Wednesday, April 22, 2015

In loving memory, Sydney-Bear Chapek 2002(ish) – 4/22/15

I’m very sad to tell you that today we said our final goodbyes to our sweet little girl Sydney, as she quietly slipped away into doggie heaven. Her tired body has been failing her for some time now, and that decline finally pushed us to make the extremely painful decision to have her put-down. Our vet came to our house so she could pass away in familiar surroundings with her loving family.

She was always such a happy girl, no matter the circumstances. When she was completely paralyzed a few years back (due to a burst disc in her neck) she’d sit there in her little area down at the Ventura surgical center, and whenever anybody came near, her tail would spin like a propeller, whapp-whap-whapping on the floor as she smiled at them, hoping for some attention. After a week in the ICU we brought her home, and over the next several months we rehabilitated her as she learned to control her body all over again…and never was there even a HINT of sadness at her condition, only happiness and gratitude. Her love for us was vast and unconditional. One of the things I will surely miss for the rest of my life will be waking up in the middle of the night with her nose snuggled up into the crook of my neck, her warm breath nothing short of pure love and innocence from an angel placed here on earth to teach us patience, caring and understanding. Among other things, Jeannie will sorely miss taking her weekend naps on the couch with Syd jammed in-between her and the couch, “snug as a bug in a rug”. She was the World Champion of snuggling for sure!

Knowing the time and date of her passing ahead of time is a double-edged sword. On the one hand that knowledge evoked numerous waves of grief these past days. Yet on the other side, knowing this helped us to make it a happy time. The old adage 'I'd give everything for one more minute...well, we were given days, and due to that we have no regrets. We were given the gift of being able to make our last days with her extra-special. 

We ALL had hamburgers on Monday for dinner (Syd LOVES hamburgers!), and I also ran down and got a batch of “cow knees” from the pet store for her and her sisters to chomp on all day Tuesday and Wednesday morning while we were at work. On Tuesday (her farewell ‘dinner’) Jeannie brought home steaks (Syd had TWO). And today I left work at lunch-time and brought home more burgers for us to all enjoy (and Syd had the one leftover steak too...did I mention that she LOVES steak too?) We then went to the park, Syd riding in her FurBaby Flyer wagon enjoying the ride, anxious to get to the park a few more times, where she could smell the bushes and eat all the grass she wants. Then we spent lots of quality time simply sitting in the front yard or inside the house being together.

Every feeding time at our house since Syd's arrival has been a QUITE NOISY affair, as Syd has a "hound" bark (we believe she's a cross between a pit-bull and a basset hound). She has been mostly deaf for some time now, but you touch the dinner bowls and she starts "woo-woo"ing, sounding the dinner bell for the others to come running. Her barking doesn't end until the dinner-bowls are finally placed into the feeding bin and the chow-down commences. In recent weeks due to her declining control of her legs, Syd has been eating on the floor lying down as she can't stand-up long enough to eat at the raised feed-bin...but no matter...did I mention that she LOVES eating? The missing sound of her joyful baying before every meal will be a be a huge source of sadness for us over these next few weeks, until our grief finally turns to smiles at the thought of her.

We take comfort knowing that we gave her the best life we possibly could, even though she gave far more to us than we ever gave to her. Our new puppy Sophie only got to know her for a few months, but we’re grateful for that. It’s funny how in life you move along day to day, never really thinking about how quickly things can change. Over the last few months as her debilitating condition slowly robbed her of motor control of her body, we’ve known that sometime in the near future for her sake we’d have to make this difficult decision. And once the decision was made and the "appointment set", we had to live the last few days knowing that her end was so very near. You like to think your loved ones will always be there, but one of the sad truths of this world is that none of us will live forever, and those of us who choose to have pets are doomed to say farewell to them throughout our lifetime. I’m quite sure none of those goodbyes are easy. I know I’ve prayed and prayed for Sydney over the last several months, and it seemed that after each bad spell she’d miraculously bounce back. Sadly, this time God’s answer was that we need to finally let her go. I can tell you that both Jeannie and I are SO very grateful for the time we've had with our furry little Bear.

I can also tell you that last night was one of the longest of my life. I’m already a light sleeper, but last night sleep was pretty hard to come by, and then I woke up countless times where I’d quietly lay there and watch her sleeping, her nose as usual tucked in between my neck and shoulder, her warm breath both comforting and saddening me, knowing it was to be the last time I'd be blessed in such a way. As I lay there,  I’d lightly caress her, hoping to etch these last few precious memories into my mind forever. And I know Jeannie was feeling the same, as I could hear her sniffling now and then, and off and on thru the night I could see her hands reaching out from under the blankets to hold our beautiful girl one more time.
I know she struggled mightily this past year, yet she never once complained or gave up. I think in her heart she knew that we weren’t ready for her to go, and was content to fight until we finally were. Sydney, please know that Mommy and Daddy love and miss you more than you could possibly know. You're not supposed to have 'favorites' with your kids, but both Jeannie and I have a little extra love in our hearts for Sydney. She has always been a "special needs" child to us, but especially during these last few years since her burst disc, as she needed much more care than the others.

