Joe Grant’s Short Shorts: The Animals and WEMonday, December 4, 2017
The raccoon only had three paws. Staring at me defiantly, he held his bloodied front left stump high in the air, raising his chin as if to say, “What!?” Perhaps he was just irritated at me shining my headlamp straight into his eyes. Was he the victim of a trap or did he get into a brawl with some other critter? His brazen demeanor suggested the latter, which I hoped was the case.
He woke me at around 2 a.m., scratching at my pack propped up under my head as a makeshift pillow for my open air bivy. The small contours of his figure reflected in the moonlight reassured me that it wasn’t a bear. I fumbled for my light, then hissed at him to leave me alone. Our exchange startled my friend Jon, who was sleeping only a few feet away.
“It’s just a raccoon.” I told him. “I think he only has three paws.”
I pulled the hood of my sleeping bag over my eyes and tried to fall back asleep. Our pirate friend wasn’t done though, and came back on the offensive—this time picking at Jon’s handlebar bag strapped to his bike. All our food was hung in a tree away from camp, but the little guy persisted in his curiosity, two times, three times, picking away at our kit, only relenting after what felt like a couple of hours of back and forth.
The previous night, after the long drive from Boulder, Colorado, we’d pushed our loaded bikes up into the La Sal Mountains in Utah for a few days of post-Thanksgiving micro-adventure. After four hours of uphill effort, exhausted, we’d stumbled upon a pleasant spot in an aspen grove, providing ideal shelter to rest our weary bones.
We didn’t have much of a plan for the weekend, other than rolling some flowing singletrack, and maybe wrangling a peak or two on foot. We decided to loosely follow the famed mountain bike route, the Whole Enchilada (WE), adding in our own variations depending on weather and conditions. We renamed our version of the ride: the Funky Enchilada.
The La Sals aren’t technical mountains, as the dozen peaks that make up the range are just high piles of rocks, all sitting above 12,000 feet. What makes the range particularly alluring though is the contrast of pristine alpine terrain and white capped mountains jutting out above the surrounding red canyons and desert towers thousands of feet below.
After our scuffle with the three-pawed raccoon, we woke after dawn, a layer of frost on our bivies. I brewed coffee without leaving the warmth of my feathered cocoon. We sipped the ambrosia in silence, clutching our steaming cups in the crisp morning air.
We pushed the bikes up the snowy trail to Burro Pass, slipping on patches of ice, wrenched by the weight of our loaded rigs.
We hid the bikes in the woods at the base of Mount Mellenthin—an appealing objective from the Moonlight Meadows below—then traipsed through deeper snow up to tree-line. A majestic bull elk crossed our path, seemingly unperturbed by our presence. A rafter of wild turkeys splintered off in the distance at the sound of our voices in a violaceous explosion of color.
We took a direct path up the talus to the top, getting the occasional sulfurous scent of stone rubbing together as the rocks shifted beneath our feet. A lone mountain goat stood tall on the summit, his thick coat billowing in the bitterly cold wind.
I’ve always wondered why the goats roam the high peaks. For food? For safety? Most likely. But, there is also a mysterious air to these shaggy creatures, as if they were not just there for sustenance and survival, but something grander, more intangible. Perspective, perhaps? That is, after all, why we were there too … to gain a higher perch, and get a better view.
BD Athlete Joe Grant has been wearing short shorts since the young age of six, and has since developed an affinity for donning little more than “daisy dukes,” while running his heart out through the mountains. Short Shorts is his quarterly homage to the mountain running life.