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Giant Waves on "Ugly" Sagebrush Hills

It has been a couple years since I rode a unique trail near Gunnison, CO. I probably praised it back then. It might amuse readers to hear a 'small-government' man actually say something good about a federal land-use agency, the BLM.

Seriously, this is a great trail. How many people were key in making it a reality? What were their job titles? Was it really so superhuman that it couldn't happen more often? I'll probably never know any of the answers. All I can do is ride it and praise it.

It starts off the way a -- literally -- civilized trail should start: at the edge of town. It should lure people out from their mundane townie existence to the underutilized public land around them. The trail should be non-technical at the beginning, so that it welcomes a broad cross-section of townies, not just 20-year-old male super-jocks and racers. The number of people should be so large, and they should use the trail so frequently, that it becomes an integral part of their lifestyle, culture, and identity.

And it does. The trail heads through some austerely plain sagebrush hills. It must have been laid out by a surveyor's telescope. There is only a few feet of elevation change the first few miles. But because these are hills, the trail's isocline must trace huge sweeping sinuous curves, with a wavelength of a half mile or more.

A few miles away from where this post took place, the BLM hills are quite attractive. Try to imagine the S shaped curve through this land if somebody laid out a trail on a clean isocline.

I didn't photograph the trail or the land. It was not visually impressive, but it was quite impressive in other ways. Somewhere or other, Samuel Johnson dis-recommended metaphors unless it compared a thing to something grander, infinite, or eternal. That thought made me imagine the appearance of this trail from a hot-air balloon. 

Or compare it to sea kayaking on a body of water that produces waves large enough to make you feel swallowed up in the trough. Only then does the vastness of the lake or ocean really impress you. Here, in the ugly sagebrush hills, the grand and graceful S-curves really bring it home to you.

My dog, bike, and I were visible from a not-so-lonely US highway 50. The tourists would stop in at the usual places to load up on the usual things, and then rush off to more spectacular, stereotypical sights in the area. How many of them even looked up at the uninteresting sagebrush hills where we were so happy?

What could be a better use of your time than to create beauty by imagining it in something where it is difficult to see? It's as if all land contains a latent image of great beauty that we must somehow fix/develop into a visible image. But more than just a vision, it takes effort and pain. Here the BLM and a wide variety of trail-users should feel pleased with both themselves and with "civilization." I don't get "warm and fuzzy" feelings very often about my society, but I got 'em here.

I've lost track of the number I am up to, now, in developing Counter-Intuitive Habit # N+1. But it was warming up quickly on the east-facing slopes. BLM country is rattlesnake country, and I worried about my dog.

It feels so natural to let the dog charge ahead of the bike. But, as usual, "natural" just means "it is what I am accustomed to." I got into that habit when my first dog, a miniature poodle, evinced an alpha-male personality. And I egged him on. I loved the compliments from people, "Gee that little poodle acts less like a poodle than I have ever seen before!"

But in fact, it is more prudent to make the dog follow the bike when the rattlesnake risk is higher. This turns out to be easy and natural -- that word again! The risk is concentrated on the return trip when the temperature is higher. Fortunately the dog is hot and thirsty by then, so she doesn't mind following the bike.


John V said…
Ah, more fun and sights without a national park. Whodda thunk it possible? We call the end of the outing, when the dogs are plodding along obediently next to us with their tongues hanging out, the "Death March". For some reason, there are no rattlesnakes in Northern Idaho, We just plunge into the brush without a second thought. We always have to adjust our thinking when we head south for the winter.
You shouldn't have any problems with rattlesnakes in the winter. You don't see them out, in cool temperatures.

It makes physical sense that a small dog (with a certain coat) can handle heat better than a large dog (of the same coat) since the small dog has a higher surface area relative to its mass.

Arguably a dog like a German short-haired pointer might be the best dog for a mountain biker (or hiker).