A routine Carbondale adventure at dusk | PostIndependent.com

A routine Carbondale adventure at dusk

Michael Mountcastle

There’s no time I tell myself, you’ve missed it. But I’ve got to try.

I haphazardly wrap my Canon 6D in an old, wool sweater and cram it in my backpack. The wind bites my cheeks as I put all my weight into each rotation of the pedals. I make it to the base of Mushroom Rock trailhead.

Fiddling with the bike lock, I quickly turn my head and watch the sun sinking behind the mountain, and doubt sinks in. I tell myself if I can get halfway, maybe I can get a shot. I’ve been out of breath since I left the house. How am I still able to run up the mountainside? I look down, surprised to see my legs cranking out step after step.

I see a decent vantage point and quickly take my backpack off and set up the tripod. I get the camera mounted and shake my head in disappointment. The sun has set, and I’ve missed the shot. I sit on a nearby boulder with my head down, trying to slow my ragged breathing. I happen to look up for a second. My mind races, and I see the shot I can get. It is just dark enough to see the town lights, yet still enough light left from the sunset to illuminate Mount Sopris.

I scurry toward the camera and drop my knees into the snow and quickly make some adjustments to capture the fading moment. Then I realize a long exposure would blur the car lights on Highway 133. The long exposure makes the shot way too bright, but the blur of the lights looks amazing. I try several settings to offset the brightness while still keeping enough exposure to blur the lights. Each time, I get closer to the perfect combination of settings to get the shot.

The temperature is dropping; my fingers are barely moving; and I’m losing the small window of time for the shot. Please make this shot work, I tell myself, please. I hit the remote-shutter release and wait. The image appears on the display, and my jaw drops. I look up and see the sun fade behind the mountain. Lights out.

I get a warm feeling of success followed by a sharp headwind that reminds me of the temperature and my lack of clothing. I’ve got to get down this mountain, and fast. I feel for my headlamp in my backpack side pocket and put it on and take a last look behind me.

I scan through the dark trees and notice a refection — a set of piercing eyes glares back at me. My heart sinks, my mind races. A mountain lion. I know this cannot be my fate, I yell out, “Heyyyy!” hoping to scare the creature off, but the eyes don’t move, only a slow blink.

I let out a tense sigh, throw my backpack on, and start running down the mountain, yelling, in hopes to scare off whatever animal it was. I can only hear the loud crunch of the snow beneath my feet and the pant of my heavy breathing. I think to myself, I’ve scared it off, but, no, it can smell my fear. My pace speeds into a panicked sprint as I wait for a 300-pound mountain lion to pounce on my back and tear me apart.

I see my bike below and run my fingers over my pants pocket feeling for the key. Still running, I look back, expecting to see reflective eyes careening toward me. My foot sinks into a deep snowdrift. I stumble and fall backward into a cushion of snow. Heavy breath fogs the beam of light in front of me as I search the woods for the eyes. I calm my breathing to listen and keep watch. Silence fills the air. I stand up, and slide the key into my bike lock.

My tires hum down the mountain. The cold wind stings my face, and I burst into laughter. Still chuckling in relief, I round the bend in the road and see a group of eyes glaring right at me. Wolves! I think, as my mind races again. My frigid hands reach for the brake lever, and my skidding rear tire breaks the silence. Finally, the bike halts.

A pack of mule deer scurry off into the shadows. I laugh at myself again as I realize how extreme my imagination is, a mountain lion, a pack of wolves. I continue down the mountain and see the glow of the town lights; my hands vibrate as the bike tires cross over the cattle guard; a smile creeps in, and I remember. I got the shot.

Michael Mountcastle of Carbondale is an aspiring photographer/writer.

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