With her passing I’m reminded of a song I hear on the radio by a rock group called "The Script" called 'There’s no good in goodbye'. One of the lines that rings especially true is “you can’t take the ache from heartbreak”. I’m quite sure that every time I hear this song from now on I’ll think of Sydney, and hopefully as time passes I'll stop being sad and can think of the great times we had. She will forever remain in our hearts and minds.

Rest now our sweet baby girl, you’ve done more than your share. We thank you with all our hearts for the time you gave us. 

Goodbye Sydney Bear.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cows on public land, is it right?

As you know, a few weeks back I was HIT by a bull during a mt bike ride. I was on National Forest land on a dirt road. I could have SO VERY EASILY been killed or badly maimed had the circumstances changed in ANY detail. IF there was a high bank on my left instead of a downhill, IF he had hit me higher up or lower down than directly on my hip, throwing me OVER the bushes along the road and down the bank, out of his sight. IF he had missed me entirely and just hit part of the bike causing me to crash (which would also have been the result of a higher/lower hit on my body). If ANY of those circumstances had come to play, I'd have been totally at his mercy lying there on the road, and most likely wouldn't have walked those 14 miles back to my car with my broken bike (I try not to imagine him stomping ME instead of my wheels, as that is a very scary thought).

And so. My mtb ride this past Saturday I AGAIN dealt with cows. This time they were Black Angus....about 30 or so of them, INCLUDING....yes...drum-roll please: a bull (again hornless). I was again in the Los Padres National Forest. The "road" was laughable. It might have been a road 10 or 20 years ago, but no longer. It's nothing but a dried up creek bed and a highly churned up (and CURRENTLY OCCUPIED) cow trail. I had ridden up Colson Canyon and down the other side to the T-intersection of La Brea Road, and turned left (north) headed towards Miranda Pines up on Sierra Madre Ridge. I wasn't very far up La Brea 'road' fighting my way thru the sandy cow-tracked trail when I started to see signs of fresh cow activity. I kept riding and soon enough I came up on the 'herd'. I was down in a valley so this time there were plenty of places for the herd to leave the laughable road, but they didn't.

I had my trail "dinger" bell mounted on my bike this time, so-as NOT to surprise any livestock I might come upon...and it worked. They were watching for me as I came into sight, and started trotting away en-mass almost as soon as I came into view. I very quickly figured out where the bull was...he was standing rear-guard for HIS herd. Standing there, staring at me, DARING me to come closer. He wasn't as big as the brown beast that clobbered me a few weeks ago, but he was still PLENTY big. Big enough to break every bone in my body without breaking a sweat I'm guessing. I could have turned around right there, but what can I say...I had only gone a small portion of my intended ride for the day, and I REFUSE to be chased off of PUBLIC land by a bunch of cows!

So we started playing the game. They would trot away and I would follow...very slowly...partly due to the horrid nature of the road (HA, I mean COW-TRAIL), and partly to let the herd get a bit ahead of me. Overall I think for this 5 mile portion I was only able to hold around 4 to 5 mph at best (it was quite flat here too btw). And that was with me working pretty hard thru the churned up sand and/or rocky dry creek-bed. It was VERY slow going, which was ok I guess, as I still had the COWS to deal with. I was hoping that they'd mosey off the trail on every bend of the creek, but they just kept following it, going exactly where I was hoping to go, and then they'd stop, and I'd have another face-off with THE BULL (by face off, I mean I'm still at LEAST 50 yards away, probably much farther). I had been playing this frustrating game for around 3 to 4 miles when we came to a big left/right bend in the trail. The cows were ahead of me as it veered left, and they had all stopped at the far left of the bend. As I came into sight of the herd, I realized THIS was my chance to finally get around them.

So I picked up my bike and hiked it up and over the hill that the trail/creek was veering around. I came down the other side to a steep drop-off to the creek-bed, and had to head back towards the herd to get the drop-off low enough for me to slide down the bank and back onto the cow-trail. It worked...I was ahead of them, and the bull was still at their rear, wondering where I had gone most likely. Stupid cows, you can't defeat ME!

So I picked up my pace a bit and very quickly came upon MORE fresh cow goo on the trail. And sure enough, soon I spotted a few cows and calfs, still trotting in my direction. I guess the herd had fragmented and these were a small group, and it appeared they had no bull with them. They were still ahead of me when I heard a gun-shot, and very soon after that here they came.  STAMPEDE right at me. I jumped off my bike and started looking for a place to go....there wasn't that many of them but they were now AFRAID and I wasn't going to get anywhere safe. I started yelling at them and thankfully they veered down a bank and back into the creek-bed (which had some water in it at this point). I was quite relieved and I had no idea what I would have done had they not turned. So I kept riding and just a bit ahead I was at the Wagon Flat campground, and there at a picnic table in the middle of nowhere sat 3 guys in cammies with rifles.

