My Labrador, K, and rolled out this morning onto trails with a few inches of powdery new snow covering a solid and deep snowpack. Snow adorned every pine needle and naked aspen twig. The low sun, just above the horizon, made the frosty landscape glow.
We rolled around our trail network, flying like I rarely can do in new snow. K posed for me in a favorite spot.
Only one person had tread on the trails before us, and animal tracks abounded. Deer tracks headed straight up toward the lion's lair. I'm amazed that the deer don't smell the mountain lion or the fresh deer carcass and stay far away.
I looked carefully for lion tracks on the trails but saw none. Prior to our ongoing lion presence, I always deluded myself into believing that I'd know if a lion was lurking in the area in the winter because he'd leave tracks. I'm learning that they don't necessarily use human trails, even if they are the most efficient routes due to the packed snow.
Some might wonder why I still go out into the forest, knowing that the fierce mountain lion shown in my previous post is guarding his cache and looking for new prey nearby. The reason is that I am fully aware, and have been for a long time, that I've traveled safely through these woods for the past decade thanks to the grace of the lions. If they wanted to eat humans or dogs, they would. However, they rarely do.
I must add that I'm not blindly taking this risk. I've read many books (approaching 10) and primary research articles about mountain lion ecology and their behavior in human encounters. I know enough to reduce my odds of an attack but I also know that I do take a risk every time I immerse myself in the natural world that I love so much.
This morning, as K and I explored one trail, only a coyote had loped through the snow before us.
When we gallivanted far away from the lion's lair, I gave K a tiny bit of freedom. I called her back soon thereafter. She charged back to me for her reward!
After my ride with K, I left her basking in the sun, working on a kong with dog food frozen inside it.
I headed out solo, rejoicing in the crackling crystal cold and endlessly deep blue skies. My Fatback snow bike rolled over the snow like an unstoppable tractor. And, the trails remained deserted. Below zero temperatures provide solitude on the trails!
The trail began as an endless slope of untracked snow.
But then, a set of tracks joined the trail from the north, marching purposefully eastward, in the same direction as I was pedaling.
A closer look revealed that a bobcat had left these tracks. Each track had no claw marks, was almost as wide as it was long, and measured about 1.5" across, making me certain that a bobcat had walked this way. I've recently captured photos of bobcats on one of my wildlife cameras.
The cat and I followed exactly the same path for about a half mile until he had decided to take a hunting side-trip into a jumble of boulders.
He then stayed off the main trail for a third of a mile, a section where the trail avoids the rough terrain of rocky ledges and boulder piles, the favorite terrain of a bobcat. Then, to my surprise, his tracks emerged from a cliff area to rejoin my route.
For a while, my snow bike tires and his tracks traveled companionably, side-by-side. No other marks marred the fresh snow.
Soon, however, he took another boulder-strewn and steep route, short-cutting a big hairpin turn in the trail.
Once I'd navigated the hairpin turn on a mild gradient, I crossed his path again. Alas, it was the last time because the trail approached civilization. He simply crossed the trail, leaving his tracks as he plunged into a deep and dark gulch.
I felt honored to be the first human to follow in the tracks of this bobcat and see signs of his purposeful foraging for rodents among the boulders. Living on the wild edge, on the border between human habitation and vast tracts of forest, I find animal stories in the snow on almost every bike ride. How lucky I am.
I rolled home, gazing at a winter wonderland, feeling fully content.