we're willing to drive them really far even for just a weekend, and when we go to work we go by ourselves in those big honkin' F350s. 

Air travel is out of control. It's a HUGE consumer of fossil fuels. If you fly in an airplane especially for pleasure more than once every couple years you are having a big impact on the planet, even though nobody really talks about that.

The freedom to own your own vehicle has been part of first world culture for over 100 years. Generations of us have loved our freedom buggies. I have owned 11 of them, Eleven! I have lots of good memories from tooling around the American West in my various rigs.

The material, water, and carbon cost of manufacturing internal combustion or electric vehicles is a significant portion of their total lifespan cost. If you buy one new off the lot, depending on how efficient it is the carbon cost for it's full lifetime will already be 30-60% incurred. If it's gas or diesel and you put gas and oil in it and burn that up, and tires, etc. for 10 or 20 years and 80-200 thousand miles, the consumptive output of greenhouse gases will be on the same order of magnitude as what it took to build the damn thing.

Now we've glommed on to the idea that the electric vehicle is our savior. We'll be able drive anywhere, for any trivial reason whenever we want. Like always. So we all need to sell our dinosaur-juice rigs and get shiny new EVs. We'll scorch earth to provide a new EV for every first world driveway on the whole planet. And all the internal combustion ones will still be on the road until utterly worn out, blowing blue smoke.

Time to change this paradigm homo sapiens.

As I say, this is for the new generations to solve. All of it. Fixing the Senate could help us do things like clean up the Supreme Court, who went on their own scorched earth tirade this week. Solving the travel-on-a-whim problem would change the way the whole world works in a way that I think would slow us down and make us more thoughtful. And cleaner. We would focus on being here rather than on going there.

If we don't do anything radical to turn around our carbon problem, blue death may come from the sky to find us all and end the problem. Floods have already shocked much of the world. And fires. I've seen it change in my 50+ years observing. It's changed. But especially in the last 10 years. It's changing faster now.

Happy Independence Day!

Thursday, June 29, 2023

A little VT125 beta


Vapor Trail 125 Ride Breakdown

A little break from what the New & Improved Teamvelveeta blog. Just gonna publish this. I wrote it back when I was still a bike rider and a manager within the vast Vapor Trail 125 organization. So, just because I'm publishing this now doesn't mean I'm not still a fat slob who doesn't ride peddly bikes any more. 

As of the writing of this, for the sake of reference:
Aid 1 was near where the Colorado Trail hits a dirt road, above Chalk Creek.
Aid 2 was Snowblind.
Aid 3 was Monarch Pass.
Aid 4 was Marshall Pass.
Mini Aid 5 at the western terminus of the Rainbow Trail.


The course of the Vapor Trail 125 is pretty well described on the official website (, but what's it like to ride it during the event? How far between Aid Stations? Where are the biggest challenges?

This document breaks down the ride from Aid Station to Aid Station, giving a rider some idea what the day will be like.

How I arrived at this description: I sliced up the GPX file I recorded when I rode the course on my own early in August of 2013 and analyzed it with my gps software. I am not fast, my sustainable pace is generally barely fast enough to make the event cut-offs. When I did this I was going with no support, so that cost me some time. I was on a pace that would have gotten me through cut-offs, but not by much. So this is kind of the analysis of a slowest possible finisher pace.
  1. Start to Aid Station One. 26.5 miles. Between 4000 and 5000 feet of climbing. Took me a little over 4 1/2 hours moving time. Some pavement climbing, then a dirt road climb that is quite mild, but with an increasing grade. Nearly 3000 feet of climbing. Better be there in two hours or less or you're already looking marginal to finish. Then it's Colorado Trail, a very rugged and technical bit of it.
  2. Aid One to Aid Two. 33.5 miles. Between 5000 and 6000 feet of climbing. Took me a little under 7 hours. This is a big section. Through the night, coldest temps, most remote part of the course. This is the first and most important real test of the event. Leave Aid Station #1 ready for a long, cold, dark ride that you'll remember forever.
  3. Aid Two to Aid Three. About 2,500 feet of climbing 14 miles. Took me 2:15. Aid #3 is where you'll have access to your drop bag. This is the Good Morning section. The main feature is the climb to Old Monarch Pass. It'll be getting warm, so you'll have that to get used to. It's a fairly mild climb, but a long one. It's about 2500 feet of gain. Just a little on the tedious side. Wakey wakey!
  4. Aid Three to Aid Four. 10 1/2 miles. About 1000 feet of climbing. Took me an hour and 40 minutes. Monarch Crest Trail. This is a piece of candy that always seems to go by easily even when exhausted.
  5. Aid Four looping back to Aid Four. 11 1/2 miles. 2,500 feet of Climbing. Took me 2 1/2 hours. It's a little inner loop, so you visit Aid Four on Marshall Pass twice. This loop is what cracks many of the riders who don't finish. Be prepared for a honkin' big effort from a tired body. This little test is probably the most often-discussed part of the course at the after party.
  6. Aid Four to mini-Aid Station at the Rainbow TH. 7 3/4 miles. About 800 feet of climbing and then a long descent. Took me about an hour 15 minutes. This is mostly candy. The climbing isn't bad, and it's broken up with lots of nice descending.
  7. Last mini-Aid Station to Finish. Rainbow Trail then pavement down the highway to Poncha Springs and on a County Road back to town. Around 20 miles, a little over 1,000 feet of climbing. Took me a little over 2 hours.


