My legs felt great heading up the hill today. It was a cold morning (relatively speaking, this IS Southern California) with widespread frost and a brisk northwest wind to contend with, but at least the air was crisp and clean and the gas station coffee I’d stopped for on the drive to the trailhead was full of caffeine. Hmm, that line almost sounds like a 7-Up commercial – oh well.
As I rode, the sun returned from charring the other side of the world and the day momentarily flared brilliant oranges and reds before fading to less vibrant colors. After all, this is a workday and the giddiness of a sunrise on my bike was soon replaced with the reality that this ride was going to be cut short by the need to get to work and pay some bills. Still, it’s a nice way to start the day.
Cold though it might’ve been, we’re entering the Green Season here now that the winter rains have arrived and the hills are literally bursting with new growth in a stubbly green patchwork of leprechaun hues. These Irish hills are beginning to smile, so at the crest of the steepest climb on the ride I paused for a second and pondered taking a bite from the grass beside the trail. It looked so tasty.
I’m starting to feel fairly good with the training I’ve been doing for next month’s Rovaniemi 150, so I decided to pick up the pace for a bit on the ensuing climb. This is one of those moments when I wish I had a riding partner, preferably someone faster than me so that I could chase them for a while. Riding solo has its own reward but sometimes you need someone to push you a bit. Racing my heartrate monitor is fine, but in some ways it’s like racing Death as sooner or later the bastard is gonna win. It’s still worth a shot though (at least for a while) so I pedaled harder and contented myself with watching my heart rate soar.
As the numbers neared the top of my rev limiter (just below the zone labeled “palpitation”), two young mule deer does peeked from out of the undergrowth around a bend in the trail. At first they tried to head deeper into the brush on my left but changed their minds, then turned around and headed across the trail and down into the canyon on my right through a long open meadow.
One of the things I enjoy about mule deer is how they stot, or “prong” in the open country. I’ve never seen (or at least remember seeing) the whitetail deer I grew up with back on the east coast do it, it’s a behavior that is more suited to the wide open paces in the west I suppose.
From what I’ve read here: “There are lots of opinions on why stotting evolved. But most experts agree it is a response to predators. Some say that stotting is a signal to predators that the deer is healthy and will be able to outrun the predator. Thus, the deer is sending a “Don’t waste your time” message.”
I’ll go ahead and christen that approach the “Catch me if you can” theory, but according to that same article there may be other advantages on rugged open terrain as stotters can clear rocks, logs and brush more effectively than gallopers. It also gives them a chance to look around and check for escape paths. All good theories, but do they truly explain the exuberance the deer exude when they do it? Or am I just another dazzled predator?
As I watched the two young does stot across the trail and launch off the edge of the canyon in effortless, almost weightless bounds that cleared 20 feet into the soft green grass below like astronauts on the moon, I came up with my own reason for the behavior: it gives them joy. Sure, I’m probably anthropomorphising a bit here but I believe all those cold, clinically thinking scientists are just plain wrong. The deer I encountered were having fun, and it showed. At least that’s what I’d like to think.
So with that thought in mind I pinned my heart rate for a bit more on the climb then stotted my way down the singletrack descent to the trailhead. I should add I did so with far less grace than those mule deer.