Blue sunny skies with tumultuous cloud formations greeted me and K at the start of our mountain bike ride. Within the first few pedal strokes, signs of nocturnal prowlers caught my eye. The three dogs had alerted me to a bobcat den-like area during yesterday evening's hike (below left). It had an overhanging rock that provided protection from westerly winds but also had southern sun exposure. The ground was scratched and there was a nearby bobcat scat but the dogs trampled the area before I snapped a photo. However, this morning, K and I found some more, non-trampled scat, close to the site. My chemical handwarmer provides scale - it's 3.5" long by 2" wide.
Then, a very short distance away, we found several large lion-like tracks that caught my attention due to their large size, their lack of claw marks, and the fact that they were almost as wide as they were long (see left photo below - the side of the handwarmer that is showing is 3.5" long). I wasn't absolutely certain that these tracks were from a lion rather than a massive dog but I was pretty sure.
I must have been a cat-magnet today because I saw yet another cat sign near the end of my ride. On a well-traveled route, I skidded to a halt when I spotted a huge fur-filled scat. According to the books, lion scat usually totals close to 9" long, although it's often in segments. This one definitely met those criteria (note the handwarmer as scale). Moreover, the scat also met the lion trait of being more than an inch in diameter. The light-color of the fur in the scat suggested to me that the prey was an elk. Most of an elk's fur, except the dark neck fur, is light tan, much lighter than a mule deer's fur. Based on the fur, I had the amusing thought that this was from a well-behaved lion who ate elk rather than female mountain bikers!
For the rest of today's ride, I took it easy to recover from the last two days, both of which unintentionally turned into long and hard rides. The day was a relatively calm with warm sunlight, and K galloped in a relaxed gait beside me. However, at one point, K abruptly stopped and vigilantly watched for the terror-inducing herding dog whom we heard in the distance. My method of 'taking charge' by assertively stepping between K and the charging dog seems to work. It calms K and deters the charging dog. But, K still worries when we hear him barking wildly in the distance.
After I dropped off K at home, I explored a ridge that I haven't ridden in weeks because snow drifts deterred me last time. The recent winds had scoured the ridge so I was able to ride nearly the entire spine. Indeed, in the left photo below, one of the only snowy sections that I couldn't ride looms in the foreground while the Divide flanks it in the background. I had trouble keeping my eyes on the trail because they were riveted on glorious views of the cloud-veiled Divide.
When I spotted the side trail that descends from the ridge, I remembered my hilarious attempts to find that particular trail for the first time. Because most trails in our area have no names and aren't on maps, it's tough to give directions to a trail. My friend described it as "branching off the main trail where there's an oddly shaped tree on the left". You can imagine how many trees look 'oddly shaped' when you're seeking the single tree that marks a faint trail. Today, I examined the 'oddly shaped' Ponderosa Pine, and a view up at the canopy revealed that dwarf mistletoe (which I learned about yesterday) probably deformed it.
What more could I ask for in a mountain bike ride? I had the companionship of a dog whom I love, I spotted signs of the wildest animals that roam our forests, and I gazed at glorious views!