So it's 5 aid stations, 6 aid station visits.

Saturday, June 24, 2023


I burn wood in a stove for heat in the cold months. The economics of wood-burning require that the burner get the fuel for a minimum of cost, in either money or time and effort. It takes effort not only to get the wood but to keep the fire going. At least every 20-30 minutes I have to get up and tend the fire. If the fuel ain't cheap, you might as well turn up the thermostat and sit your wide butt into a chair and pay the power company for the BTUs. 

Buying split, seasoned wood doesn't work unless you get a brother-in-law deal. Normal market price would make me pay over a grand for a winter. Bad juju. You really need to acquire and process it yourself. Find a source of raw wood that is cheap or free, hopefully that's been limbed and gathered. 

For last winter's burning season I had primarily cottonwood that I salvaged from down by the creek. 

Back in July of 2016 the Hayden Pass Fire burned a very large percentage of the Big Cottonwood Creek drainage. In places it was a very hot fire, burning even the dirt. My place was far from the burn, and firefighters kept it away from all the houses even the ones 3 miles west toward the fire. But in July 2018 the creek flash flooded.

My creek, which is half a mile from where it dumps into the Arkansas River, is one that you could almost jump across at lowest water. Never any more than knee deep. But it was more than knee deep that day.

It devastated the stream bed and vegetation along the way. Root systems of trees, primarily cottonwood and willow, were torn up. All of this happened almost 4 years before I ever owned the place, so it was not an injury to me. However, cleaning up down there has been a very large consumer of my time.

Probably 20 or more years ago a tree house was constructed between a cluster of cottonwoods on my place maybe 20 yards from the creek. The floor was like 20 feet off the ground. The trees were all dead, from the flood or the copious hardware that had been driven into them to hang the little shed. It was a hazard and an eyesore. I was trying to figure out how to get it down with killing myself.

Then early in 2022 the wind took care of the problem for me. It fell and became gravitationally safe. But it was a huge pile of debris. In April of 22 I broke my right fibula and mangled my ankle by yet again using poor judgement with my motorcycle. So the logs and debris laid there for much of the year.

The Tree House

'How does all this relate to firewood sir?' the curious reader might ask. Well I'll tell you. There was lots of crappy old lumber, sheet metal, windows that shed broken glass all over and hardware like lag bolts. But there was also about 6 cords of cottonwood logs. In addition to the trees that were holding up the tree house there were two others I felled and one huge one that came down on its own.

I blocked it and hauled out what I could that way. Some of the blocks were too heavy for me to lift into the truck so I took a splitter down there and split and hauled them. There are a number of them still down there that I can't even lift onto the splitter myself. Remember, the economics are thin on this deal. If I get a hernia and need surgery that's going to blow the whole thing up.

As firewood, cottonwood kind of sucks. It burns hot, and it's a very clean wood with little sap. But it generates a lot of ash. And it's kind of stinky. On a really cold day when the fire is burning from pre-dawn through evening the coals pile up. They are very durable. I've almost needed to go get the steel bucket and a shovel to take them outside so I have room for fuel in the firebox.

