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Friday, February 13, 2009

Walking in a lion's tracks

I awakened to the glitter of a dusting of new snow bathed in sunlight. K and I plunged out the door into a squeaky cold 8 degree world.

Almost immediately, some tracks caught my eye. In the left photo below, there is what I think is a mountain lion's single track. The key features are that it's as wide as it is long, and it has no claw marks. I looked at many of this lion's tracks today, and none had claw marks. For comparison, K's track is in the photo on the right below. Look how small and narrow K's track looks next to the lion's track. Also, notice the two very clear claw marks on K's track. The chemical handwarmer is for scale - it's 3.5" by 1.5". I tried to scale the two photos to make the handwarmer a similar size in both.

It's not often that I'm given the opportunity to follow the tracks of a roaming lion! I abandoned my bike, and, with K in a heel, we followed the lion's path. We backtracked him to avoid an actual encounter with the huge cat. He'd moved slowly and deliberately through the forest, easily negotiating rocky outcroppings and fallen logs. Whereas my dogs always leap over logs, the lion put one or two paws onto a log as he climbed over it. He stepped on jagged rocks, and it looked like his paw flexibly conformed to them. The two photos show a closely-grouped cluster of four paw tracks from a slow walking stride (right) and the rocky terrain that he patrolled (below).

After we returned to my bike, I pondered why I'm seeing so many more lion signs this year than in the last two years. I realized that I'm also seeing innumerable tracks from the lion's primary prey animals, mule deer and elk. In contrast, last year, I saw almost no deer or elk tracks from late December through March when we had a deep snow cover. I'm guessing that deer and elk have stayed higher this winter due to our meager snow and the lions have stayed close to them.

After spending too much time wandering around the forest checking out lion tracks, K and I savored the blue sky, the sun, and the glittering snow. A wall of clouds crept up the valleys from the east, portending a gray, humid, and possibly snowy afternoon.

We climbed up to Hug Hill where the snowy mountains with their white cloud veil contrasted with the cobalt blue sky. I shared a joyful hug with my chocolate best friend. We agreed that we live in paradise.Today, I tried out Spot, a personal tracking device that can be used to summon help via satellites and simultaneously broadcasts its GPS coordinates. It was loaned to me by friends who I met via this blog. After I dropped off K, I went to a gulch where I always worry because I know that I get no cell phone reception and almost no one goes there in winter. Spot seemed to do well, tracking my movements despite the steep gulch walls.

To make the test of Spot more realistic, I accidentally fell when I tried to accelerate on some snow-covered ice in the gulch. My studded tires slipped sideways, and I bashed my kneecap on my handlebars. Lying on the ground, I felt that familiar light-headed nauseous reaction that startling sharp pain gives me. As I waited for it to pass, I decided that I had to get my own Spot so I'd be ready if I'm ever badly hurt.

I'd been pushing the pace up the gulch because I thought that the snowflakes were about to fly. The clouds had crept in from the east, obliterating the blue sky, and the humidity had risen to sunglass-fogging levels. When the snow is flying, I like riding on trails but I hate sharing the road with cars. I fear that they won't be able to see me or will slide out of control. Since part of my route home involved roads, I pedaled up the gulch with urgency. Only a few snowflakes have fallen so far.


  1. Yikes! I'll admit that I'm glad that we don't have mountain lions here! I'm glad that you are getting a Spot of your own - it should give you some peace of mind! I hope your kneecap feels better! I wiped out in an icy parking lot nearly a week ago and bashed my bad knee. It doesn't hurt very much, and I have even gone running on it a few times, but it has swollen tremendously such that I can't even bend it all the way. I'm not sure how worried to be about it.

  2. Love your blog and so nice to meet you today!
    That phat fat bike of yours is WAY sweet and has set me to dreaming of my own. As promised, for your back, Norman Allard may be the best person for you. he's tremendous!!Post if you need his number. We followed your tracks for awhile those are fat tires!
    Hi to K and R. NinjaPonyDadandMom

  3. Dog_Geek,

    I'm lucky - my kneecap barely hurts - it was just very painful at the time. I hope that yours gets better soon!


  4. Paul,

    Thanks for the note! It was great meeting you today. I discovered after we talked that the Fatback did great on ice. I think that the large area of rubber on the ice helps a lot.

    Thanks for the referral. From what I hear, Norman may be able to help me.



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