Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nature Ride and Mountain Lion Safety

Hardly 24 hours had gone by since my first brush with rattlesnakes when I had my first brush with a mountain lion. Again I was reminded that trail safety in Southern California has a different curriculum than trail safety in Southern Ontario.

I was headed to another favourite local spot of mine, Calavera, to hammer on some intervals and day dream of the green trails of the BCBR when I realized 1) It's Tuesday and 2) That means my buddy Nick is likely out on patrol. I texted him and sure enough, He and another rider, Brian, were just about to start their evening shred.

I explained to them I had a specific workout to do but they were welcome to hop on my wheel. Without hesitation, I had two more along for my ride. We got through all the pieces -- so much easier when you have friends to suffer with -- and then decided to reward ourselves with another 30-40 minutes of singletrack before the sun went down.

Me in my "Ninja Position" in the Magic Hour light at Calavera  

Magic Hour on Calavera is beautiful. So many critters were out -- we spotted a barn owl on the hunt, a hawk, and I think I heard some coyotes barking as well. But on our way down to a green gully we like to visit, we started to see big paw prints in the dust. They were fresh, and they didn't look very canine. We stopped to investigate and pointed out the roundness of the impression (versus a dog's oval impression), the slits where the claws had been (usually no claw marks can be seen on a mountain lion print unless they are using them for traction and here, the slope was steep and the dirt was loose) and of course the size. They were as big as Brian's hand.

Evidence of pussyfooting 
We decided to just skip the gully, and walk the heck out of there. Most people will never see a mountain lion -- tag tracking information has shown that sometimes they're hiding in the bush right beside you and you never know because they're not usually interested in us. I don't know how close we were last night but I do know the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. But if you DO have an encounter, here's another set of "What To Do/What Not To Do" to add to the theme that seems to be going this week on the blog. For more information, check out the insanely informative Mountain Lion Foundation homepage where the following is adapted from.

Make yourself appear as large as possible.
Make yourself appear larger using your bike, and stand close to other riders. Open your jacket. Raise your arms. Wave your raised arms slowly. Lions only see in shades so you should also try to dress with contrasting colours to your surroundings.

Make noise.
Yell, shout, bang a stick against your frame. Make any loud sound that cannot be confused by the lion as the sound of prey. Speak slowly, firmly and loudly to disrupt and discourage predatory behavior.

Act like a predator yourself.
Maintain eye contact. Never run/ride past or from a mountain lion – their instinct to chase will kick in. Never bend over or crouch down. Aggressively wave your raised arms, throw stones or branches, all without turning away.

Slowly create distance.
Assess the situation. Consider whether you may be between the lion and its kittens, or between the lion and its prey or cache. Back slowly to a spot that gives the mountain lion a path to get away, never turning away from the animal. Give a mountain lion the time and ability to move away.

Protect yourself.
If attacked, fight back. Protect your neck and throat. People have utilized rocks, jackets, garden tools, tree branches, walking sticks, fanny packs and even bare hands to turn away cougars.

Magic Hour Rush Hour 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ladies of Leisure + My First Rattlesnake Encounter

Ladies of Leisure

A ride opportunity came through Facebook the other day that I was only too happy to snap up! Some of the ladies from the CycloFemme ride I crashed on back in May (a story for another post) were headed to Sabre Springs, just north east of San Diego. Gerhard let me take the Prius on a little field trip to explore yet more new-to-me trails.

It is so great to get out riding with ladies! No offence to my dudes of course, but a gaggle of girls on bikes is a rare thing. Happily, these chatty, supportive gaggles seem to be forming more and more which is great. So Tami, Julie, Allison and I started our Monday on an exploratory mission. "I've never been down this one -- should we try it?" was the oft-repeated theme.

On one such descent -- Strava called it "Helicopter" -- Julie stopped abruptly and let us know that we had a visitor: a rattlesnake! I haven't had a run-in with one of these fellows yet so part of me was curious, and part of me was wondering why the heck we didn't just turn around and walk back up the hill. Julie let us know he was hiding in the bushes, and we were okay to pass if we went wide. Which we did, and the ride continued and was awesome and then we had cake!!

But the whole thing made me realize, I have no idea what to do about snakes. So here's a little something on our reptilian trail features.

Rattlesnakes of San Diego County

There are four kinds of rattlesnakes in the San Diego area -- and they are actually the only poisonous snakes we have. They are the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis), the Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake (C. mitchelli pyrrhus), and theRed Diamond Rattlesnake (C. ruber). In the desert is the Colorado Desert Sidewinder (C. cerastes). Of course, the best offence is a a good defence so if you're walking around the trails, you should have a first aid kit and snake bite kit that includes water. 

What to do if you get bit

GO TO THE HOSPITAL. As mountain bikers, this can be a tricky one as we are often on some far flung trail. This is what helicopters are for. 