This year I have a good strategy and I'm starting early. First, I met a guy who runs a fire mitigation crew. He works with property owners to thin their woods to help with wildfire. He called me once and I went to his site that day with my trailer and came back with about a cord of mixed ponderosa, juniper, and piñon. It's green for the most part, but I processed it right away and put it under a tarp. 

Also I bought 3 cords worth of fuel gathering permits from the Forest Service for $10 each. That's to be a good guy, and in the rare case that anyone from Forest is even at the gathering site to check your permit. If I want I could easily take 10 cords. But 3 is a lot. That's about what I burn in a while winter. 

I brought home a load of mostly aspen last week. Aspen is very good, but not my top favorite. That is juniper, followed by high country fir and spruce that have been standing dead for a while. I've been processing it off the trailer for a couple hours in the morning before it gets too hot.

It's hard work. But I'm trading my labor directly for BTUs rather than paying a public utility to burn fossil fuel on my behalf. Now that I've given up on participation in society and I've stopped mountain biking, I need to put my labor somewhere and break a damn sweat once in a while anyway.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023


Fred came to live with Vicki and I (and cats, goats, steers) in January of 2022. In the last post, I described his genetics, but specifically he's half Great Pyrenes, 23.3% Australian Shepherd, 17.3% Border Collie, 9.4% Miniature/MAS-type Australian Shepherd.

He's probably around 100 lbs and strong. He has forced adaptations one after another. He was probably a little over a year old, maybe 15-16 months when I got him. On day one he got my butter from the counter. Adaptation #1, butter goes up into the cabinet. If it's on the counter, it's probably going to be his.

Then there was extensive poop eating. Then there was the car chasing. Every time he encountered a new kind of livestock he would try to play with it and then bark at it when that didn't happen. My neighbors have horses, pigs, sheep, and chickens. They have a beautiful pair of Pyrenes sisters as guard dogs for the sheep. Every one of them has been barked at extensively. Luckily my neighbors on both sides are very patient. And Fred doesn't chase. When he first got here he barked at my steers. He barked at my goats when they came along. 

Ever since the morning when he chased off the lion, his urge to be protector has surged. 

The day before yesterday I needed to go into Salida for some things. When I got home he'd tried to dig his way out above the dog door. I hadn't finished up the job, and you could see daylight through a small gap. He opened up a hole in drywall that was 18 inches wide and close to 10 inches tall. Big mess, but also a sign of change. In the 18 months he's been here, he's been locked into the house when I leave because he'll try to follow me otherwise. Now he's lost his tolerance for that.

Yesterday I had to go into town again (to buy a set of tires, ugh). While I was gone he pulled the trim off the latch side of my door, dug for while, then figured out how to unlock it. He got out. 

About 45 minutes before I got home there was a big thunderstorm. He was out, and close lightning strikes made him bolt. A neighbor came to the house with his four wheeler from a mile up the road to tell me Fred was up there. While we were talking I saw Fred running for home. The scared dog ran right into the house and up to the bedroom to sulk on the bed.

So, he's forcing another adaptation. I don't think I'll be able to lock him in for any reason. Which means I'll have to teach him to not follow me when I leave.

Such a wonderful friend. And such an incredible pain in my ass.

Friday, June 9, 2023

My Home


I live about 25 miles east of Salida now, on a 3.3 acre place. I'm on Cottonwood Creek, and my eastern property line is the middle of the creek. This is facing west, with a nice view of the northern part of the Sangre de Cristo Range.

I have great neighbors. We get along, cooperate, and respect each others' privacy. We get a little bit of ditch water, and we have to communicate about that.

There is a community here, but very small. Houses are pretty well spread out up the creek. To the east of us is a big area of rugged BLM land of the piñon/juniper variety. No houses for miles in that direction. If you go 3 miles south up the creek you run onto BLM land, then State Trust, then Forest Service, then the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area. To the west is ag land and disbursed residences. Half a mile north is highway 50 and the river. I'm at 6600 feet elevation.

I moved here in March of 2021. I have a cheap security camera setup, 3 cameras with motion sensors. I have seen fox, coyote, bear, lion, skunk. The most troublesome are the lions. Especially for a goat rancher. In early March a lion took one of my goats, a nannie named Maude. I bought her from a stock sale with her sister Marilyn and bottle fed them for about a month then weaned. When you bottle feed an animal, you will forever have a special relationship. It made me sad, but it was because I didn't put them inside that evening until twilight.

