Monday, June 29, 2009

Dry Run

Deep into the heart of a 150 mile bike ride in Colorado this past weekend I snapped this photo. What you can see is incredible scenery, a smooth road, and a wide shoulder. The temperatures were perfect and the wind was light. Traffic was virtually non-existent. The bike and body performed well in the thin mountain air. I wondered whether I would be so lucky to have these conditions on the upcoming ride for Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter. I wondered whether the sweet smell of cottonwood leaves would still fill the air. I wondered raptors would still be soaring overhead and hunting from power lines. And I wondered whether songs of meadowlarks would still be there to pull me up another hill when the only other sounds would be moving bike parts and my heart pumping through my chest.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Holy Cross

Mount of the Holy Cross is one of the most revered summits in North America. Today I gained its summit. My reflections about this peak follow. It’s a fitting testimonial to my love for wildlife and wilderness.

Holy Cross

The road dead-ended into a clump of spruce at 10,000 feet. Darkness and summer cold brought with it an inevitable uncertainty of what lay ahead. I was a stranger here. On the far side of the continent I had passed rainy winter afternoons dreaming about snows on Holy Cross. Now I would try to climb this majestic mountain myself. Others’ photos would be replaced in my mind by my own memories – memories surely made more enduring by a sudden transition from sea level to the heart of the Colorado Rockies.

The woods were still but for my heart fighting hypoxia. Lightning illuminated mountains in the distance. The Milky Way radiated the sky to the east. Four miles off was East Creek, a place where I would unceremoniously descend to find a few hours of altered sleep. The altitude caused me to waver across the narrow, snowy trail. I made stumps into bears eyeing me from the edge of the trail.

Thursday morning broke cold and wet. Altitude now gave me a throbbing headache and nausea. Weakly I started up the long slope to the summit ahead. How would tiring footsteps become long miles of grueling ascent? I passed the time pondering how many steps might give me the top of Holy Cross.

To a climber in self doubt the day’s first unobstructed view to a summit provides optimism where there really should be none at all. By ten in the morning I was above treeline, and only rock lay ahead. My head pounded with pain but my spirit lifted.

Soon I was fighting time. Forecasts called for storms, and early afternoon brought the first squalls from the west. Fighting vertigo, I stumbled to the summit. It was the first time I stopped to absorb the beauty of the land. The spires of dozens of mountains leapt into view.

A walk off a stunning mountain summit leads to me to ask questions. Did I spend long enough at the top? Did the climb live up to my expectations? Did I give the mountain enough time? Little time is all I had, and many would never get the chance to give Holy Cross any time at all. Swirling storms gave my strides down-slope a sense of purpose.

The Colorado Rockies is a tortured place. Private property and barbed wire have fragmented the land. Disputes have followed: who can cut the trees, tap the gold or hold back precious water from a neighbor below. Nowadays denizens of skiers are deposited on Rocky Mountain slopes to track powdery snow. Indeed, I was jetted here just yesterday, leaving the sands of Carolina to make my own mountain memories.

However, it is entirely possible in the Holy Cross Wilderness to take your mind back to another time, when the Colorado Rockies was untamed land stretching hundreds of miles in all directions. My visit here comes full circle. On my hike out daylight fades to darkness. A wind spills off the mountainside and whistles down the slope. A raven cackles from the ridge below. A thrush sings its sweet melody in the woods beyond. Water thunders from the far cliff and then echoes off a hill faraway.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Riding for owls

Here is a short history and some tidbits about the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS), the group that I am riding cross-country for.

OWLS is the only full-service agency of its kind in eastern North Carolina. OWLS first opened in 1988 by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Volunteers worked from their homes during that first year of existence. In 1999 OWLS moved to its present location off Highway 24 in Newport. The current facility consists of the shelter building, three acres of yard with cages for permanent and rehabilitating animals, a pond, and two acres of nature paths. There were 17,000 patients admitted in the first 18 years of operation. OWLS is staffed seven days a week by 60 volunteers. Pictured here are Dinah the barred owl, Phoenix the peregrine falcon, and Gabe the kestrel.

OWLS has a release rate of 40% for previously sick or injured animals. Ninety percent of infant or orphaned animals are returned to the wild. Over 100 species of birds, 17 species of mammals, and 9 species of reptiles have been successfully treated.

Education is a major role in the daily operations of OWLS. OWLS conducts special programs in the classroom area of the shelter for school children and special groups. This includes outreach for school and civic groups, participation in festivals and other local events, and tours of the shelter. OWLS’ income is mainly from private contributions, business and corporate aid, program fees, aluminum can recycling, gift shop sales, yard sales, and a small foundation grant.

OWLS needs roughly $16,000 per month to cover its operating expenses. The average cost per patient is $45. The majority of people who bring animals in for treatment do not make any financial contribution at all. OWLS relies on the financial support of its donors; it receives no financial support whatsoever from any state or federal agency. Please make a contribution to OWLS through this website, and be sure to follow my August cross-country bike tour on this blog site.