Photos and words by Sal Ruibal
On Christmas Eve, I came home from one of the worst mountain bike rides I've ever had. Cold rain at the start turned into freezing rain in the middle and ice pellets the rest of the way home. And that was the fun part. My front derailleur shifter froze and I was stuck in granny for several miles uphill.
Yeah, yeah, pitiful me. Soaked to the bone, the skin on my hands looked like a pink prune Danish.
I moped into the kitchen hoping for a cold beer or a hot mug of coffee in my wife's hands. Instead she extended her arms and opened her hands, exposing a tiny fuzz ball of black and gold fur. It went, "Eeeek." Too weak and tiny a sound to deserve an exclamation mark.
It was a very small kitten.
Backstory: In May 2010, our beloved cat Rachel died. She was regal and walked like a queen. She slept in our bed and would wrap herself around my head, a position we called "Cat Hat." She spoke fluent Purr.
But over time, she slowed down and had a hard time walking up the curved staircase in our house. We built carpeted "Senior Steps" for her after she could no longer jump from the floor to the bed.
But soon she couldn't climb the Senior Steps. And it wasn't long before I had to take that horrible trip to the vet's office to give her the relief only death provides. She's now buried a few feet from where I wash my bikes. She hated the hose but loved to hide among the wheels in the bike room. It was her woods, made of rubber and steel.
Now I was staring down at this fur ball. She was a rescue cat whose mother and brother escaped the law. The vet who took care of her named her Vixen, but my first response was to say, "She looks like a little bear."
And so she became Little Bear. And I was freaking out.
I hadn't had a kitten since 1971, when Sub-Mariner ran around our group house in Boulder with two limp back legs.
It didn't long for Little Bear to show me what she was all about: vertical leaps, crazy sprints to the imaginary finish line, a shadow that appeared and disappeared with a blink.
And wouldn't you know it, she loves the bike room. She sleeps on, in around and under the bed. She announces that she's awake with tiny claws in my thighs. She flashes up and down the staircase then leaps at the rear window because a bird entered her airspace.
She must have Red Bull in her veins because she makes tremendous twisting, rolling leaps that scare the crap out of me. She dances at the top of the stairs, slaloming between the railing posts like a freestyle skier, then drives the judges wild with a headfirst dive with a twist and a four-footed landing.
I've been studying her style, how she stores and releases her energy, how she uses her side-to-side movements in flight to stick the landings in full stride for escape.
Her crouch is like a freerider approaching the canyon lip, followed by an explosion. No wasted movement, no fear. Her claws, I now understand, are like pinner pedals. Her long tail is like a rider getting really far behind the rear wheel.
Her power-to-weight ratio can never be achieved by a human, especially me. That's because I eat like a dog.
But because she inspires me, because she loves me for saving her, we co-exist. A human mountain bike dog and a cat freerider, living together. It must be love.