Today, R and K joined me for an early morning ride. I pedaled up to a summit to take some photos of the two of them, and I discovered that R dislikes looking straight at the camera. The left photo shows the closest that R came to looking at the camera, and the right photo shows a stress behavior. Flicking the tongue up toward the nose indicates that a dog is feeling stressed. I've taken innumerable photos of K (as you know), and she always gets treats afterwards. I need to start that habit with R so that he's comfortable with the eye of the camera focused on him.
When R first met K, he flicked his tongue in the same way. I think that he was a tiny bit afraid of his seemingly huge sister.
Today, after taking photos on the peak, we headed down to a densely forested trail. Elk had churned up our smoothly packed path. Fortunately, I think that the elk themselves were already far away. But, the two dogs hummed with excitement. We did about ten recalls within a mile, as I repeatedly called the dogs back from exploring the elk scents. R is a 10,000 Volt dog. Today, R's frantic insanity was infectious, and K sprinted around madly with him.
When I headed out on my own, I tried to follow my lost wanderings from a few days ago to see if I could make the same trail connections again. To my surprise, I made it! And, today, I had my own Spot satellite messenger, which I can use to track my movements or to send a help signal with my GPS coordinates to 911. Cell phone coverage is spotty so this device gives me peace of mind when I wander to desolate areas.
As I descended a dense forest trail toward a creek in a gulch, I caught a glimpse of a tawny long form gliding across the trail below me. Tracks and scat had told me that many elk had passed through this area slightly earlier but the animal that I glimpsed did not move with the staccato gait of an elk. Rather, he floated across my path like a tan streak. I stopped, stayed stock still, listened, and watched. However, the animal seemed to have vanished without a sound. I worried that the apparition was a lion, and I considered turning around. I stood there in a quandary for a couple of minutes but my dangerous curiosity about the forest and its animals won. So, I cautiously descended to the gulch.
As I anxiously tried to watch my back, I rapidly searched for tracks. I found some extremely fresh tracks in deep crusty snow. These tracks were so fresh that the loose powdery snow kicked up by the animal still surrounded them despite the wind. I couldn't see any individual tracks clearly but the group of four prints was about 8 ft long. The track pattern is from a large animal using a rotary gallop moving from the top to the bottom of the photo.
Canines and felines use rotary gallops but elk and deer do not. Based on the very long stride and the large print size, I'm guessing that a mountain lion made these tracks.
I just realized that I forgot to look up in the trees while I scanned for the animal who streaked across my vision. While I looked at the tracks, I had a shiver of fear in my spine, like eyes were boring into my back. A cat in a tree might explain my disquiet. The feeling that I was being watched chased me out of the gulch without investigating further, unlike my recent careful perusal of lion tracks.
I've never found so many lion signs in a short time before now. However, today's situation fits together - there were definitely elk in the area, and lions like to eat elk. In past winters, I haven't wandered in the same places as the elk because the elk go to lower elevations when we have a normal amount of snow. And, I've never had a snow bike before. So, in contrast to recent winters, I'm frequenting the same routes as the elk, and therefore, the lions.
Once I was out in the open with the sun on my face, I felt safe. For the first time in days, the mountains peeked out from their cloud shroud. I noticed how beautiful the dry grass looked against the blue sky and deep green pines.
I love my mountain bike adventures in secluded patches of forest and seldom do I get truly scared, like I was today.