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January 21, 2010

Cat Stories

The following stories are true – but unfortunately, I have much better documentation for one than the other.

Part 1 (the part I can prove): While my son and I were changing clothes and gearing up for our weekly mountain bike ride, we had the following exchange …

Son: Dad, why do you always bring your camera on these rides?

Me: Just because … you never know what you might see out here.

So we headed off to the trails, where I took some pictures very much like the vast majority that I take: shots of him from a distance, with a bit of landscape in the background.

Click to enlarge ... and don’t let his shirt give you the wrong idea – we’re still in California. He picked it up during this vacation last summer.

As luck would have it, later in the ride we saw this guy crossing our trail:

A pretty good-sized bobcat walking softly through the brush, quietly stalking some little snack. Almost immediately after I snapped this photo, he pounced into the nearby bush, but came up empty. He briefly glanced our way as if to shrug off the missed opportunity, then continued ahead in search of the next one.

The photo quality is pretty bad, but it’s the first bobcat I’ve ever captured on film. As for my son, it was the first one he had ever seen in person – so I’m glad I had the camera to remember the moment. Because you never know what you might see.

Part 2 (the part you have to take my word for): While I was doing one of my customary 6-mile loops through Carmel Valley two mornings ago, I saw this guy crossing my trail:

Photo from National Geographic

OK, so that’s not an actual photograph I took – think of it as more of a dramatization. It was dark (at about 5:30 AM) and raining heavily, so I left the camera at home … but I sure-as-shooting saw a full-grown mountain lion; he was walking across the path ahead of me when I caught a glimpse of him in my headlamp beam. He stopped in his tracks and stared at me, and we stood there face to face for about 10 seconds. And since we’re doing dramatizations, here’s a good depiction of what was going through my mind right about then:

The Scream, by Edward Munch

Fortunately, the lion wasn’t overly interested in me, and I finally remembered the conventional survival wisdom to wave my arms and make some noise to discourage any aggression. He finally decided I wasn’t worth his trouble, and shrugged me off to return into the bushes. (Maybe he chose to wait for the next runner.)

In all the years I’ve been running these roads and trails, I’ve only seen two mountain lions in person. Both times, I’ve come away with an almost electric charge at what awesome creatures they are, as well as a strange feeling of thankfulness at the opportunity to glimpse one up close. Of course, “close” is a relative term, and I certainly wouldn’t like to be any nearer than the distance of my headlamp beam for future feline encounters like this one.

However, I might rethink leaving my camera at home on these pre-dawn runs of mine – because you never know what you might see.


Rookie on the Run 1/21/10, 10:10 PM  

Wow!! Be careful!

I'm getting used to running into coyotes these days... but mountain lions scare the crud out of me! I hope I never see one of those on any of my runs or hikes.

The bobcat is sort of cute. :)

Great pictures (I'm referring to the ones you took).

Jo Lynn 1/21/10, 10:36 PM  

Even a bobcat would be a scary encounter since I always have Boomer with me. He would definitely try to chase it. He has tried to play with coyotes. A mountain lion would be an entirely different ball game and one I am always on the lookout for. I go to a lot of secluded places and I know I'm in THEIR home so I have to be careful. I've only seen one in the years I've been running trails. ;)

Gretchen 1/21/10, 10:41 PM  

Don't you love that direct, confidently returned stare from an animal like that? I mean, as long as it's followed by the part where it walks away from you. But still. Totally awesome!

Bob (Downtown Runner) 1/22/10, 4:49 AM  

Great post. Must have been a unique moment eye to eye with that beautiful animal.

I should put up a post about the wildlife I encounter on my runs..... in lower Manhattan. Scary!!

Anne 1/22/10, 8:00 AM  

That second encounter is precisely why I won't run alone on trails before dawn. I need to stop watching so much Discovery Channel and "Pets that Attack" on the Fox Channel.

I think your own cat photo is actually very good. Mine would be so blurry from shaking with fear and excitement.

The Dude 1/22/10, 8:20 AM  

Awesome stories! Hope you are not washing away with all the rain out there.

stronger 1/22/10, 10:12 AM  

I'm certain more mountain lions have seen me, than me them...which is okay with me.

Great bobcat shot!

shel 1/22/10, 10:14 AM  

good lord, that's scary. and beautiful. but more scary. we get the odd coyote around here and that's about the extent of things. can't imagine living out that away or a bit further northeast of you and be dealing with grizzlies, poisonous snakes and the like. too much of a baby!

Mike L 1/22/10, 11:26 AM  

What did you do after seeing it? Did you turn around and run back the way you came or continue on your path? How long did you stay until you continued on? I'd be running with my head on a swivel from that point on.

Backofpack 1/22/10, 5:25 PM  

Cool! I have mixed emotions about seeing one - want to/don't want to. If I do, I really, really hope someone else is standing there with me...

Billy Burger 1/22/10, 8:59 PM  

That's gnarly man. Call it in next time and let Parks Service know.

My biggest fear is what you came across. But from the stories I've read, you won't see them coming at you, rather they'll pounce you from behind.


Rainmaker 1/23/10, 9:38 AM  

What you needed at that moment was a little private showing of teh CatFan video. Remember that from earlier last decade? If not, I highly suggest you google the Internets (well, Youtube) and watch...with the volume on.

Scott Dunlap 1/25/10, 11:15 AM  

A photo from that distance is perfect! Wouldn't want to be TOO close.


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) 1/26/10, 1:59 AM  

I have yet to encounter the BIG cat. What scares me most is if I don't see one and then I happen to start running away.....

As long as deer don't start wearing headlamps, you're probably good.

21stCenturyMom 1/28/10, 9:16 PM  

I probably don't need to tell you that story #2 made my blood run a little cold. I'm terrified of mountain lions. Glad that one decided you were not worth his time.

Nice shots.

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