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Monday, January 12, 2009

Coyotes and biking on fluffy new snow

Yesterday evening, we continued our trend of jaw-droppingly beautiful sunsets as backdrops for my amble in the meadow with my three dogs. I felt content as I watched the dogs play and gazed at the sunset. The dogs repeatedly alerted on scents carried by the strong wind. I think that the scents were from animals far away because I didn't see any large animals lurking in the fading light.

At dusk, I vigilantly watch for coyotes. A pack built its den and raised its pups in 'our' meadow last summer, and my dogs have chased the coyotes in the past. We've worked extremely hard to train them not to chase. Coyotes have killed at least two dogs in our neighborhood in the past year so this training is critical to keeping our dogs alive. In those killings, the coyote pack lured the dog toward the pack by having one coyote use universal canine playful signals. When the dog chased the lone coyote, the rest of the pack appeared.

I saw exactly this scenario the first
time that my dog, K, chased a coyote. She chased one coyote into an aspen grove and emerged from the grove with five coyotes right behind her. She fled directly to me with the pack following closely. I had a big 'grizzly bear' cannister of pepper spray ready as they approached but I was also screaming at the coyotes to go away. The coyotes decided to avoid the dangerous raving lunatic (me) and veered off into the woods. Although K was shaking after this terrifying incident, she didn't learn not to chase coyotes.

The last time that we saw a coyote in the meadow, the dogs turned to me to get treats - so it was clear that they'd learned that seeing a coyote is
a cue to pay attention to me and thereby get a treat jackpot. On this occasion, the coyote, however, didn't give up easily. He stayed about 50 yds away and tried to lure my dogs to him. He did play bows, he spun, and he yipped in a playful way. My dogs resisted his tempting behavior even as he trailed us for a few minutes. That incident was about 3 months ago, and I'm not confident that my dogs will remember their training when it happens again after such a long time. In the photo to the right, a coyote is picking over an elk leg on our property. We had an elk die on our property a few years ago but that's another story...

I don't know why coyotes kill dogs. Do they view dogs as prey? I've never heard whether they eat the dogs that they kill. Or, do they view dogs as competing canines in the coyote pack's territory? I know that coyotes and wolves will kill members of their own species for this transgression.

Today, I awakened to about 6" of new snow overlaid on the old tracked and packed snow. I left the house on my mountain bike with my dogs K and R, supremely confident that I could ride in 6" of new snow. Afterall, I've plowed through 6" of old snow fairly frequently in recent weeks. However, my confidence almost immediately evaporated as my rear wheel spun out, and I was struggling to restart before I'd even crossed my property line. I fought my way through the snow, cursing the people who'd left huge posthole boot tracks in the deep old snow. The now invisible postholes stopped me cold. We stayed out for about an hour, and I managed to maintain a whopping 2.8 mph. But, it was fun being out there in the snowstorm!

The dogs didn't care that I was struggling to maintain forward motion. They frolicked and sprinted in circles around me as I foundered in th
e snow. The photos below were taken every 0.2 seconds as the speed demons zoomed past me.

During my mountain bike ride, I saw a neighbor who always brings at least 7 of her dogs scampering on the trails with her. She laughed hysterically when she saw me on a bike in the new snow and insisted on documenting the fact that I was the craziest mountain biker she'd ever known. I tried to tell her about the exploits of the mountain bikers in Alaska or other extreme weather locales (e.g., Up in Alaska, Bicycles and Icicles, Dave Byers) but I don't think that she believed me.
In the picture above, you can see three of my neighbor's little dogs plus my two larger dark colored dogs. R, my black lab pup, is trying to hide underneath my bike. He's terrified of this big dog pack and its caucaphony of barking. R used to flee toward home when he glimpsed this pack but now he trusts that K and I'll protect him. K, who is a bit behind me, is somewhat afraid of the pack but has learned to hover close to me for cover.

You can see the buildup of snow on me in the photo on the right. The brim of my helmet had at least an inch thick layer of snow stuck to it at the end of my bike ride. After today, I'm very excited to get my Fatback which will likely make mountain biking on days like today, and probably tomorrow, much more fun!

1 comment:

  1. I love hiking in the snow, but I doubt I'm coordinated enough to try biking in that much snow! Wow! And that's scary about the coyotes - they are definitely much more shy around here. The only one I've seen didn't try to interact with us in any way - it was running away, and my dogs didn't seem interested in it at all. Maybe they could tell that that it wasn't a dog or a prey item, or maybe it was the fact that I screamed "LEAVE IT" as soon as I saw the coyote. I asked at the forest service office if there had been any reports of coyotes going after dogs around here, and they said not a single one.


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