I gaze across the prairie and note the rain is turning white; white and a bit fluffy. It floats down. It is the first snowfall of the season for me and a couple days before the white stuff makes its way to Laramie. With the temperature hovering just around freezing, the switch from rain to snow should be expected but it still takes me by surprise. Just two hours earlier I spotted a rainbow through the light rain.
I am always a bit giddy when I see snow for the first time each fall. This time I smile and consider trying to catch a flake or two on my tongue but the 15 mph breeze makes that prospect problematic.
It is the first significant temperature drop after a balmy September and it feels particularly nippy and raw. It takes getting used to again after a summer of shorts and t-shirts and often the clothing adjustment lags behind. In my case on this blustery and wet day, I am dressed fine except for my feet. My trail running shoes offer little protection from the wet. At least I had the foresight to don wool socks so I have some warmth retention.
But my choice of footwear provides little traction in the oozing mud. As I walk around my truck, I slip and slide and nearly land on my duff. Hiking is out for a little while as I seek refuge in the cab of my truck instead.
I know my mud. This particular mud has a good bit of bentonite clay in the mix. Bentonite can be hard as a rock when dry but, when wet, it absorbs water and turns slick and slimy. Driving through the muck involves a good bit of swerving and sliding; it is, as the saying goes, “slicker than snot on a marble floor.”
On this early October day, I luck out and after a few hours the snow/rain ends and a hint of blue sky appears. The real treat comes when the wind stops. By evening there is a partial clearing with a red-infused sunset and nary a breath of a breeze. By dark, the stars shine overhead and the Milky Way is gorgeous this far from city lights.
After camping in my truck shell for the night, I’m surprised the next morning when the weather changes yet again. As I lift my frost-covered back window, I see a sea of white only this time it’s not snow. It is dense white fog above and frosty rime-covered prairie below.
I climb out and marvel at the white world around me with nary a breeze to ruffle the chill. It takes about an hour for the fog to lift but instead of a blue sky, it is mostly cloudy and continues on the cold side.
It is the time of year where the saying of “If you don’t like the weather wait a couple minutes and it will change” is very appropriate.
This time of year is also referred to as “shoulder season.” It’s when summer activities wane and winter activities have yet to start up. Riding a bicycle is nippy but the snow is just starting and skiing is a ways off.
This year’s shoulder season takes on a second meaning for me. I am three weeks out from shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. Going into the surgery I wasn’t fully appreciative that I’d have to keep my arm immobile for at least four weeks. I think the “four weeks” description from the doctor flew in one ear and out the next; I know it certainly didn’t land long enough for me to understand the meaning.
Now, as I near the four week mark, I’ve gotten fairly good with using one arm. In the karate classes I teach, I punch with just one arm. I smile when I catch young students doing likewise. It illustrates the power of mimicry in children where they do what I do, even when I remind them to use both arms.
My biggest concern in the field is with barbed wire gates. I wrestled one open a few days ago and then found I couldn’t get it closed again. I had to go back to the first side, close it with my good arm, and then do the limbo to get back through the fence to my truck.
Luckily, many of the gates in my primary project site are outfitted with handy green closure devices where a thick wire goes over the post of the gate and then is levered down so minimal shoulder action is needed.
I’m on the mend, though, and shoulder season will pass – both for my arm and with Mother Nature. Ski season is just around the corner; I hope to be back in the game by then.
Amber Travsky earned master’s degrees in wildlife biology and exercise physiology from the University of Wyoming. She runs her own environmental consulting company, as well as a martial arts school. She authored “Mountain Biking Wyoming” and “Mountain Biking Jackson Hole,” both published by Falcon Books. She is the tour director and founder of the Tour de Wyoming bicycle tour, which crosses the state every July.