I do not have cell reception at the moment, so I cannot include the iPhone photos I took today right now. I will try to get the uploaded tomorrow.
The last guy sums up my day perfectly.....
If you have not seen "Spaceballs", please do so immediately.
One of today's goals was to find Gunnison sage-grouse. Needless to say, I was not successful. Adding insult to injury, there were a number of logistical issues that arose that made the entire day a headache. Today's ride was going to encompass more than a mile of climbing, and the endpoint would be determined by the outcome of the sage-grouse search. I am really starting to wonder if I should even waste time looking for these grouse. These species are so easy on a lek, and so difficult the rest of the year. I can foresee many more days of frustration ahead. This is what these repeated failed attempts to track down grouse feel like.
Anyway, I had been told about a riparian strip in and otherwise endless sea of sage where sage-grouse hens bring their newly hatched chicks to feed. It was about 6 miles off the main highway on a well-maintained dirt road. I was told there was a "slight incline" to the road. Here is where my information fell apart. When the hell is a 5-6% grade to climb an 800 foot mesa a "slight incline"? That's like saying Sarah Palin and Rick Perry are "slightly crazy". This ride killed my legs on the way up and my brakes on the way down. It was not what I needed after already doing a mile of climbing in the previous 42 miles. I was under constant threat of rain while I was birding the area. I was lucky to escape with only minor sprinkles. The only real bird highlight was a beautiful Golden eagle I flushed off of a cliff. The area looked so good, but you just can't tell with grouse. They don't fly and they don't sing, so all you can do to find them is walk around and hope you step on one (or bike over one).
Ups and downs for 68 miles
Had I found the sage grouse I would have continued into Gunnison with no thoughts about it. Since I missed it, this has caused all kind of headaches. Basically, today's spot was one of only 2 that have been recommended to me. The other is about 10-12 miles south of Gunnison, again on a dirt road. No one has recently eBirded anything from this other site, and I know nothing about the condition of the road. I do not know if I should return to spot #1 tomorrow morning (this time with the unloaded bike) or head into town and focus on spot #2 tomorrow afternoon or the following morning. Maybe looking for these birds is a complete waste of time at either place. I wish I had more information. I hate making decisions without all the required information. In a car, both spots could be hit in the morning and the afternoon. I get one crack at one of them.
Anyway, I ended up at the Gunnison Lakeside RV and Cabins for the night. This place is nice, but it came with a few logistical caveats. First, you need to bring your own bedding if you stay in the cabins. I am not carrying a sleeping bag, but knowing that these cabins were an option, my host last night lent me one that I can drop off at his brother-in-law's house in Gunnison when I arrive. Second, there are no restaurants here, but there is a tiny store with a a few items. The problem here was that the store was going to close at 7pm and there was no way I could get there until 7:30 after my fruitless sage-grouse hunt. Sonia convinced them to stay open an extra half hour, but I really had to hammer on the pedals to make it. I rode so hard to get food that I am not sure how my legs are going to feel tomorrow as a result. The headaches just never end on the bike.
I think readers know that what I am doing is difficult, but I also think very, very few have any idea of just how difficult it is. Things that come up in the course of the day cause problems. I worked so hard on that "slight incline" that I ran out of water much earlier than I expected. I had a sweet dehydration headache on the 10-mile sprint to the food store - awesome! The west wind on which I was counting this afternoon also never materialized - great! Dinner was pasta that Pat (more on her in a minute) cooked for me and the standby cold, canned peas - yum! Since I did not make it into town, I can't use my cell phone from where I am tonight - even more awesome! This means I can't get the information I need to make an informed decision about birding tomorrow - sweet! It also means I won't get a crack at a potential Boreal owl someone told me about since he's only around tonight before he heads to Florida - money! I also feel that as the first person (sort of) to attempt something like this, I am the logistical guinea pig for everyone that follows. Anyone who reads this blog and decides to do something similar will know ahead of time that the "slight incline" is a royal headache!
Anyway, things are tough right now, but there is always an upside. Today I birded are area that I am sure has only been birded by a handful of people. If I could get the grouse in one of these riparian areas, it would be so much more satisfying that paying to sit in a freezing trailer and seeing it from a mile away. The terrain is beautiful, and I am slowly becoming acclimated to the higher elevations. 4000' of climbing is no longer a challenge, and with the long days right now I can spend a lot of time out in the field not seeing grouse. I met some really nice cyclists on the road today. I told them about my adventure and heard a bit about theirs in return. Lastly, Pat, the woman running the show here at the Gunnison Lakeside RV and Cabins, is incredible nice. She even cooked for me the pasta I bought at her store since she realized I did not have a pot of my own to use. It was a very nice gesture at the end of a very hard day.
Tomorrow is another day. There may be birds, but there will certainly be biking......