As long as I’ve known Todd, he has frequently quipped, “I’m going to go play with the mountain lions” before his training rides. He has told me about the times he has spotted the shadow of a mountain lion as he traversed some arid trails at a fast clip. A couple of weeks ago, he had his first face-to-face encounter with one. An adolescent male ready to rumble on the Tijeras Creek trail. Out of the corner of his eye, Todd spotted the mother mountain lion nearby across the stream. He knew she could be there to help her son in the blink of an eye. In my twenties and thirties, I took many different styles of martial arts to learn how to defend myself. I remember vividly, my first instructor told us, “If you don’t react within the first 10 seconds of an attack, you’re going to be a victim.” According to the experts, that’s true for mountain lions, too.
Fortunately, Todd did react quickly as he has done before when caught in harm's way. Here are his accounts of this encounter, which he posted on Facebook.
“Unfreaking believable! A young mountain lion on Tijeras Creek trail got a major attitude with me today. It would not back down, and seemed to want a brawl. WTF?! Luckily another Mtb'er came along and helped me scare it off - along with 3 blasts from my pepper spray.”
The truly amazing thing about this afternoon was why we have his brother, Ken, to thank.
“So funny how it all worked out. My brother Ken came over while I was prepping my bike Sat morning. He asked if I thought about lions anymore. I said, "No, it has been over 5 yrs since my friend Mark was attacked and killed by a lion". He rolled his eyes and walked away. Just before I rolled Ken handed me a can of pepper spray with a note attached to it. It said something that we should all remember ... "Don't forget you're a part of the food chain." Thanks my brother, I owe you a tall brew!!!” Yeah bro, we are so grateful for that act. And we’re certain it saved Todd’s life. The park rangers did close down that trail for a few days as mountain lion tracks were confirmed. Here’s what Todd posted a couple of days later:
“I'll get a mountain lion update soon. The Rangers have closed Tijeras Creek trail and are searching the area right now. The lions that I encountered on Sat. showed no fear of humans, and that fact makes me very worried about the next confrontation.”
This was his final update:
"I heard from Lori, the O'Neil Park Ranger. They have not found any fresh mountain lion tracks since Sat., so they re-opened Tijeras Creek trail. Fish & Game was notified and Animal Control did get involved. For now though, it seems that my aggressive fury friend is roaming free!"
We ride with the hope and the thought that ‘It won’t happen to me.’ But when you actually have a close call, it has a way to sticking with you for a bit. How can it not get under your lid? Todd took three days off from riding. He even went swimming. (A far cry from what this guy's idea of a tri is – single-speed mountain biking, geared mountain biking, and road biking.)
I think he expected me to lecture him about the dangers of riding out there. But I know I could never keep him off the trails if I tried. I wouldn’t want to for that matter. The trails are what bring him joy and a true zest for life. That’s his “Zen.” I wouldn’t want to take that away from him. And I know he won’t let that mountain lion take it away from him either.
Last week, he bought three cans of pepper spray from the local sporting goods store – one for me, one for his brother Ken, and one for himself. He wrapped a couple of beefy rubber bands around it to keep it from slipping out of my cycling jersey easily. And gave me a lesson on how to use it. Hopefully, I never will. But I do feel better with it on me, knowing it helped save his life.
NOTE: Even if you’re not a mountain biker, you should know that many of the local paved bike paths are corridors for mountain lions to travel as they hug streams and rivers. Please be aware of your surroundings and consider carrying pepper spray. Do not run away or crouch down if you encounter a mountain lion. Make yourself look big by lifting your bike above your head. For more tips, go here.