Later last month my oldest cat Butters didn't come home. He showed up on the security cams in the week following, so I thought he might have made it and would show up one morning. But it's been a week and a half. He's always been independent, and he just would not come in that night. And the lion has come back at least once since Marilyn was taken.

These videos were captured by my home security cameras. They are close to my house, in the 2nd one he walks 10 feet from the door I use to come and go. Roughly 4:25-4:30 am. 

At the beginning of 2022 I adopted a shelter dog, a boy I call Fred. I had him DNA tested to confirm my theory that he had a lot of Great Pyrenes blood. Yep, half. Other half is a combo of Australian Shepard, mini Aussie, and Border Collie. Those herding breeds may have provided Fred with some of his abundant intelligence, but his personality is 100% Pyrenes. He's a goddamn magician. He finds things, makes things disappear, he gets into and out of locked things. Leave it on the counter? Sure, it's Fred's now.

Pyrenes were bred to be livestock guard dogs. Since he had figured out that an open window with a screen in it was just an open window, I knew I needed to get him a dog door. I mean, he's already destroyed some screens. And in summer the windows are open, period.

So that morning was one of the first when he'd figured out the dog door. I was asleep, but I woke up because of the racket outside. He went out there and started barking his big, bad dog bark. 

To see what happened a few minutes after my cameras by the house picked him up, one of my game cameras captured a fleeting glimpse of him heading for the woods and willows down by the creek, and he wasn't waiting for Fred to catch up to him. To see the action you have to look carefully at the lower right. He's gone within a second.

My home is in a wild place. Salida gets some fat lazy bears that want to cruise the alleys for garbage, and deer so tame and stupid you could punch one in the face if you want. Here the deer are wild and wary. We also have bighorn sheep, and elk now and then down from the high country. Lots of cows and pasture land. Irrigation ditches running with cold water.

No pizza. 

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Well, here we are.

The last time I posted to this blog was July 6, 2018. Since then things have happened. Things have changed. That's how it goes. Things do change. As an old-adjacent person, I find that they have been changing real real fast. But again, I'm old-ish.

So! Where to start? First of all, I don't ride bikes any more. Like, for the last almost 3 years. I just set new hooks and hung two of the bikes that I still have, covered in dust like some kind of loony's showroom-quality 1975 AMC Gremlin in a barn in Arkansas.

Point is, I rode the bikes hard for decades. I spent a lot of hours grinding away at Rocky Mountain climbs. I carried and pushed bikes up and over big land masses. Crappy late 80's and early 90's rigids and hardtails with pointless forks. Then better 26" hardtails. 29ers starting in 03. Some really nice 29" full suspension bikes. I did great things on a 2013 Giant Anthem aluminum. Also on Lenzsport Leviathan 4" bike from the 07 timeframe. Fond memories of a 2016-ish Yeti ASR.

But now, fuck it. My body hates peddly bikes. They hurt. I miss being fit. But I think about how much time I spent since I started doing this shit in '88 grunting and wheezing and trying to ride techy climbs clean. Fuck that shit. In that respect I am more than old-adjacent.

Now for me it's about animals. During the pandemic Salida became a zoom town. Real estate prices went apeshit and lots about the town I'd lived in for 20 years changed. I sold my house in town and bought a place halfway to Canon City. I own and live on a piece of land with a little irrigation water. 

I worked at a raw milk dairy back in 2021, milking cows, feeding cows, straining and refrigerating milk. I found out that I like cows. The dairy shut down, but I had a chance to buy a bull calf out of my favorite milk cow, Sophie. I got him at 3 weeks old and bottle fed him. I call him Chuck. He's a steer, because my pair is the only one allowed here. 

In order to have a herd for Chuck, I got goats. Two 1-year-old wethers and two bottle feeder babies. Come to find out goats are not a herd for a steer. They don't even really like each other. So I got another steer. His name is Brisket. 

Along the way I found out that goats are easier than moo-cows in terms of work and expense. And they have more personality. The amount of land I have is a little limiting for moo-cows. So this summer of 2023 I will fatten Chuck and Brisket on grass, and in the fall they'll go to freezer camp. After that I will become a fulltime goat rancher. I now have four young nannie goats who will be bred this fall. Goat babies!

