Living the ‘Wild’life

Mte. Aire Canyon, Utah

I’m on this new team and find myself suddenly connected to athletes around the world. We’ll wear the same jerseys and work towards winning together, yes, this is true, but it’s the human side that interests me the most. While on our epic rides at camp, I had the chance to get to know many of my new teammates. I discovered little bits of common interests I know will get me through long weeks and months on the road co-existing in the sometimes bizarre situations sports like cycling expose a person to. To my delight, interests in food, travel, hobbies and writing were things some of us share.

One such teammate is the youngest on the team. Chloe Hosking is from Australia and working towards a degree in communications. An outlet she practices her skills in is writing. And she is hilarious. After listening to her tales throughout camp, how ‘a-mazing’ everything seemed to be, or how ‘I’ll have to blog about this and that and everything’, and then reading her first blog for the team facebook site, it was evident she has the gift. Not just for the gab, but for getting her voice into words and showing a story, not telling it. I wish I could write like Chloe.

Her recent post made me think about my own somewhat bizarre existence here in Utah. I know, ‘bizarre’ and ‘Utah’ do go hand in hand, but I’m not talking about the most obvious strangeness here in the Mormon state. I’m talking about my adventures of getting to and from home here in the Wasatch backcountry. Never a dull moment when the winter commute is by snowmobile or, like now, with a lack of snow and a ton of ice the last 5 kms to and from the parking lot, with 2200ft vertical to scale or descend, on the ATV.

Coming home from team camp a few weeks ago…it’s amazing what you can strap on to an ATV!

ATV loaded with bike and stuff to head up home yesterday

Lots of snowmobiles waiting for enough snow!

Chloe’s last blog detailed her tangles with the common wildlife in Australia. Not that my daily experience rivals that of t-boning a kangaroo or escaping the relentless dive-bombing magpie, but there is this damn bird that I believe worthy of detailing here.

The dreaded grouse

Each neighbor has their own tale of the dreaded grouse that hangs out at the second gate on the canyon road. The first gate is down at the interstate 80 and warrants a key to access, the second needs a card that automatically opens the gate when the road hits about 6500ft. Those living up above, like us, are granted access but have to stop to activate the ever-so-slow gate to open. The last 1000ft vertical to our house are wickedly steep.

Statements like ‘that damn grouse was on my head!’… ‘it chased me half way up the steep pitch pecking at my helmet’ are common. My first encounter with the grouse was soon after I heard of its presence after returning to high-altitude living in mid-December. The next time I waited for the gate to open, sitting there on the quad piled high with my bike, groceries and a big pom-pom on my winter toque on top of my head, the bird flew right beside me, casually pecking at invisible seed on the ground. I took to thinking I was some kind of bird whisperer and spoke to it while waiting. ‘No, you’re not going to attack me, you are not going to chase me, you’re going to stay right where you are like a good little grouse…..’

Satisfied I had convinced the territorial bird not to mess with me, I accelerated the machine to head up home. Out of curiousity I took a peek back. The bird was sprinting, low to the ground, head down right in my wake. I mumbled ‘what the f***’ and wondered for an instant how this little bird could scare the crap out of me and it took flight. It’s target? My head! I stood up while still gassing it, composed myself and thought ‘this bird is NOT going to get the better of me. I retaliated like I would if side swiped in a bike race: I hit back. Actually connected with the bird and naively thought that’s the last time that thing will mess with me. Which was precisely when I turned forward and realized I was heading straight for a tree on the icy road. A hard swerve left saved my machine and my body from connecting. The grouse? It was as if she was back there, alternately pecking at the ground and laughing at me.

Waiting for me to take off

Each time since, I wait for the swoop down, the nonchalant pecking of the invisible seeds, the launch and the attack. If I wear a helmet or a toque (Canadian for winter hat), it goes for the head. If I stop, she stops and pecks around the ATV, if I start, she launches.

Some neighbors have declared ‘I’m gonna kill that damn bird’ or ‘I’m going to hit it…shoot it…hurt it…’ and then there is Linda, who lives below. Linda brings bird seed for the grouse and calls it her friend. She says the bird eats right out of her hand and lands on her arm. ‘I talk to it and it never attacks me’.

Kangaroos, magpies, grouse….maybe we all have it wrong running, sprinting, cursing these wild animals. I don’t know. Maybe if we took the time to feed the wildlife and make friends with our creature neighbors we could all live in harmony.

I just need to make sure I look where I’m going when gassing it up our mountain road. Especially days like yesterday when I got to the gate to go for a winter ride and realized I forgot to put pedals on my bike… subsequently having to go back up and face the grouse each time up and down the road.

Yes, living up in the backcountry is sometimes a pain in the butt, but always an adventure.

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