In the mean time, say, while you're waiting for the helicopter, do your best to identify the snake, making sure that it is in fact a rattlesnake. This is key. If the victim is administered the anti-venom for a snake other than the one that bit him/her, it could be fatal.  

Move the victim out of the way of the snake, in case it comes in for seconds. Try to keep them as calm and still as possible and remove any clothing or jewelry that could become constrictive once swelling starts. 

You've got to wash the wound with water, and then immobilize the area with a sling. With your handy dandy snake bite kit, suction out the venom. If you haven't got a kit skip this step -- never use your mouth. 

Finally, keep the wounded area lower than the heart, and if possible, carry your felled rider rather than have them walk or roll out. Whether via helicopter, car, ambulance, it's off to the nearest hospital for anti-venom lickety split.  I've heard some say that depending on the snake, you may have as little as 30 minutes before you're in big trouble. But the good news is, a fatal rattlesnake bite is a rare occurrence. 

What NOT to do if you get bit

Sorry, Hollywood -- heroics like ripping strips from the shirt off your back to tie a tourniquet, or sucking out the venom with your mouth are top of the DON'Ts list. Also, some say an ice pack will help slow the spread of the venom ... nope. 

It's also not a good idea to run around freaking out as that will increase your heart rate and help spread the venom through your system even faster. For the same reason, this is not the time for a stiff drink, a soft drink or even an aspirin. Oh, and paramedics/medical professionals would really appreciate it if you did not try to catch the snake or bring it with you to the hospital. 

After learning about rattlers, I'm even more happy to report that the snake we saw today was safely avoided. I hope that's always the case, but in the mean time, I'm definitely going to pick up one of those snake kits to go with my mobile bandaids and antiseptic. Ride safe! 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ride Like a Ninja

This weekend was another great instalment with San Diego Mountain Bike Skills clinics where I've been helping out, coaching. While I'm enjoying a transitional period in my life, it seems I have finally got to the part where I get to give back to the sport that's given me so much. And I love every second of it!

Saturday morning was especially exciting because it was our first go at the new venue, Lake Hodges. It's also the home of the Quick 'n Dirty races, so hopefully our fresh batch of "ninjas" will take their new-found confidence to this amazing local series. USAC Cycling Coach Richard La China (who is also an IMBA certified skills instructor -- one of the first in the U.S.) is our fearless leader. His courses are well organized and designed to help participants progress to their next level, no matter what level they arrived at.

We covered basic/intermediate skills like cornering (both high-speed and switchbacks), proper positioning, drops, technical descents and of course everyone's favourite, climbing. It's such an awesome feeling watching a rider who started the day saying "I can't do it," rip around a tight switchback, rail a corner, or take on a gnarly drop safely and successfully.

So amazing in fact, I decided on Sunday I would switch from assistant coach to participant for our advanced Flow and Efficiency clinic. Figured if I'm going to tackle those B.C. Bike Race singletracks, I'd better make sure I've got my "tool-box" packed to overflowing. And the sooner the better.

As mountain bikers, we are notoriously susceptible to throwing out the homework and enjoying the ride (I know ... it's irresistible) rather than stopping to practice, practice and practice some more. We fail to lock down our most basic skills because it's "the easy stuff", or there's that [insert more interesting trail feature here] we want to level-up on. But everyone knows you can't build up your skills unless you've got a strong foundation. In racing especially, there are so many seconds -- minutes, even -- to be won not by riding more base miles, but by spending time riding around orange cones in tighter and tighter configurations at the soccer pitch near your house.

Let's compare beginning on a mountain bike to beginning on a snowboard. As Coach Richard explains, at your first snowboard lesson, you start with the very basics. How to strap in, how to stop, how to turn. You slowly move up to linking turns together. And so on. There are SO MANY skills in mountain biking but we gloss over them and spend our time working on fitness, hoping the rest just falls into place.

I don't know, maybe I'm just speaking for myself and my lackadaisical past. But if you find yourself nodding along, check out San Diego Mountain Bike Skills and I promise, you'll be riding like a ninja in no time -- even if you already consider yourself to have a black belt.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I'm IN.

I can't think of a better occasion to start up this blog again than to make this announcement. Ready? I am finally going to compete in the item that's been languishing at the top of my bucket list since they started running it: the BC Bike Race

The event is a seven-day stage race, starting June 28, 2014. I'll be racing in the solo/open category on a course that's been called the most marvellous on earth, if you're one for the singletrack. Which I most certainly am. So friends, mark your calendars and shine up your cowbells. It's only ten months and 12 days away. 

I'll keep this post short but close with the promise of more blogging as I prepare for what is sure to be the most challenging event of my cycling career. But in the meantime, I want to say thank you to my husband, Gerhard, who rather than balk at the crazy idea (what with the cost, the commitment, the up-in-the-airness of our lives), said "I think you'd better do it" almost before I'd got the words out of my mouth. Feeling pretty lucky these days. 

Lots to catch up on, so stay tuned. And check out the video below to get a taste of the adventure that's waiting!