Five years that included a pandemic have past and I'm a different dude. And fatter. I have a motorcycle, a Yamaha WR250R. She and I went on a 86 mile jaunt in the Arkansas Hills this afternoon. We were turned back from plan A by rain. But it was a good ride nonetheless. 

Life has entered a new phase for me as the pandemic slowly recedes into the past. It's way less weird to be a hermit in Coaldale surrounded by space and animals than it was being one in Salida. In my life here I often go days without speaking to anyone other than the critters. I MacGyver my way through obstacles because there's nobody else here and not much help even to be hired. Is it good? I don't know, but it suits me. I think that may be the best we can do. 

Friday, July 6, 2018


A Google definition:

Impermanence, also called Anicca or Anitya, is one of the essential doctrines and a part of three marks of existence in Buddhism. The doctrine asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is "transient, evanescent, inconstant".

I had a significant-other years ago who taught me about Buddhism. About how healthy it can be to understand and acknowledge those things that bring you suffering, or unhappiness. At the source of much of our unhappiness is craving. We crave a new house, car, bike. We may crave for a relationship with someone, and perhaps they don't share the attraction. The wanting without having causes suffering and unhappiness.

One of the things that we can crave is consistency; to have things remain as they have been. You like having your house and yard and family. You like knowing that you can pick up the phone and ask your dad for advice about things.  You like, and assume, that these and many other aspects of your life won't change.

Impermanence is the idea that the consistency, the changeless nature of your world is an illusion. It may seem like your house will always be there for you. But then a forest fire or lava flow or some other event causes it to be gone. Existence is transient, evanescent, inconstant. Be grateful for those things that stay the way you want because the nature of our time on this earth is fleeting periods of constancy, punctuated by changes.

Several weeks ago my friends and I who put on the Vapor Trail 125 mountain bike race were notified that the Forest Service has closed FS 888, the Tomichi Pass Road due to a rock slide. They let us know that we can't use it for the Vapor Trail 125. They encouraged us to find an alternative route. So we started looking at maps and talking. As soon as I had a day off I drove over there with my bike to scout.

Looking at a map is one thing. Going to the place the map describes and really looking is another entirely. The Plan B I was investigating was looking like a real possibility on the map. My optimistic brain was looking for good news.

It took a while for the reality to sink in. It could work, but there would be need for a whole new aid station. One with a bonfire and plenty of blankets. They would have to descend for most of an hour in the wee hours of the morning in the high country, chilling them to the bone. Then climb 3500 feet in about 5 miles. Then descend Canyon Creek, which takes two hours, even when you are not already hypothermic and/or exhausted from a three hour hike-a-bike. Canyon Creek is already our number 1 injury risk area, with this course it would be much more dangerous. Nobody would be on Old Monarch Pass until late morning or early afternoon. So then you have thunderstorm danger on the Crest.

What if we dumped Canyon Creek from the course? What, then Waunita Pass to Black Sage? I haven't even seen those passes. Where would the second aid station go? If we did that the course would be way easier instead of way harder, is that OK? How many days do I have off between now and the event day to explore and plan?

I struggled against the obvious truth. I went back to Forest and asked if there was any chance they would allow us to use Tomichi even with the risk. No. Their risk sensitivity for event permits is the maximum. And honestly, I have a lot of respect for how unstable much of the rock in this part of the Sawatch Range really is. It's rotten, decayed granite. Part of the reason we love it is that it's so raw and rugged.

The event can't happen this year if we can't use Tomichi. There isn't an obvious good alternative, and we don't have time to plan for a new course. Can a person push a bike over that slide? Yes. I know they can because my friend Alex told me about encountering it on a bikepacking trip. He found it sketchy, but he got across. That doesn't matter though; as long as Forest thinks it's dangerous, we won't be able to use it.

Will they fix it? I'm not holding my breath. Fixing/stabilizing it will be expensive and dangerous as hell. And at the end of the day, it's a jeep trail. Sure, it's nice to have if you're a jeeper, moto rider, hiker, or mountain biker. But it's not like a highway. Only a small percentage of the population will ever even see it. It's 100% a recreation route. Not used to deliver any goods or services.

When all of this became clear to me it made me really sad. The Canyon Creek Trail has been part of the Vapor Trail 125 since 2008. The course since then is perfect. It's a large part of what made the event great. To me it was a given that we should keep using it. Different people have suggested changes over the years, from small to large. My response has always been why the hell would we change it? The course is amazing.