I'm guessing they saw the cows coming at them and shot into the air to scare them...and it worked. Only they had no way to know they were scaring them right back at ME. I chatted w/ them for a few minutes...they didn't speak very good English (they were Hispanic) but I was quite friendly and wasn't asking just what they were hunting at this time of year (I don't think there's anything in season that requires a rifle...but none of my beeswax...they had rifles after all). I continued my way for another couple miles as the trail FINALLY turned into an actual TRAIL with no sign of was AWESOME! The trail climbed out of the valley and finally T-d into another road of sorts. This is where the hunters were parked I gathered, as there was a white Toyota 4x4 sitting there at the gate.

At this point I figured I should just I had already been on the ride for almost 4 hours, with 17 HARD miles back to my car. I had lost a LOT of time due to the stupid cows and cow-trail-road. I had planned on doing roughly 50 pretty hard miles but was going to get home with just over 30. So I turned around and headed back the way I came. Of course, I knew I had to get past those cows again...and soon enough there they were. They had spread out in the river-bed area but as I approached they started banding together and trotting away in the direction I was headed. And not long after that there was my friend the bull.

The game started up anew, only this time I knew what terrain lie ahead. One one of the wide turns they all went wide left, so I picked up my bike, silenced my dinger bell and RAN as far to the right as I could around the wide turn, thinking if they slowed/stopped I'd be able to get in front of them. But I came around the corner and jumped on my bike, there they were...we were at a dead-heat as to who would get to the trail first...only they had the numbers and I backed down. So we played the game some MORE...until another similar situation arose and this time I came around the wide turn ahead of the herd. I jumped on my bike and hammered my way (as best you can hammer in that kind of sandy rocky cow-pocked trail) and was in front of them by about 50 yards. I poured on the gas and was all excited...for about 5 seconds. THEN the herd started to RUN. IN MY DIRECTION!

I had figured as soon as I got ahead of them they would turn and go the other direction. I figured wrong. I was screaming and yelling at them all while I gave an OLYMPIC effort on the bike, and the charging herd (bull included) seemed to be making a big effort to catch me. Obviously I have no idea if that was their goal...all I know for sure is they were NOT stopping, nor turning around.

It's amazing what you can do when you are in fear for your life. I'm pretty sure I set a sandy-rocky-cow-trail 1/4-mile world mtb-record on this ride. Once I had a good gap on them they FINALLY stopped chasing me, and I just wanted to fall off the bike and pass out...but I didn't, as I was still quite afraid they would start running again and I wanted as much distance as possible between us.

FINALLY I got back to the T intersection where I began the long climb out of the valley. Turns out I was pretty wiped out, as I was barely crawling up the road (and yes, this was an actual honest-to-god DIRT ROAD...and it was LOVELY!) The rest of the ride was uneventful other than it was REALLY HOT...but eventually I got back to my car. I ended up with a measly 32 miles for the day, and it took me 5 hours and 17 minutes of actual moving time to do it. THAT was one slow hard ride (and Strava only gave me an average estimated power of 51 watts...HA! Strava has NO IDEA how hard I was working on that cow trail. Their system only looks at elevation gain and time and speed to calculate way they could know I was pretty much riding thru quicksand for 10 miles of that 32).

So ANYWAY. Today at work during breaks and lunch I was researching cattle grazing on public lands...turns out it's a big issue as (quite obviously) the cattle do a LOT of damage to whatever land they graze on. They have totally destroyed the road that used to exist. And that doesn't even call into play the public safety factor. I mean, I have a right to be on that land too....don't I have a right NOT to have my life in jeopardy from these cattle? I searched online and finally found some phone numbers to our local Forest Service ranger station....I talked to their operator for a bit explaining that I just wanted to talk to somebody about these cattle on forest service land...and see what MY rights are. DO I have a right to defend myself? (ie: if I were to carry a gun?) Not that any gun I could carry would stop a bull...probably just make him REALLY mad. And it's not that I'd EVER have any intention of shooting one...but the single shot in the air by the hunters seemed to work REALLY WELL at turning the running cows. So there is THAT to think about.

I have  no idea what to do at this point, I left my message with the main man in charge of the range, and hope he calls me back to chat sometime in the next few days. I just want to let him know my experiences in the last few weeks. I don't think it's reasonable to have to risk DEATH just to ride my bike on PUBLIC forest service land. But I also think these grazing rights have been around for a LONG time, and the ranchers won't take it very kindly of my thinking maybe they shouldn't be doing that. Also I wanted to ask the ranger IF the owner of the cows is liable for them...(ie: does some rancher owe me a new set of XTR tubeless mtb wheels?) or is that just my loss? Not that it matters, I have zero idea where the brown cows a few weeks ago came from nor did I see or get a picture of a brand or the cows/bull.

All I know for sure is that they really don't belong there IMO. They are completely destroying the land (OUR land), and also are quite dangerous as I can state as a FACT.

And so....I've had QUITE ENOUGH of cows for a while I can tell you. Why can't I find the trails that run thru the free-range gopher herds? THAT'S what I'm looking for!

Have a great week!