But now it's not viable without major changes. The event doesn't need to die, but without a bunch of creative work it might.


People and animals get old, get sick, die. Marriages suffer infidelity and fail. Brick and mortar crumble. Forests burn. Rocks fall.

Things are not permanent. Even if we want them to stay the same, they don't. That is not the nature of existence. The nature of existence is transient, evanescent, inconstant.

What Buddhism teaches is that this craving for permanence, among other things, makes us suffer. To stop the suffering, first get in touch with what it actually is that is making you suffer, then stop the craving. Acceptance is the end of craving. Understand it and accept it. The more you fight it the more unhappy it makes you.

I'm obviously no Buddhist scholar, but I have taken comfort in understanding some of what makes this painful. It's not just that I won't have the experience of another wonderful Vapor Trail 125 this year, that I won't see many of the family of riders and supporters that have come to be an important part of my life in September. That is hard, and it makes me sad. But what's really hard is that something that was, no longer is. I had no real awareness of how attached I was to the idea that we have this event that uses this amazing course. But now I am aware. And now I am struggling to accept that our amazing course may never be the same.

The knowledge that I will be working to re-imagine the course with Shawn and Earl (and hopefully some younger folks) is helping. The fact that so many people are sharing my sadness and disappointment is helping. It's going to be OK. We're going to work hard to create a new course that will hopefully not leave anybody missing the old one.

Let's all really appreciate the memories that we have of so many great Vapor Trail 125s on that amazing course. Maybe we never get to use it again, but let's honor it with our memories.

2018 has already been a year of Impermanence. This silly little rock slide is nothing compared to the fires, floods, social and political disruptions, and wars that rock the planet. It's a damned bike race after all. We're not curing cancer. But it's always hard when your world changes, and you just want it to change back.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Apparently yesterday was the world happiness day. The 5th world happiness day has now become history. Kinda silly, but maybe it is a good thing to have a look at your own state of being. Are you enjoying your time on earth? Do you have a short term reason to be unhappy? Or a short term reason to be happy?

Right now in my life I'm going to call my happiness level a B, maybe B+. Enjoying my work at Absolute Bikes. It's better for me physically, going from 100% desk time at work to 75+% standing and/or walking time. And it's better for me to be among the community, connecting to people and meeting new ones. 

We've had a nice mild late winter. I've been bike riding a lot, and starting to feel like I'm in OK shape.

A day at Lake Pueblo State Park
As I've thought about my level of happiness and what brings happiness it's occurred to me that part of it, a foundational part, is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I have food and shelter. I have adequate resources, and even luxury resources like nice bicycles. I have secure employment that I not only tolerate but enjoy. I live in a beautiful place.

I have safety. Certainty, security about the future, confidence in our democracy, not so much. I don't usually put political content into this blog, but now I am. If you don't want to read it, you're welcome to click away now.

I'm staying in touch with the news, trying to avoid reading or watching content that comes from sources too far from the middle. Filtering. Because I know there's a lot of crap out there that seeks to influence me. I do not support our current government, and I'm quite certain that the outcome would have been different had there been no meddling by Russia. The transition of power, should it prove to be true that there was direct collusion between 45's campaign and the Russian state, is likely to be contentious. And possibly even violent.

But isn't it worse if we just let it go? Not because 45's politics differ from mine (which they most definitely do), but because we're supposed to be putting the people into office who've been selected by The People. Not Putin and his staff, but the American people.

I could go on and on and on. Like many people who are appalled by 45 and his bizarre behavior and hateful policies, I've got lots of words.

But how does this relate to happiness? If this fundamental external frustration vector exists, how can I possibly be scoring a B+? I mean, safety is the second level of Maslow's needs pyramid. Security and a belief in a safe future is part of that. That's what I'm writing about. Because, dunno. Maybe the current state of semi-chaos agrees with my worldview and I find some contentedness in that. Maybe it just doesn't matter since it's obviously beyond my control.

Or maybe it's all just pushing me to figure out how to enjoy today and now. Because tomorrow my health insurance may become un-affordable. Or the economy may tank because somebody is firing legions of government employees and monkeying around with trade agreements.

Whatever is causing this, I'm feeling grateful. Grateful for what we all currently have. Hoping against hope that things won't fall apart too badly.

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.